TR 4 Heart & Soul is a non-profit that seeks to improve the quality of life, both physically and emotionally of adults and children with disabilities, learning, speech, and behavioral challenges through the heart and soul of a horse utilizing therapeutic riding. Located south east of Lincoln, ND, Katie Oakland started her dream of this therapeutic riding center about a decade ago after visiting a similar facility by Thompson, ND.
The idea to start her own facility was in the back of her mind all through college and even after she had gotten married. One day, when talking about it to her husband, he said that if she still wanted to do it, that she should look into it. Oakland states that she was up all night that night researching how to become a 501 c3 and figure out how to get started. With a supportive group of friends, they formed a small board of directors. In December of 2016 they formed the corporation with a pilot program that following April. The program started with two horses and four children, two with cerebral palsy and two on the autism spectrum. “The parents were absolutely amazed at the reaction their kids had with the horses. Everyone that was there during that first session knew we had to move forward with this. So we had a grand opening that summer with about 16 kids.” Oakland goes on to say that after adding riding for adults as well, their summer months now have about 50+ different riders each week.
Being a non-profit, Oakland and her team rely on scholarships, donations, and fundraising to get them the things they need to provide the horses and the riders with essentials. “As much time as we spend riding, we probably spend double that fundraising,” mentions Oakland. One of their largest fundraisers each year is in the form of a Blue Jean Black Tie Affair. The first year they held the fundraiser was to raise a goal of $15,000 – just to stay open.
“Someone right away invited Dale Pahlke to that event. When he came, he jumped in and did the auctioneering and he was fabulous. We always have special guests and he really makes those kids feel special. He went out of his way to make sure that night was special and remarkable for memorable for them” reveals Oakland.
Now, after its third year, this event has really become the staple that keeps their barn doors open and funds their organization for the majority of their working year. “We give a lot of that success to Dale because there is no way without his contribution to the auction, there is no way we would be able to raise that kind of money. With Dakota Community Bank & Trust, you can see, when there is a sports event, rodeo, or ag-based event, they 110% believe about giving back to the community. We see their staff, and Dale (Pahlke) and Cindy (Schaaf) everywhere. When you see any employee or Dale and Cindy, they are the first ones to take time out of their day to ask you how you are doing. Their belief system is to give back to the community.”
With roughly 30 to 50 lessons a week plus additional events and camps for children, Oakland has helped individuals with a developmental, physical, and/or social-emotional disability. Their clients come once a week, for six weeks, from roughly a 100 mile radius to participate in these potentially life changing riding sessions. As the only certified center in the state that runs year-round, she expresses, “We use the power of the horse to improve the quality of life of individuals through adaptive or therapeutic riding lessons.”
Oakland says one could not believe some of the benefits and mini-miracles that she has seen come out of the therapeutic riding sessions. She particularly remembers one family had been riding out there for a couple years, and their son who has a physical disability, who is now seven, started riding when he was about five. At the age of five and a half, up until his riding session, he had never taken more than two steps in his life. “After his first six week session, he started walking across the living room at home. The horse can do so much physically because of the anatomy of their body biomechanically but it also gave this little boy the confidence that if you can ride this horse around, you can certainly walk across the living room,” she recalls.
Oakland also specifically mentioned another instance when a young nonverbal girl on the autism spectrum started riding. After riding therapy, along with other therapies, she will not only speak with her horse but also plays games with the horse by verbally commanding him what to do. “The horse really brings out her ability to function. There is nothing like it,” says Oakland. She repeats, “There is nothing like it.” Oakland credits her dedicated founding board of directors and a supportive community to the success of TR 4 Heart & Soul. She urges anyone who has an interest in horses or helping people to come on out and see what they are all about. TR 4 Heart & Soul gives their riders the chance to make that impossible dream possible and the chance to take life by the reins.
Written by Lindsey Hefta, Marketing Director