Wings of Hope has success at Chisholm Challenge
While the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo has been around since 1896, many people don’t know that there is a special horse show that takes place right before the legendary stock show. The Chisholm Challenge is an invitation-only show for riders with disabilities to show off their horsemanship to the public.
Wings of Hope, a therapeutic riding center based in Egan, had 14 riders and 10 horses attend the Chisholm Challenge this year, some for the first time.
Allison Gross, the development director for Wings of Hope, said the show is a great experience for riders who may not be able to show in a typical horse show.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for our riders to showcase their skills, independence and partnership with their horses,” Gross said.
However, this isn’t the type of show where everyone who shows up gets a prize. Riders work hard to reach the goal of showing at the Chisholm Challenge, which is a national three-day show for riders with disabilities.
“While the show has an amazing amount of a positive atmosphere, on the flip side it’s not like you just show up and get a medal,” said Gross. “You have to earn your way here and earn that invitation. So it’s a big deal to be a part of it.”
The Chisholm Challenge was one of the first to have showmanship classes for its participants, who may be in wheelchairs, Gross said. At any other horse show, those who enter a showmanship class walk alongside their horse.
“This really stands out visually to a lot of people, because at any other show it wouldn’t be allowed,” Gross said. “But when you are at a show where all the riders have some sort of disability, there are alterations and tweaks to each class.”
This doesn’t mean that the patterns for the classes are any easier. The practice and labor that the participants put in prior to the show are the same as able-bodied riders. There is even an American Quarter Horse Association portion of the show, which is an international breed and showing association.
“The great thing about the Chisholm Challenge is that it’s very inclusive but also keeps everyone safe,” Gross said.
Wings of Hope is one of 880 Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship certified facilities, and each instructor is also a PATH certified professional. A facility cannot become PATH certified overnight. There are rigorous qualifications that a facility must meet to become a member.
Gross said 60 percent of their clients have two or more medical diagnoses that benefit from equine-assisted therapy. Riders start as young as three and the oldest clients are in their 70s.
“We currently have 81 clients who come to us weekly,” Gross said. “They come from every part of Johnson County, but some also drive from Dallas and all over the metroplex.”
Some of the medical diagnoses that benefit from equine-assisted therapy are spina bifida, cerebral palsy, autism, cognitive disorders and PTSD. Other diagnoses that benefit from therapy are stroke victims and those who have traumatic brain injuries. Moreover, in 2009, Wings of Hope started a program called Operation Hoofbeat, which serves military members.
“Everything we do is individualized to the client,” Gross said. “The gait and rhythm of a horse walking can help build up the core muscles in a person, and brushing the horse helps with fine motor skills. The emotional and cognitive benefits of just having that connection with a horse is very healing.”
It’s that place of hope and healing where Wings of Hope is born, and Gross hopes that in the future the center will be able to help more people.
“We have stayed true to our mission of helping those with any sort of disability, and we will continue to do that.”