Diego Loya, 7, rides a horse named Tristan with help from Nora Vega, lead instructor of therapeutic rides, at Therapeutic Riding and Off-Track Rehabilitation, located between Davis and Woodland. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

Diego Loya, 7, rides a horse named Tristan with help from Nora Vega, lead instructor of therapeutic rides, at Therapeutic Riding and Off-Track Rehabilitation, located between Davis and Woodland. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

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Horse heroes: Grant awarded to therapeutic riding center

By From page A1 | July 06, 2012

Shannon Johnson’s childhood dream was to have a ranch that would combine both of her passions: horses and helping people with disabilities.

In 2007, with the help of family and friends, Johnson founded Therapeutic Riding and Off-Track Rehabilitation. Only five years later, the organization’s efforts have been recognized with a $25,000 grant from State Farm’s Cause An Effect program to make some much-needed facility upgrades.

Located between Davis and Woodland, TROTR provides a refuge for horses that have been abandoned or abused, as well as a place where retired race horses can find a new home. There are now 30 horses on the ranch and half of them are adopted.

At the same time, the organization’s therapeutic rides have proven to have physical benefits for children like 7-year-old Diego Loya, who has cerebral palsy, a physical disability that impairs muscle movement.

During Diego’s third riding session recently, he was guided by Nora Vega, TROTR’s lead instructor of therapeutic rides, and other volunteers. They helped him with various stretches such as bending both knees, holding his arms out, and lying on the horse in “superman” position.

“To Diego, this is not therapy, this is fun,” said Diego’s mother, Julie Loya. “I’m very thankful for finding the therapeutic riding program.”

Besides improving muscle movement, the therapeutic rides also are known to build self-esteem and confidence.

“Someone who has some trouble taking a couple of steps immediately has this great freedom when on a horse,” Vega said. “There’s also an emotionally mutual connection between the rider and the horse, both of which learn to trust each other.”

When TROTR first became a nonprofit organization, many of the group’s horses were rescued from live cattle auctions.

“A lot of times horses will be auctioned off at a very inexpensive price and then sold to slaughterhouses for a much higher price,” said John Bolden, a TROTR board member. “It’s not our goal to collect horses, it’s to save them.”

TROTR ranch is maintained by a volunteer-run staff, who all share a compassion for the various rescued horse breeds.

“When you go out there and see some of these longtime volunteers and therapeutic riders, they know these horses and they build these incredible relationships with them,” said Matt Henderson, president of TROTR.

New volunteers are required to complete a safety training class that teaches them the procedures of the ranch and the different methods of assisting with the therapeutic rides.

Although therapeutic riding was part of the initial plan Johnson had in mind, it took more than a year of community support and volunteer work to start up the therapeutic riding sessions.

Johnson’s vision was made complete with help from Vega, who serves as TROTR’s secretary as well as lead instructor of therapeutic rides. It was Vega who officially began the therapeutic horse program in 2009.

“TROTR started out by solely rescuing horses,” Johnson said. “It has definitely turned into something amazing with Nora.”

As a nonprofit organization, TROTR has maintained its foundation through donations and the work of volunteers. But on July 23, TROTR will receive a $25,000 grant from State Farm’s Cause An Effect, a new program developed to support nonprofit organizations in building stronger, safer, better-educated communities.

TROTR was one of 3,000 national Cause submissions narrowed down to 100 by a Youth Advisory Board consisting of 40 college students throughout the country. The public then voted for the top 40 Causes on Facebook.

“TROTR was a standout because it was a proposal we were passionate about and we thought others would feel the same,” said Kristy Nguyen, the president of the Asian Business Association at UC Berkeley and one of the 40 college students on the Youth Advisory Board. “Evidently, we were right because the public voted TROTR into the top 100. It’s always wonderful to see such worthy causes garner public support.”

The grant will go into TROTR’s therapeutic riding program to improve the footing in the indoor arena.

“The sand footing has broken down over the years and the horses require a specific surface,” Bolden said. “With the grant money, we will finally be able to add a new synthetic rubber composition, which will be blended with new sand to better cushion the ground for horses.”

With this improvement, TROTR’s indoor arena will be a safe and dust-free environment.

Local companies are helping TROTR stretch its grant dollars by offering discounts for their services. This will allow TROTR to extend its project by installing a wheelchair-accessible restroom.

“This is one of the most amazing things that has happened to the ranch,” Henderson said. “It’s an absolute honor to be a part of these Causes especially when you consider this small town project within a national perspective. We are so grateful for how much the community has continued to support us.”

To learn more about TROTR, go to www.trotr.org.

Dominick Costabile

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