Touching hearts

Laughter fills the air as Guy Adams lifts 13-year-old Adam Hill up in the air and sets him on top of Bandit, a Quarter horse, at Heart of the Horse Therapy Ranch in Clovis. The non-profit ranch was founded by Guy and Carey Adams five years ago as an alternative therapy for children and adults with disabilities, and the interaction with horses brings smiles to clients, like Hill, every day.

The Adams never intended to open a horse therapy ranch, but say it was all part of God’s plan.

“We lost everything, and through the power of prayer ended up here,” Guy said, referring to the ranch.

Although horses had been a part of the Adams’ life in the past, they hadn’t owned horses since the 1990s. When they found themselves living on the ranch, though, it wasn’t long before Guy found himself bringing thoroughbreds off the racetrack and back to the ranch.

Guy began retraining the horses as pleasure horses, and it was during that time that a little boy with autism visited the ranch. Guy said he watched that little boy fall in love with the horses, and that is what sparked the idea for Heart of the Horse Therapy Ranch.

“Neither of us have degrees in therapy,” Guy said. “We have horses and hearts, and that’s where this came from.”

Carey said she had her doubts about the idea at first, but Guy was committed to his plan.

“He just kept telling me that he’d heard so much about how autistic kids responded to horseback riding,” Carey said. “He had the faith that he was going to do this...(and) he had been doing a lot of research, unbeknownst to me, and that’s literally how it started.”

The Adams continued to do their research, including visiting a therapy ranch in Washington, learning from parents of children with disabilities, and speaking with doctors and special education teachers.

“We just have had a lot of amazing people come alongside us,” Carey said. “We’re not doing this haphazardly.”

Heart of the Horse has partnered with a number of programs including: Break the Barriers, Valley Children’s Hospital, VA Hospital of Central California, the Down Syndrome Association of Central California, and many other organizations that support people with disabilities.

“This is something God put in our hearts and put in our hands, and it’s just taken off,” Guy said.

Even though Guy isn’t professionally trained in therapy, Heart of the Horse board member Jack Hannah says Guy is the right man for the job.

“He is perfectly suited for the challenges that this therapy requires,” Hannah said. “He has a gift of caring. He really is a compassionate man. He’s very perceptive and has the ability to perceive what is happening with the client. He is the heart and soul of this ranch.”

The ranch has had thousands of children and adults with disabilities, as well as military veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), visit it since it opened. Guy has retrained all his horses as therapy horses - something that does not go unnoticed in the arena. Children as young as two years old are able to ride horses like Bandit, a former trail horse.

Emilee Odaffer is only three years old and has been riding now for a year. She was born with spastic cerebral palsy, which makes it hard for her to hold herself up in a seated position. Her mother, Stefanie, read about the benefits of horse therapy on the Internet, so she was happy to meet the Adams and learn about their program.

“I wanted to improve her balance and have noticed a huge improvement,” Stefanie said. “She was also easily startled before and this has helped. She likes being independent, and it builds her confidence.”

But it’s not just the unique type of therapy that makes the ranch special to Stefanie, it’s also the people.

“Guy is really great, and so is Carey,” Stefanie said. “They’re just really nice people and genuinely care about kids. It’s also a nice therapy, just being outside.

Hill, who also has cerebral palsy, has seen the same benefits as Emilee. When he first started going to the ranch, his mother, Sandra, said his hips were out of place. Just three months later, Hill’s chiropractor said his hips were somehow back in place. It has also improved his trunk strength.

“All of this is doing something for him physically that wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t been challenged and inspired by coming to ride the horse,” Hannah said.

“He loves getting on the horse and riding it,” said Sandra. “He loves the freedom of it.”

Tracy Kashimba, 36, was also born with cerebral palsy. She goes to the ranch once a week, but says she would come every day if she could.

“She sits up straighter, and it’s easier for her to keep her balance,” said Courtney Chapman, Kashimba’s friend and caretaker. “She’s excited to come. It’s easy for her to get up in the morning, which is not usual.”

However, the ranch offers Kashimba more than physical benefits. It also offers friendship.

“I like everything about horses and love to ride and bond with my horse, Bandit,” she said. “Heart of the Horse Therapy Ranch is the best place I’ve ever been to.”

Lorena Soulodre, 29, has also found friendship at the ranch. She learned about the ranch six months ago after moving to Fresno from the Bay Area. Soulodre was born premature and lost her vision when she was only three days old. She has been riding horses since she was 10 years old, but recently moved to Fresno. When she found out about Heart of the Horse six months ago, she began coming to the ranch and building relationships with the horses.

“I’ve learned to be a better person through the horse’s eyes,” Soulodre said. “I think, for me, it’s also brought me a sense of freedom. They (horses) are not stupid. They know I can’t see them. Horses, to me, they’re an animal that no one can compare it to. Horses have a unique sense about them and know so much.”

Soulodre says the Adams have made a huge impact on her life, and she does what she can to support their program. She’s hoping others will do the same.

“They (Adams) have an amazing program,” she said. “They’ve given me my life back. They’ve given me my freedom back, and I love that about them. They’re such kind and generous people and would do anything for me.”

But it’s not just the faces of the clients that make all the hard work worthwhile - it’s the reaction from the parents.

“The parents actually have tears in their eyes, because they’re seeing their children do something they’ve never seen them be able to do before,” Carey said. “So many of the children have physical therapy and speech therapy and this is something where they can come and have fun and relax.”

Services for Veterans

Soon the Heart of the Horse Therapy Ranch will be expanding thanks to a donation from Gallo Wine. The wine company has offered Guy a house on the corner of Fowler and Clinton that, once it has been remodeled, will be the home of The Heart Of The Horse’s VETS” - “Veterans Equine Therapy Services.”

Guy says they plan to house 10 veterans at the home, and they will also do equine therapy with other veterans. They also hope to help veterans receive agriculture related industry experience and the opportunity to find agriculture related jobs.

“They’ll be able to live in that house, get the job training, and help other veterans from the VA hospital,” Guy said. “As this builds, we hope to open other homes and other industries to train them in.”

Guy said it will take about a year to open the veterans home, which is also in need of financial sponsors, but he’s excited for the future.

“These men and women have been fighting for our country and have big hearts ... sometimes they just need help and we need to offer it to them unconditionally,” Guy said.

Upcoming Fundraisers

There are two upcoming fundraisers to benefit Heart of the Horse Therapy Ranch.

Moravia Wines is hosting a Kentucky Derby Party from 1-5 p.m., May 2, at 3620 N Bishop Ave, Fresno, 93723. There will be a variety of activities including a silent auction, live betting on the race, and raffles. All proceeds benefit Heart of the Horse Therapy Ranch. Details: (559) 843-2140.

Jack Hannah and the Sons of the San Joaquin will offer an evening benefit concert June 4 at People’s Church. More details will be released at a later time.

Details: heartofthehorseranch.com/wp/.