A Therapeutic and Beginning Horsemanship Riding in Parker

With the smell of manure in the air and bootprints on the new blanket of snow inside the horse arena, about 10 children line up waiting for their turn to ride a horse on a Saturday morning. Many of them wait all week long for the chance to saddle up on either Apollo, Whinna or Stella, the rescue horses at Reining Heroes, a nonprofit therapeutic and beginning horsemanship riding center in Parker.

“Riding gives me a sense of being free, and it’s very relaxing,” says Keaton Miller, 18, who has been riding with Reining Heroes’ owner, Paula Quillen, for about six years.

He’s visually impaired and according to his mother, says the weekly riding helps him strengthen his core—and his self-confidence.

Paula started Reining Heroes two years ago.

“I fell in love with the concept and thought I could actually do this. It was just a feeling. It was a calling,” Paula says.

Paula connects with the students, horses and parents. Having been working in horses for many years at various therapeutic centers, she began as a volunteer in a program called Pegasus at Laz E Acres Stables in 2000.

“I drove into a program and volunteered, knowing I wanted to stay in horses, and I volunteered for about two hours and realized I needed to be the teacher.”

Paula doesn’t believe in putting a label on a person with a disability.

“So a little thing I do is I make them fill out all the paperwork, but I never read it because that’s not who they are. Everyone has a special need, and I just try to teach them because the rewards are so much better all the way around. They’re neat kids, and the parents are really cool.”

Paula becomes attached to not only the students but the parents. She says, “I love you” to the students and parents as if they are a family. Paula explains that she receives joy from working with her students.

“I get to see them grow.”

Paula says she gets to see their true personality, and she doesn’t judge them for their disabilities.

Laura-Anne Cleveland is a mother of five, three of whom have special needs. She says finding Reining Heroes was “priceless” not just for her children, but for herself as well.

“I love to ride, so it also kind of gives me my solace,” Laura-Anne says. “Also, talking to Paula, she’ll say, ‘I hear it’s kind of rough right now,’ and so it kind of gives me my own counseling too.”

Laura-Anne says many therapeutic horse facilities focus on the lessons, but it’s different at Reining Heroes.

“To actually find someone who specializes in the psychology and counseling of children, as well as the benefits that play within horses, was pretty special,” she says.

Laura-Anne says she notices a difference in the behavior of her sons who suffer from autism, ADHD and other disabilities within 24 hours of a riding session.

“I think it’s just important for people to know this exists, that it’s just as valuable as seeing a counselor, it’s just as valuable as sports or, you know, anything else,” she says. “And especially when you’re losing hope in other arenas, it can give you a lot of hope when you see them progress.”

For Ethan Flanagan,15, and his family, finding Paula, according to his mother, Melissa Flanagan, was, “a really good match.” From the beginning observation, Paula could judge which disability Ethan possesses through his body language and the horses.

“It was spot-on.”

Ethan is autistic. His mother says autism is an umbrella; there is a large spectrum of autistic characteristics.

“If you’ve met one kid with autism, you’ve met one kid with autism.”

Paula’s experienced different children with a range of disabilities, and she explains it’s about giving back.

“You never know whose life you’re going to change.”