Courage Reins: Therapeutic Riding

Happy girl with a pony in the pony club

Someone once said, “People say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, but the truth is, you knew exactly what you had, you just never thought you’d lose it.” We take things for granted every day. Normal everyday things that we have always had and never imagine losing, such as walking and talking. But, imagine for a moment that you can’t walk. You can’t get up and make your legs go where you want to go. Or maybe you can’t focus on one thing for thirty seconds, no matter how hard you try. How would you feel, not being in control of your body? For some people, this is a reality.

 One day in 1998, a man named Sterling Gardner heard about a therapeutic horse ranch for people with disabilities. He was curious and decided to see what it was all about. While volunteering there, he was leading a horse for a young disabled boy. As Sterling led the horse for the boy, the two began to talk. When the session ended, the little boy looked down from his horse at Sterling and exclaimed, “On a horse, I’m not crippled anymore.” Sterling left the ranch with tears in his eyes. Now, 18 years later, thanks to the hard work and dedication of many, Utah has Courage Reins Therapeutic Riding.

 The mission of Courage Reins is to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities. They offer individualized and specialized treatment for people with any type of mental or physical disability, and for those who just want to better themselves with the help of a loving and gentle horse. They offer four different types of therapy: riding, hippotherapy, mental health, and natural horsemanship. Each type of therapy helps riders improve their strength and balance, as well as increase their self-confidence and self-assurance.

 Courage Reins, located in Highland, Utah, serves between 120-140 clients a week with the help of 12 staff members, 16 horses, and over 100 volunteers. Horses with a kind and loving demeanor and special talent to serve are donated to the riding center. Volunteers and horses are carefully chosen and well trained, because they have to work as hard as they can in rain, sun, and snow to put a smile on the face of someone they just met.

 When a client arrives at Courage Reins, they are welcomed by a customized team


that will stick with them through their journey to something better. Together, they make a plan based on the client’s individual needs and develop goals to be met at each session.

 “We want people to leave here with something better than how they came,” says Vicki Armstrong, Director of Courage Reins. “We want to make their life better than it was.”

 What makes Courage Reins different than any other facility is their dedication to the client’s emotional and physical well-being. Their program is based on building relationships between the client, the horse, and the staff. These relationships are formed as everyone comes together each week for each other. They get to know each other’s likes, dislikes, and needs. The volunteers know which saddle their client likes or which song motivates them the most. The client knows how their horse likes to be handled. The horse knows what speed the client is most comfortable with or where the client likes to ride the most. They all know where they’ve been and where they’re going, and they work hard to get there as a team. The client knows they are loved. That feeling and those relationships make all the difference, according to Vicki.

 Anyone who passes through Courage Reins, for whatever reason, finds a new sense of joy in their life. “They may or may not achieve their medical or physical goals, but they do leave better than they were before,” explains Vicki. Courage Reins is a place where everyone involved benefits from the magic that takes place. The clients, family, staff, volunteers, and horses give everything inside of them to lighten each others burdens and make someone else’s day a little better. Everyone walks away feeling a greater sense of self-confidence and having witnessed miracles.

 “There is never a day that you don’t see something that is absolutely incredible. Something that brightens your heart because it’s something that shouldn’t be possible,” says Vicki.

 When you lose something so basic and normal, you begin to see the world with new eyes. You notice the beauty in things that would normally be quickly passed by. At Courage Reins, people learn to notice the beauty in life in a different and special way.

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Written by Tori Crane

Tori is an Associate Editor at Utah Valley Health and Wellness. She has worked as a sports writer/editor and also does event planning for non-profit organizations. Tori is originally from Dallas, Texas and recently graduated from Brigham Young University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications with a Minor in Music.