Despite a slowdown due to COVID-19, the Reins in Motion Foundation (RMF) is still going strong.
Located in Livermore, the nonprofit group serves the special needs and veteran communities of the Tri-Valley through equine therapy. RMF has provided therapeutic riding services to clients as young as 2 since its inception in 2010. Founder Katy Kempton is the organization’s director and a PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) certified instructor.
“I’ve always been around horses and loved kids and was fortunate to find a career where I could combine my passion for horses and work with children as well,” Kempton said. “Years ago, a friend told me about therapeutic riding, and I thought it would be wonderful to help kids with special needs work through physical limitations, so I jumped in with both feet.”
Kempton created a volunteer-run program at a barn on Tesla Road and began offering riding lessons to the special-needs community. She also collaborated with the Livermore Veterans Association (VA) to accommodate veterans in need of recreational therapy.
“Other than COVID, which slowed us down, things are great,” Kempton said. “We took quite the hit financially … the horses still need to eat and get shoes and everything, but we are pretty much back up and running.”
Amanda Dortch is one of the program’s instructors. Her background in recreational therapy gives her a strong understanding of how equine therapy can benefit both children and the veterans who come to the barn.
“We can focus on things like physical disabilities, using the horse as a tool to help them gain more flexibility and movement for their muscles,” Dortch said, noting one client was able to gain enough strength to stop using a wheelchair. “We also have clients who come to us for social integration; either the clients have an inability to speak or have a fear of speaking in front of others, so it starts with speaking to a horse. I have had kids who won’t speak to people but will speak to a horse.”
Dortch said the very act of sitting on a horse opens the diaphragm, encouraging muscles and lungs to strengthen and express sound. She said RMF also has clients who come to learn balance, improve memory skills, and gain confidence and independence.
Michelle Portteus has been bringing her daughter, Emree, to the barn for six years. Diagnosed with selective mutism and autism, Emree had difficulty speaking to people outside her home.
“When we initially started going, everyone said it would help her talk and decrease her anxiety, and man, did it ever,” said Portteus. “The turnaround was so incredibly quick. Katy is super invested in her clientele, and she learned about selective mutism and knew not to directly look at her, to just stay quiet. And it wasn’t long before Emree was communicating with her and with us.”
Portteus continues to bring her daughter for lessons to work on strengthening muscles and fostering her independence and confidence.
Dortch noted RMF helps its clients achieve a range of goals, from simply learning to be comfortable in the arena with a horse to riding independently. She had a hand in developing the program used for veterans, an eight-week course including lessons on horse care and management as well as riding skills.
“I want each individual to be able to live their highest quality of life, and I think horses and all kinds of recreational therapy gives the opportunity for them to show what they have to offer and be more independent,” Dortch said. “Our program really gets to showcase their talents and abilities, no matter how small or big and no matter how slow they show progress. That keeps me motivated to keep doing my job, because you see them being able to be a little more independent or gain a small skill, and that’s a huge thing.”