As effective as the hands-on work with clients has been, Courtney Cares is entering a new phase that takes it beyond the arena. After years of being administered by the university system, the program is now under Texas A&M’s One Health initiative in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, which focuses on the interconnectedness of human, animal and environmental wellness.
During the spring 2018 semester, Drs. Krenek and Lightsey began teaching a class in the veterinary college called “Introduction to Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies” that covers the principles of EAAT. The class was filled to capacity with students attending lectures once per week and working with Courtney Cares for their EAAT laboratory. Dr. Heird foresees additional classes in special education, marketing, horsemanship and business at Texas A&M to aid students in learning best practices of the EAAT industry.
Dr. Krenek also imagines Texas A&M as a leader in equine therapy research. Courtney Cares has been an integral part of a research program with Texas A&M’s Department of Mechanical Engineering to gather biofeedback through sensors placed on the horses and riders to study the impact of the horse’s movement on the mounted client. Earlier this year, the Horses and Humans Research Foundation awarded $10,000 to the university to complete a study that will involve children diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
“If we really believe in helping children and veterans, we need to do research and promote the industry,” Krenek said. But that takes money, and Courtney Cares is running out of funds. Because Krenek and her staff have been efficient with the $1.2 million the program started with, they have stretched a five-year plan to six years. But additional funding is necessary to move the program forward.
Gifts of all levels are vital to the success of this program. Endowed gifts range from $25,000 to $10 million. The total fundraising goal for this program is $12 million, with at least $10 million of that endowed to help cover operating expenses, which are about $220,000 per year. Naming opportunities exist at all levels, and the Grimshaw family has committed $250,000 in matching funds to boost contributions from new donors.
In a strange twist of fate, two people who understand just how effective equine therapy can be also happen to be the individuals responsible for the original financing of Courtney Cares. Patricia and Rukin Jelks, ranchers from Arizona, bought Courtney Grimshaw’s property in Thorndale. They loved the rolling land, the house she had built and the expansive horse barn that was partially constructed. They too now have dreams of using the barn for some type of horse therapy because Rukin, who suffered a life-changing stroke in 2009, has benefited enormously from equine therapy himself.
When they bought Courtney’s property, Rukin could barely talk or move on his own. Their new home happens to be close to ROCK’s main facility in Georgetown. When Patricia called to enroll Rukin in therapy there, Nancy Krenek had already been working at Texas A&M with Courtney Cares. “When Patricia started telling their story, I was overwhelmed at the magnitude of all the pieces coming together,” reported Krenek. “I felt it was more than a coincidence.”
After one year of riding weekly, Rukin can talk and walks on his own with a cane. “Ten or 15 minutes into his ride, you can see the transformation in him,” said Patrick Breen ’79, a retired veterinarian who walks along with Rukin at his sessions. “He gathers himself. His tone changes. You recognize Rukin—the rancher—riding his horse.”
Patricia credits horse therapy with giving her husband his life back. “Getting on a horse was the change we’d been waiting for,” she said. She too sees miraculous forces at work in the way their lives and goals have dovetailed with Courtney Grimshaw’s. “We saw a lot of horse properties when we were looking to buy, but Courtney’s place really called to Rukin,” she added. “Now I know there’s a reason we ended up here.”