Executive Director Pamme Mickelson and Board President Thom Bateman | Credit: Gail Arnold

On May 11, about 165 supporters of Hearts Therapeutic Equestrian Center (Hearts) gathered at the Carriage and Western Art Museum for its annual Barn Dance. The event funds scholarships for low-income children and adults with disabilities so they can participate in Hearts’ therapeutic horseback riding program. Funds also support Hearts’ veteran’s program, Equine Services for Heroes, and its at-risk youth program, run in partnership with Girls Inc. and CALM.

During the reception, guests mingled inside and on the scenic grounds of the museum, enjoying live country music by Caught Red Handed and perusing silent auction items. Guests were then seated for dinner and welcomed by Executive Director Pamme Mickelson, who stated that the event is like what Hearts does every day — making connections. Mickelson related how her doctor recently shared that Hearts had changed his family’s life. It was at Hearts that his nonverbal, autistic six year old son spoke his first words, and he hasn’t shut up since. With a warm smile, Mickelson related how moments like this happen at Hearts every single day. She expressed her gratitude to supporters for enabling Hearts to do its work. Lesson fees account for only a third of Heart’s income. More than half of those served receive some level of scholarship.

Vice Board Chair and Capital Campaign Co-chair Bob Manning explained to guests that Hearts had been planning to move up the hill, from one county-owned property to another, but recently received word that the move must happen much sooner than planned — by the end of this year. Manning emphasized both the challenging nature of raising funds in such a short time frame and the huge opportunity presented, in that the new space will enable Hearts to expand services so it can do even more for the community.

After the 1/9 Debris Flow, the county informed Hearts that it needed to make the move by 2021 so the county could use its current space for debris management. But then earlier this year, Hearts learned that it needed to vacate by December. Of the $4 million capital campaign goal, $700,000 is needed up front to make the move and less than half of that has been raised to date. 

Bryan Brand lead a spirited auction followed by a tasty barbecue dinner and dancing.

Therapeutic riding improves the capabilities, self-esteem, and overall health of individuals who have special needs due to injury, illness, or disability. In an interview, Manning shared a touching Hearts story: a woman with Lewy body dementia who engaged with her husband for only one hour each week — a very special hour that they rode together at Hearts. Other heartwarming successes have been learning to walk without pain, having debilitating lifelong fears and anxieties calmed, and gaining enough balance and strength to sit upright for the first time.

Hearts has 20 horses and serves about 250 people annually, with 95 participating each week. Disabilities of participants include autism, cerebral palsy, cancer, brain injuries, and stroke, and the list goes on and on. Each participant enrolls for a minimum of a year for individual or group classes. Since opening in 1985, thousands of individuals of all ages and disabilities have benefited. There are six full-time and 10 part-time staff and about 115 volunteers.

In addition to its main therapeutic riding program, Hearts also offers Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy, Summer Camp, Equine Facilitated Learning, and a Veterans Program – Equine Services for Heroes. In partnership with Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara and CALM, it offers its Equine Facilitated Learning Program, which is unmounted work that develops social skills and confidence in at-risk youth.

For more info, go to http://heartsriding.org.

For coverage of other events, go to independent.com/society. Send invites to gail@independent.com.

Event Cochairs Stephanie Petlow and Paula Bottiani
Facilities Manager Duane Harsh with Board Treasurer and Capital Campaign Cochair Andrew Wilson
Development and Marketing Coordinator Lillian Luu Garcia and Program Coordinator Kristen Kallai
Brooke Green and Allan Green, the general contractor for Hearts’ new property
Caught Red Handed performs.
Guests relax at the event.


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