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NMSU Therapeutic Riding Program receives $500,000 planned gift, $25,000 for new covered arena

Since 2008, volunteers within the New Mexico State University Therapeutic Riding Program have been utilizing the bond between humans and horses to help persons with disabilities achieve personal life skills and goals through riding sessions, counseling and support.

From left, Jay, Wendy and Sarah
Wendy K. Wilkins, executive vice president and provost at NMSU; and her husband Jay A. Rodman, a senior communications specialist at University Communications and Marketing Services; plan to donate nearly $500,000 to the NMSU Therapeutic Riding Program that will go towards upgrades to a covered arena for the riding program as well as other equine programs. From left are Jay A. Rodman, Wendy K. Wilkins and Sarah Veeder. (Photo courtesy of Mark Gladden)

Now, the program that has assisted so many is getting some big help of its own with the planned gift of nearly $500,000 that will go toward upgrades to a covered arena for the riding program as well as other equine programs. When constructed, the arena will not only provide shade and shelter to participants, it will also offer privacy to clients in the program.

Wendy K. Wilkins, executive vice president and provost at NMSU; and her husband Jay A. Rodman, a senior communications specialist at University Communications and Marketing Services; have already gifted $25,000 that they hope is the start of many public contributions to help support the goals of the program.

"We hope that others will join us in supporting this program, first to provide an arena that can serve the needs of the program whatever the weather might be, and then to provide support for growing the program and enabling it to provide therapy to more who could benefit from interactions with these wonderful animals," Wilkins said.

"We are ecstatic about this very generous donation that has been made and are thrilled to see if we can keep the momentum going and build an indoor arena that all of us really want and need and can enjoy," said Sarah Veeder, an equine science instructor and advisor of the NMSU Therapeutic Riding Program.

The current space being used by clients is an open arena that is vulnerable to weather and the distractions of traffic and other passersby. Sometimes, classes have to be canceled to accommodate weather conditions, leading to disappointment from clients who look forward to their sessions.

"We are limited by space and weather," Veeder said. "That has been a big issue for us. Some of our clients also need more privacy because their riding sessions also include counseling. There is a lot to distract the clients, both visually and with their hearing. If we can take those aspects out, I think we will be able to get them to focus and get a lot more accomplished."

Faculty and staff with the riding program are looking to build an arena in the near future, about 65 feet by 131 feet in size. Veeder estimated the total cost for a basic structure is $150,000. She said the program will continue to seek contributions until they reach that goal. The hope is to begin building the new arena within five years.

Wilkins and Rodman said when they learned of the mission of the NMSU Therapeutic Riding Program and how much it accomplishes with very limited resources, they were excited by the possibility that they could make a meaningful contribution with the initial $25,000 donation and the planned gift of $500,000.

"It is exciting to think that the planned gift we have committed to will enhance the program years in the future, when we are no longer on the scene," said Rodman. "Knowing how important it is to work in a modern facility, we expect those funds will make a substantial impact when they are used to upgrade the arena."

They added that they appreciate how much the program adds to the lives of its participants and also like that the program combines elements of equine science with human psychology.

"In this instance, we are supporting a lifelong passion - equine activities - which not only matches well with our own interests, but also matches well with the land-grant heritage of NMSU," Wilkins said. "We are particularly aware of, and supportive of, the value of horses as therapy animals. In fact, we often refer to our own "equine therapy" when we can get out on our horses. We truly believe in the good that can be done, for youngsters and others, through activities that involve horses."

The NMSU Therapeutic Riding Program consists of therapeutic riding, ground lessons, equine assisted learning, equine assisted psychotherapy and hippotherapy.

Therapeutic riding and ground lessons provide benefits to clients in the areas of therapy, education, sport and recreation and leisure and are tailored to each rider. Clients can focus on communication and socials skills, as well as teamwork and problem solving through games and other activities. Instructors for these lessons are certified Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International instructors.

Equine assisted learning utilizes the horses to help participants work through goal-oriented activities that involve the client interpreting the horse's body language, perception and sensitivity. The psychotherapy aspect has clients and horses working in a therapeutic setting to help the clients overcome mental and emotional challenges. Horses respond to people similar to the way people respond to each other, which allows clients to role-play their challenges with a horse. For both of these therapy areas, a New Mexico licensed mental health counselor, who is also certified through the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association, leads the sessions.

Through hippotherapy, NMSU teams with MECA, LLC., which has a physical, occupational, speech, developmental or family therapist that works with the clients and teams with an equine specialist to lead a lesson with goals and objectives similar to their other therapy sessions.

"This is a wonderful program and I am so excited about it," Veeder said. "I thought it was going to be a far-fetched dream to be able to have this program here at this university. I thought it would start off small, but it has just grown so much. Every time I turn around, there is someone who wants to jump in and participate or another program that wants to team up with us. There is a lot going on and it's neat to be able to have those options, to see it grow and see everybody else really enjoy it."

For more information on the Therapeutic Riding Program, go to trp.nmsu.edu or call 575-646-2929.


WHAT: The "Mane" Event

WHO: NMSU Therapeutic Riding Program

WHEN: Saturday, March 31 at 6:30 p.m.

WHERE: Saratoga Room at Lorenzo's restaurant, 1763 E. University Ave.

The New Mexico State University Therapeutic Riding Program is hosting a public benefit to raise money for its program.

The cost is $30 per person. A silent auction and raffle will be held during the event. Wine and hors d'oeuvres will be served. All proceeds will go toward the NMSU Therapeutic Riding Program.

For more information or to purchase tickets, contact the Therapeutic Riding Program at 575-646-2929. Tickets can also be obtained by calling Lorenzo's at 575-521-3505.