Aug 13, 2020
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Michael McFadden, who was diagnosed with several illnesses as a child, rides a horse at the Heart of the Horse Therapy Ranch on Nov. 4. (Cassie Richter/The Collegian)

Heart of the Horse Therapy Ranch, helping to heal

Coming from a bodybuilding background, Guy Adams was familiar with helping and training people.

He and his wife Carey eventually took that knowledge and built a life-changing facility called the Heart of the Horse Therapy Ranch.

The mission at Heart of the Horse “is to help exceptional Central Valley citizens [of all ages] achieve new heights and discover new abilities through supervised, therapeutic, assisted equestrian activities,” according to Adams.

Approximately 70 Fresno State students volunteer to help each year.

The ranch is committed to providing therapeutic riding as a treatment for those with an array of physical, mental or emotional disabilities and impairments. Some of the conditions that are treated at the ranch are: Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sensory impairment (deaf/blind), autism and other afflictions.

Ten years ago, the Adams’ lost their air conditioning, heating and refrigeration company. And then a little girl with cerebral palsy came to the ranch and rode a horse for the first time.

“I watched her sit up…and her eyes lit up and I said, ‘Oh, my God, maybe this is what we need to be doing,’ and we started the Heart of the Horse Therapy Ranch seven years ago,” said Adams. “I’ve seen kids start talking that have never talked before. A 27-year-old man who had never spoke before said ‘mamma’ for the first time after a few sessions at the ranch, and it blows my mind to see the changes in our clients.”

After a tragic car accident, one little girl was left with a spinal cord injury. After three months of therapy at the ranch, she started walking and now plays softball. Another client, Michael McFadden, went from not being able to sit up properly, to sitting upright in his wheelchair without shoulder straps, and going from being shy and docile to becoming confident in himself.

“[The ranch] helps three things… those children, their parents and me,” Adams said.

Clients receive services free of charge. There is a donation option for the client to pay $150 for eight sessions, but it is not a required fee. The ranch books 200 sessions per month for 30 minutes per session.

The ranch holds two fundraisers a year: the annual Cowboy Concert in March and the Cowboy Dinner and Dance in October. On average, the profit made per fundraiser is $30,000, while the cost of running the ranch is approximately $10,000 per month – depending on the time of year – averaging about $135,000 per year. The money that is raised from the fundraisers, as well as donations goes into ensuring no fees will be required from the clients.

Kloey Avila, a 3-year-old with autism, only had a vocabulary of 12 words and could not form complete sentences before coming to the ranch.

“Excitement gets her to say words. So, we are working with her to speak consecutive words. We tell her to make her horse walk, make the horse go faster and as the speed of the horse increases, her endorphins get fired up and we’ll get a complete sentence from her,” said Adams.

David McFadden and his son Michael, a 22-year-old Fresno Pacific graduate, have been attending the ranch once a week for five years. The younger McFadden was diagnosed with spina bifida, epilepsy and mild autism as a child. Therapy at the ranch has helped strengthen his muscles and has built his confidence, independence and communication skills.

In 2016, Michael asked to go to The Rock and Worship Roadshow Concert at the Save Mart Center to see his favorite band, Family Force Five.

“Family Force Five was the loudest band there with strobe lights… and I don’t think that is something he could have done before therapy,” said David.

One of Michael’s favorite times during therapy was accomplishing his goal of trail riding near their home in Shaver Lake. Michael said it is something he enjoyed doing and wants to do again. David said this is something Michael looks forward to doing. He has friends here, and “I think this is a great place.”

And it’s considered a great place not just by those who benefit directly. In 2013 Heart of the Horse Ranch won the Hands On Hero Award. In 2016, it won the California Nonprofit of the Year Award. In 2017, it was voted one of three California Image Award winners. And In 2018, Adams and his wife were inducted into the Clovis Hall of Fame.

“Our names are on the award, but I would have rather the award say: ‘Heart of the Horse Therapy Ranch and Their Volunteers’… it’s all the volunteers,” said Adams.

Heart of the Horse relies on volunteers to offer services wherever they are needed. A new volunteer and Fresno State alum, McKenzie Baxter helps with anything that is needed, like caring for the horses, cleaning pens and assisting riders.

Baxter recently attended a Valley Children’s Hospital event with the minihorses for kids whose parents had died in the past year.

“It was really neat to see the kids just light up… and feel like I want to be involved,” said Baxter.

Though she has only volunteered at the ranch a couple of times, it is something she plans on committing to on a regular basis.

Adams speaks two times a year at Fresno State to various departments, including the business department.

All potential therapy horses are personality and temperament tested and obedience trained, followed by training around an array of medical equipment such as wheelchairs, crutches, walkers and IV poles.

The ranch has had two rescue horses that have become therapy horses and currently has two dwarf horses and a 9-year-old American pit bull named Daisy that are also used in therapy sessions to help those who fear animals.

The goal is to raise $2 million and one day buy the property in the name “Heart of the Horse Therapy Ranch,” with a price tag of $800,000. Adams is currently beginning the process of building a sensory trail with objects for sight, sound, smell and touch.

To learn more about Heart of the Horse, visit heartofthehorses.org, or on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube.

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