Nine-year-old Tatum Packard got a lot out of almost three years at the Flint Hills Therapeutic Riding Center – confidence, exercise and better health.
But next month, those days on horseback are set to end.
“We’ve talked about it,” said Tatum’s mom, Shelly. “She’s going to miss it terribly. There’s really nothing anywhere else in this area. What’s so sad is the staff we have, we have a great, great team with the volunteers and it’s all going to break up.”
Flint Hills, a 14-year-old horse therapy center in southeast Wichita, plans to close late next month, beset by financial problems first outlined in The Eagle in September. It is about $50,000 a year short of the money needed to stay open.
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The center lost its main corporate sponsor when Boeing left town; the company had provided more than half of its budget. And it has lost Medicaid insurance.
Fund-raising efforts launched in September produced small donors and a multitude of volunteers, said Amanda Meinhardt, an instructor and therapist.
But the big Boeing-style donors, who could help bridge monthly shortfalls estimated at between $5,000 and $6,000 by board members, haven’t joined in.
“It’s not like we haven’t tried,” Meinhardt said. “We’ve applied for 12 grants, and we haven’t gotten one. We’ve gone into numerous businesses and given them fliers. We’ve sought help at the corporate level.
“It’s just not working, and I’m not sure why.”
Each therapy session costs the center an estimated $125. The center’s board members say they can’t charge cash-strapped families more than $35 per session because many already face huge medical bills.
The center operates on a skeleton staff composed of a director, a staffer who cares for the horses and instructors. And it costs about $6,000 a year to provide for each horse.
“In my eyes, there’s just quite a number of people who can’t relate to what we’re doing,” said Flint Hills board member Tad Snarenberger, a Wichita businessman.
“It’s a tough sell to people. These are people who aren’t subject to caring for horses, and it can be difficult at times to see the outcomes of our program.”
Packard can see that outcome. Her daughter, who has developmental disabilities, has gained confidence riding and learning to care for the horses.
“It’s not easy to measure for some because there are so many variables,” Packard said. “It’s a never-ending journey, but it’s priceless to give confidence to a little girl who’s known she’s different for a long time.
“It’s not riding a bike. It’s a beautiful animal who can do amazing things for people by stimulating the brain.”