The Hoofbeat: January 2020
Therapeutic Riding in the News
$2.5 million grant from the National Institute Of Child Health & Human Development, will fund a randomized 5-year-study to look into the physiology of why therapeutic horseback riding produces such positive results in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
After showing that a 10-week therapeutic horseback riding intervention reduced irritability and hyperactivity while improving the social communication skills of youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD),  University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus  researcher and Children’s Hospital Colorado psychologist, Dr. Robin Gabriels, has received a $2.5 million grant to investigate why the therapy works.

“In our first study, we also observed that initial improvements made in irritability, social and language lasted six months after the riding lessons were completed in a subset of participants,” Gabriels said. “And the children who also had psychiatric disorders like anxiety and depression had even better outcomes.”

Gabriels, who started the Neuropsychiatric Special Care inpatient and partial hospital unit for youth with ASD at Children's Hospital Colorado in 2004, said the study will also investigate how horseback riding can help these children regulate their emotions so they don’t overreact in a dangerous manner.

“If we can show horseback riding is emotionally regulating, perhaps we can reduce the need for so much medication and help keep them out of the hospital,” she said.

During the 10-week interventions, the THR and barn activity groups will wear heart rate monitors and wrist bands that record changes in electrodermal activity. Saliva samples will also be taken before and 20 minutes after the interventions to measure cortisol (stress hormone) levels.

Her initial study was the first to show that participating in 10-weeks of THR resulted in significant improvements in irritability, hyperactivity, social skills and word fluency compared to the barn activity group (Gabriels et., 2015).

For years, that impact was whimsically described as 'magical'.

“We are now trying to explain the magic,” Gabriels said.  

 Volunteers Change Lives

Interested in joining our volunteer team? Contact our volunteer program manager, Sarah for more information. No equestrian experience is required to join the Hearts team.

This is a great opportunity to spend time outdoors with Hearts horses and community members. Volunteers assist participants in mounted and unmounted lessons on the picturesque Hearts Ranch in Santa Barbara. Horsemanship and safety training is provided. High school students and college interns are welcome!

Contact Sarah to schedule an informational tour.
 Sponsor a Hearts Horse
Pippa and Vinnie visiting our friends at The ALPHA Resource Center
Pippa & Vinnie

DOB: Pippa 2016, Vinnie 2003
Color: Paint
Breed: Miniature Horse
Height: Pippa 8 hands, Vinnie 9 hands
Weight: Pippa 211 lbs, Vinnie 310 lbs

Pippa and Vinnie serve as equestrian ambassadors in Hearts' Minis on the Move program. Together they deliver smiles and therapeutic services to those unable to visit the Hearts Ranch. Most recently, Pippa and Vinnie enjoyed visiting the residents of Sarah House, one of Santa Barbara's hospice homes. Participants of the ALPHA Day Program were overjoyed to host the minis at their local ALPHA Resource Center.

For students of Hearts' Therapeutic Riding or Equine Facilitated Learning Programs who are fearful of horses, our minis serve as non-intimidating starter equines. Using our miniature horses, students can learn all of the grooming, leading and horsemanship skills necessary to be successful with their future full-size equine partners.


DOB: 2001
Color: Black
Breed: Percheron cross
Height: 15'3 hands
Weight: 1170 lbs.

Luke often uses his genius IQ for mischief. He enjoys unlatching gates and checking his friend's feed buckets for leftover grain.

His sturdy build allows us to accommodate veterans and taller adult riders in our program.


DOB: 2004
Color: Grey
Breed: Percheron
Height: 18 hands
Weight: 1900lbs.

A former mounted police horse, Dewey can also add the Rose Bowl Parade to his resume. Instead of opting for retirement after his career in civil service, Dewey decided to join the herd at Hearts.

His size and strength helps us to accommodate our taller riders. Dewey is gentle and willing, but also knows when to challenge a veteran participant to develop their riding skills.


DOB: 2000
Color: Bay
Breed: Quarter Horse
Height: 15'1 hands
Weight: 985 lbs.

Toby came to us from Los Padres Outfitters. He is originally from Oregon, where his first job was as a ranch horse. He then went on to have a successful team penning career.

Toby has amazingly smooth gaits, and is an extremely willing riding partner.

Interested in sponsoring a Hearts horse? Contact Morgan to a schedule a visit with one or all of our 5 horses currently available for sponsorship. Perks of sponsorship include your name or business name on the horse's stall, recognition online and at events, and visits to Hearts to spend time with your horse. Contributions are 100% tax deductible.
Hearts Therapeutic Equestrian Center | (805) 964-1519 | |