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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

Spirit Horse Connections in Kingsburg

Jul 23, 2019 11:00AM ● By Enjoy Magazine

Beautiful Connections

August 2019
Story by Natalie Caudle
Photos by Rhonna Torres

Created out of a passion for both animals and people, Spirit Horse Connections brings a new concept and energy to the idea of therapy.          
The organization officially began in 2012 by Kasey Thiesen and her mom, Kelly Okland, but the seed that started the nonprofit was planted more than a decade earlier.

As a child, Thiesen grew up in a home surrounded by hurting children. Okland and her husband were foster parents and happily cared for children of all ages with various needs. As children who have experienced trauma often do, Thiesen remembers her foster siblings having a difficult time adjusting. “Even if they didn’t want to talk to us, they could make a connection with an animal. Sometimes an animal is easier to relate to.” The family home was filled with various critters and creatures and Thiesen saw the therapeutic benefits of animals first hand. 
After studying child development in college, Thiesen returned to Kingsburg where she and Okland began Pawsitive Connections, a nonprofit organization centered around rescuing dogs. As the new nonprofit took off, the mother-daughter duo began to dream on a larger scale, looking for a way to help people and animals at the same time. Shortly thereafter, they became certified through their parent organization in Texas, Spirit Horse International. In 2013, Spirit Horse Connections in Kingsburg opened its doors and began helping people of all ages.

Spirit Horse provides an alternative therapeutic approach for children and adults with various abilities and needs. Serving those with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, anxiety, PTSD and multiple sclerosis, Spirit Horse meets the individual right where they are, helping them build strength, confidence and balance.

The unique approach of Spirit Horse involves the vestibular system, one of the sensory systems that provides the brain with information about balance and spatial understanding. As the riders sit on the horse, the movement of the horse causes the rider to engage their muscles and stimulate the vestibular system, which in turn sparks other parts of the brain, including the language center – and 104 children have spoken their first word on a horse or pony at Spirit Horse. Additionally, as riders learn the proper care of a horse through grooming and putting on the saddle, the processes of sequencing and the importance of gentleness is reinforced, all while the riders are unaware of any therapy taking place. 

Within the 10 acres of countryside, 17 rescued horses are ridden regularly for both therapy and private instructional lessons. Spirit Horse has joined with horse rescue organizations to bring healing to horses who have been neglected or hurt. As the horses are nurtured, their spirit of gentleness returns and they rediscover their purpose. More experienced horses begin to shine with their talent and expertise proving to be great horses for therapy, while others work through rehab to be re-homed to other organizations needing horses for more expert riders. In addition to the equine population, the tucked-away refuge houses pigs, ducks, goats and even an alpaca. 

 Not only do the animals bring a whimsical flare to the farm, they serve as part of a petting zoo, perfect for any youngster to chase and feed. Proceeds from the zoo help offset the cost of therapy. Spirit Horse doesn’t want anyone to miss out on the life-changing effects of therapy due to cost. Private riding lessons help bring down therapy costs, as well. 

The motto of Spirit Horse is “The spirit to ride, the courage to try.” Therapy sessions are scheduled once a week for a semester, following a similar calendar to the school year. Clients range in age from 2 to 35 years of age.

Leslie Covert has brought her daughter to Spirit Horse for the last two years. The experience has proven to be amazing. As Covert’s daughter rides the horse, the horse senses her emotions and modifies its behavior in reaction. This communication creates a deep connection between the horse and rider and has helped Covert’s daughter work through anxiety and fear. Covert is forever grateful to Thiesen and Okland. “It is a therapy that works in a way I never expected or could even explain. It gives her a sense of purpose and belonging. In some hard and difficult days when her anxiety seems to be winning, walking into those gates at Spirit Horse and connecting with those horses is the one thing that brings her smile back out again.”

Thiesen finds great joy in her everyday work, knowing she’s making a difference in so many lives while also bringing healing to hurting animals. The joy and surprise on a parent’s face as they see their son or daughter sit up for the first time or speak their first words is what makes this endeavor worthwhile for Thiesen. She and Okland pride themselves in having created “a place where anybody can belong, where everyone is welcome and everyone is included.” 

Sometimes miracles happen in the most unlikely places. It is evident that there is healing in equine therapy as older children take their first-ever steps and veterans find purpose and belonging as they overcome PTSD. The synergizing relationship between horse and rider, as one heals another, shows that this one-of-a-kind farm serves a higher purpose.•

Spirit Horse Connections
(559) 393-1948
12099 E. Stroud Avenue, Kingsburg
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