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Bend’s Healing Reins, renowned horseman come ‘full circle’ amid rise in horse therapy demand

(Update: Adding video, comments from therapy center, expert horseman)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- One industry that is seeing an increase during the pandemic: therapeutic horse riding. 

So much so that one Bend-area facility brought in world-renowned horseman Richard Shrake to train its staff on Friday.

"Gallop, like this Brittany -- look!” Shrake shouted at a staff member riding a horse. “Gallop, gallop, gallop! Both hands on the neck, Brittany!”

Shrake has created numerous training programs, judged 16 world championships and instructed more than 4,000 clients in the world of horsemanship. 

He took time on Friday to come to Central Oregon and help out a former student of his.

"It's a full circle,” Shrake said. 

Penny Campbell is the operations coordinator and a founding member of Healing Reins Therapeutic Riding Center southeast of Bend.

She trained in horsemanship under Shrake in 1982, and had a dream of using her passion to serve the community.

"It was just a natural fit for me, who loved horses, and also wanted to help people.” Campbell said. 

She made that dream come true when the center opened in 1999.

It offers therapeutic horse riding sessions for people with cognitive, physical, behavioral or emotional needs, as well as recreational horsemanship. 

"You can learn a lot about yourself by working with a horse,” Campbell said.

She brought in Shrake to help teach horse riding and leading methods to new and existing staff because she said the demand for equine therapy has increased dramatically.

Campbell said the stresses and mental health complications caused by the pandemic have turned some people to horse riding.

"The last year has been really hard on a lot of people,” Campbell said.

She mentioned how other activities have been closed or altered, while her facility has stayed the course. 

"And so, we've been a place where people are drawn to because they need something,” Campbell said. “Also, horses are just attractive to people because of their beauty, because of their partnership."

In fact, Campbell told NewsChannel 21 that all their lessons for the summer, which include 180 people per week, are already filled up.

Most lessons already have 20 to 30 people on a waitlist that goes out six to nine months. 

The center currently has 19 therapy horses and requires over two hundred volunteers per week.

Campbell said they are planning to build a new arena, add more horses, and increase their mental health center to accommodate for the growing demand in horse therapy.

"They read you. They mirror what you're thinking,” Campbell said of the horses. “For mental health therapy, for instance, that gives the counselor a whole lot of information they can work with a client."

Shrake knows the impact a horse can make on a person, and is impressed by his protege's work.

"These horses become that child on a wheelchair's legs,” Shrake said. "So when you see that change instantly -- wow. Touches your heart." 

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Noah Chast

Noah Chast is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Noah here.


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