Story and photos provided by Turning Point Ranch unless otherwise noted
Miniature horses will be helping elderly citizens with dementia, at-risk teenagers, and first graders with reading challenges thanks to a $50,000 grant from The Masonic Charity Foundation of Oklahoma. Stillwater’s Turning Point Therapeutic Horsemanship will use the grant to take equine programming to citizens who can’t come to their barn on Country Club Rd.
“Turning Point’s proposal was compelling because it included benefits for both children and the elderly,” said John Logan, Executive Director of Oklahoma’s Masonic Charity Foundation. “Those children are our children, and those seniors are our parents. We are proud to support a program that has the potential to improve the lives of both.”
Turning Point’s Executive Director Rachel Royston has extensive experience with mini horse therapy from her work at a center near Indianapolis. Royston has taken Turning Point’s miniature horse, Baxter, to schools, assisted living centers, the Public Library, the Wondertorium, as well as OSU’s Veterinary Medical School open house and other community events.
Baxter is a key part of Turning Point’s longtime Literacy Program with Title One school, Highland Park Elementary. Through this program, Highland Park first graders improve reading skills through the incentive of reading to REAL horses at the ranch.
Royston says that the Masonic grant will allow Turning Point to acquire additional miniature horses and launch three to four pilot projects to build data on actual results in Stillwater. “I have seen long term miniature horse programming produce more than 85% increases in mobility and 90% in communication with dementia patients and I am excited to bring that level of success to Stillwater,” said Royston. The program is particularly well suited for Stillwater which was designated Oklahoma’s first Certified Retirement Community in 2012.
In a dementia-based program, residents groom the horses while following directions for specific topics that inspire storytelling from the past. It’s fun but encourages verbal skills that begin to fade with the onset of dementia. Just having a live horse in the hall is something to talk about! The chance to lead a miniature horse on a short walk is a safe but exciting way to encourage movement in residents who cling to the security of a chair most days.
“I know the combination of intentional activities using trained minis, PATH standards, and Turning Point’s registered instructors will make a positive impact,” said Royston. She is working to develop a partnership with Foster Care Agencies and groups serving young victims of trauma for additional mini programming.
The Masonic grant will also provide a trailer specifically built for minis. There is currently space for only one mini in the back seat of Rachel’s truck. A dedicated trailer will haul multiple minis and will be sized appropriately to protect miniature horses in case of an accident.
Minis can generally be used indoors or outdoors and are less intimidating to people who might be afraid of a 1,200 pound full sized horse. “But minis are still horses and bring the instincts that teach people of all ages a lot about themselves,” says Royston. Miniature horses can be a valuable component of a program designed to teach setting boundaries, showing compassion, asserting needs, confidence building, and other skills weakened in individuals facing challenges.
Turning Point is a Premier Accredited Therapeutic Horsemanship Center, certified under the standards of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH). Turning Point’s mission is to use the magic of horses to provide tools for people with physical, mental, and emotional challenges to build successful futures.Turning Point currently offers therapeutic riding and equine assisted activities at its facility at 385 S Country Club Road. The program serves Special Education students from the Stillwater Middle School, Junior High, and High Schools along with younger and older private clients. The program has operated in Stillwater since 2000 thanks, in part, to more than 100 volunteers each semester. For more information about Turning Point’s programming or volunteer opportunities, contact Rachel Royston at 405-269-2225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.