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Spirit® is published three times per year by the Texas A&M Foundation, which manages major gifts and endowments for the benefit of academic programs, scholarships and student activities at Texas A&M University.

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President's Post

Horse Power

By Tyson Voelkel '96

President, Texas A&M Foundation
President Tyson Voelkel '96

Six years ago, my daughter Eliana took up horseback riding. She competes in both Western and English disciplines, and she is absolutely in love with her big, beautiful gelding, Butler. I think she takes after her grandfather, who was a natural horseman.

What’s even more remarkable are the changes horseback riding has brought out in her: increased confidence and maturity, and a greater sense of responsibility and commitment. These changes are not so different from those professed by participants in Texas A&M University’s Courtney Cares program, which offers free therapeutic riding sessions for veterans and people with disabilities. You can read more about this important program, which is part of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, in our cover feature.

During the past six years, of the 25 adults, children and veterans served per semester at Courtney Cares, more than 90 percent have reported improvement in independence and life skills. While Eliana’s reason for riding isn’t therapeutic, I can see that it has the same effect. The bottom line is that horseback riding is empowering: The rider has command of a 1,200-pound animal. It’s no wonder that one’s physical and emotional well-being should improve from the experience. Learning how to cope with ambiguity and how to harness the energy and power of these animals requires discipline and a real respect for them.

Courtney Cares teaches us that horses make good candidates for therapy because they are trainable and have a gait that mimics human movement, which can improve the body’s balance, core strength and motor skills. After undergoing riding sessions, some Courtney Cares participants speak or sit up for the first time. According to instructors, riding is the highlight of the week for many of them, even if they are nonverbal or don’t make eye contact. For their families, it is a joy to watch such progress. As many of you know, there is no better feeling than watching a loved one succeed or overcome challenges.

The Courtney Cares program has made a tremendous difference in the lives it has touched during its brief lifetime and is another example of a good philanthropic investment at Texas A&M. My team is proud to help grow the program and its capabilities through our efforts. I encourage you to read this issue’s cover feature to learn more about the history of the program, where it’s headed and the Courtney behind Courtney Cares. After reading it, I think you will agree that we titled the feature appropriately. The things happening under Freeman Arena are, indeed, magical.

Thanks for all you do.