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Producing Excellence

Doug Newton

Keller, TX

Rocky Top Therapy Center

Type of Operation: Therapeutic horseback riding

Size of Operation: 55 horses

In Business Since: 1990

Farm Credit Partner: Lone Star Ag Credit

Working with Farm Credit Since: 1990

When most people think about therapy, horses aren’t the first thing that comes to mind. But at Rocky Top Therapy Center, that’s exactly what horses do: provide effective therapy for people with physical, mental or emotional challenges.

This non-profit foundation was initially founded by long-time horse trainer and breeder Doug Newton and his wife to provide therapy to physically disabled individuals. Funded in part by Lone Star Ag Credit, today the center has 55 specially trained horses, most of which are donated. “It takes a very special horse,” says Doug. “Because the cargo they’re carrying is in many cases very fragile, you want pretty much bomb-proof horses.” Working with these horses is a staff of 14 employees and more than 250 volunteers – who provide in excess of 18,000 hours of volunteer service each year – working to deliver a variety of therapy services to more than 1,500 clients each year.

Using what’s known as hippotherapy, for example, licensed physical therapists use the movement of the horse as a medical tool: the horse’s gait provides variable, rhythmic and repetitive sensory input, resulting in movement responses in the patient that are similar to human movement patterns. Therapeutic riding is a developmental riding therapy approach for clients with physical, mental, cognitive, social or behavioral problems, improving confidence and discipline as well as gross and fine motor skills, posture, balance and coordination. The “Right TRAIL” program provides equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) for young people, using horses in counseling sessions to provide an opportunity for behaviors and emotions to surface in a way that traditional talk therapy does not.

Serving another important client group is a more recent development: Rocky Top’s “Horses for Heroes” program uses the same EAP therapy to help veterans and their families adjust physically and emotionally to their post-war lives, whether they be facing PTSD or a lost limb. “It’s just very rewarding to know what they’ve given for us, to be able to give back to them,” Doug says. Funded fully by grants, the Horses for Heroes program is free to vets and their families, and is currently serving 100 clients.

The most gratifying aspect of running the facility, Doug says, is watching the progress the clients make. “We’ve actually had individuals come in wheelchairs and we’ve watched them progress to where they can walk.”

Download a PDF version of this story here.