The Foundation of The H.E.A.R.T. Center

The HEART Center

“When nothing is sure — everything is possible.” Margaret Drabble


So often I am asked, where did it all begin? In response to that question, this exact moment pops into my head every single time. I had no idea that this picture existed until it was shared with me today; until now, I believed this moment was only one for memory. This was Lexie’s very first day on a horse.

The week before was her introductory session. During that first session, Lexie was introduced to me, a stranger who had the audacity to ask her to touch a 1,000 pound horse. Talk about sensory overload! Lexie jumped up and down, stimming and clapping, but through praise, patience and trust she raised enough courage to touch the horse with one finger. The second Lexie connected with one finger she ran away clapping and laughing, but then paused to look over her shoulder to see if she could do it again. We worked our way from one finger to five and by the end of the session she was running back and forth with a brush in hand, grinning from ear to ear and as proud as could be.

That one finger taught me everything I would ever need to know about Lexie, and though I didn’t know it at the time, set the foundation for The H.E.A.R.T. Center teaching model.

Fast forward a week to this picture, when I knew that despite how nervous and persistent she was, all we needed to do was get Lexie on the horse. Unfortunately, an over-scheduled day and the demand of our steadfast TR horses left only Easy, a sensitive, reactive, and sometimes easily-frightened horse, in our hands for Lexie’s lesson. So became the additional challenge of not only getting Lexie on a horse, but getting Lexie on Easy, a gelding that was anything but easy!. I remember looking at him and explaining that despite her resistance, our job was to get her on top of him, walk a circle and be done. Sounds simple, right?

When the time came for Lexie to mount up, she made it very clear that there was no way she was getting on by herself. But, in that moment, she put her trust in me, and clinging to me in the biggest bear hug known to mankind, Lexie allowed me to climb with her on top of this giant horse. From then on, there was no convincing her to turn around and face forward; instead, there was only hugging, singing, and following along with Easy’s swinging motion. To me there is nothing greater than the trust a child puts in you to hold them safely, and in this moment, Lexie was trusting me to hold her safely so she could ride her very first horse.

And, I mean, talk about a horse that pulled it together when I needed him the most. While we clambered on top of him, Easy stood there with his head hung low, patiently waiting for our cues. He was the first horse to teach me what it felt like to trust a horse not only as a tool, but as an equal in the therapeutic process.

This was in 2008 and today I see just how strong that trust, between student and teacher, teacher and horse, has been as a guiding force in my path as a Recreation Therapist. I was fortunate enough to have the most incredible mentor during the first portion of my career and without her I don't think I ever would have been taught to trust so deeply and follow that trust no matter where it might lead me.

In 2014, The Harden Education and Recreation Therapy Center was founded on the grounds of trust and love. As we continue to grow, we keep in mind the tree of the The H.E.A.R.T. Center logo, because our growth would be impossible without nurture, love, and a whole lot of trust.

Each day at The HEART Center begins and ends in trust. Trust- in myself that we are on the right path. Trust- that my kids and their incredible families bestow on me to help them grow into the amazing humans they are. Trust- in our horses, that they will walk side by side with me in beginning this journey and always hold me accountable to being the best teacher I can be. Trust- that the volunteers put into our program as they open their hearts and bring our vision to life. Trust- in the community, that they will embrace our new style of education and welcome us with open arms.

The picture I shared above embodies for me what it feels like to trust. Through her uncertainty Lexie trusted me, as I trusted our horse, and in turn I trusted that the pride Lexie shows from overcoming obstacles would shine through. This picture captures the moment Lexie let go, the pride that came through, and the smile that slowly came out. Lexie you have changed my life with this and all of the little moments we have shared. Thank you for allowing me to share them with others.

I am beyond grateful for the trust that surrounds me and for the trust I am able to share every single day. We are building a vision that trusts in the possibilities of each person that walks through our doors. That’s a whole lot of possibilities and I can’t wait to see where they take us. Thank you for trusting with me, dreaming with me and helping to nurture and grow The H.E.A.R.T. Center to the biggest possibility it can be.