OTTBs you should know: Hank the Wonder Therapy Horse

Everyone’s doing it. Even Zenyatta has been known to engage in a little hippotherapy. So I wasn’t terribly surprised to get an email from Joell Dunlap of the Square Peg Foundation, an adaptive horsemanship program, alerting me to the group’s very fabulous OTTBs.

Hank and a fan, courtesy Square Peg Foundation

The rescued horses who make  up  the  Square  Peg Foundation’s team  of therapy horses, especially a certain “cheap claimer” once named “My Cheatin’ Heart” (an apt name for a horse, since we all know every single horse will, at some point or another, make us weep) have been making headlines for a recent demonstration of The Horse Boy Method, which takes therapeutic riding, dispenses with the sidewalkers and leaders, and lets a child ride double with a skilled equestrian.

It wasn’t so much that Hank (My Cheatin’ Heart, of course) was able to quietly  and expertly carry people with disabilities and developmental struggles. It was where he did it. 

So when Rupert Isaacson, creator of The HorseBoy Method asked if we could bring horses into the San Jose Convention Center to demonstrate HorseBoy Method for kids with autism at the Abilities Conference (I need  to explain that this meant riding horses on the concrete floor of the San Jose Convention Center in and amongst vendors demonstrating things like wheelchairs and hydraulic lifts for people with physical mobility issues. There would be hundreds of spectators, microphones, flash cameras and all sorts of service animals)  I couldn’t believe it when I heard myself say “sure, we can help you out.”

Oh Joell. What are you thinking? You can’t take your horse into a convention center amongst the press and tourists and screaming toddlers and cell phone cameras!

“Fantastic!” replied Rupert, “I’ll send you an email with some tips and I’d like for the horses to be able to do some tricks like smile on cue, bow and if you can get them to stand on a pedestal, that would be great.”


“Did I mention that we will have to bring them into the convention center via the loading docks, will that be okay with your horses? You’re a champion – thanks so much. ”


Guess what Joell did. Can you guess? If you guessed, “Joell politely declined, realizing that the alien settings of the convention center, combined with less than ideal shipping circumstances and the looming impossibility of teaching them any tricks in the next week would simply be too much to ask,” well then, my friends, you don’t know Joell!

Joell and her team learned Hank and another Thoroughbred named Cometa some new tricks. (Cometa’s 19, so you can learn an old horse new tricks.) Then they loaded up the horses, took them to the convention center, put boots on their hooves to prevent any accidents on the convention center floors, and let them put on the show of a lifetime.

Joell, in her blog, sums up what I love most about therapeutic riding:

The crowd loved them and they basked in the adoration even when the clapping of hands scared them.  They were ambassadors of freedom and strength and power to people to whom life has dealt a different hand.

Three cheers for Joell, Hank, and everyone at Square Peg Thoroughbreds, where they turn rescued horses, including OTTBs, into life-changing champions for people who need them.

Read very much more about Hank and Square Peg Thoroughbreds here:

The Square Peg Foundation Blog: Thoroughbred Champions

Off-Track Thoroughbreds: Thoroughbreds Lift Up Autistic Kids

The Blood-Horse: OTTB Riding Center Spotlight: Square Peg


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Filed under Media Coverage, Outside Sites, Success Stories, therapeutic riding

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