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Southern Oregon nonprofit helping more people heal with horses

Riding Beyond, a nonprofit in Southern Oregon, usually connects breast cancer survivors with horses. Now the horses are helping even more people.

ASHLAND, Ore. — A nonprofit connecting horses with breast cancer survivors has, for years, helped people in meaningful and memorable ways. During the pandemic, even more people are getting to experience the calming effect associated with horses.

Mystic and Journey are two horses that are providing one amazing experience.

“I just feel a balance,” said Jeanette Case, describing how she felt around the horses.

She is one of the many people who have benefited from Riding Beyond, Trish Broersma’s nonprofit in Southern Oregon.

“Opening doors to the future is our motto and that's what it's about, is opening doors to the future,” said Broersma.

Riding Beyond mainly helps recovering breast cancer survivors.

“Once you go through breast cancer, it's kind of hard to get back to real life […] the horses really help you to sort of come back to yourself,” said Carolyn Jost, a breast cancer survivor herself who is president of the Riding Beyond Board.

“Mystic’s a very special soul, she really is. You can just come here and there are no expectations of how to act, or how to be, or what to say, or anything. You can just be with them. I mean, it's so healing and restorative,” said Jost.

Credit: Christine Pitawanich/KGW
Trish Broersma, Riding Beyond Director, with horse Mystic

Broersma spoke to the benefits of the bond humans can form with horses.

“In the last 50 years, they've emerged as healers, really, and helping people in the therapeutic riding world, to people with disabilities or special needs, have extremely amazing benefits,” said Broersma.

But she said Riding Beyond, which is considered equine assisted service, utilizes the horse’s heartbeat to promote a sense of calm.

“Riding Beyond tunes into the fact that the horse has a large physical heart and they also have a coherent heart rhythm which is associated with states of calm and joy and peace,” Broersma said.

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Now the six horses and one donkey that are part of Riding Beyond are helping more people going through tough times.

“We had wildfires sweep through our community, leaving thousands homeless last fall, and then that on top of the pandemic,” Broersma said.

So she decided to open up the opportunity to people dealing with pandemic-related stressors, like Case. She said the program has changed with conditions associated with the pandemic. At this point in time, she’s offering mainly virtual sessions due to smoke from fires as well as the pandemic.

Credit: Christine Pitawanich/KGW
Mystic, one of the horses part of Riding Beyond

Broersma also had a desire to help frontline health care workers.

“With the work that we do, it can be very stressful,” said Melanie Dines. She helps connect breast cancer survivors at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center with resources like Riding Beyond. She’s also a registered nurse.

“This program is remarkable. It's a way that my patients can receive unconditional love and acceptance when sometimes that's hard to feel while you're going through breast cancer,” Dines said.

For breast cancer survivors, the experience is free, as are the bulk of sessions for people who need some calm and connection in such a disorienting and uncertain time.

“It's a soul connection, definitely,” said Dines.

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“I'm in awe, a lot in awe of their large heart, their beauty, their power, their strength, their gentleness, their willingness to be connected to you,” said Rosa Lee Maple, who started out volunteering with the organization and is now the Riding Beyond board secretary.

“You just feel a different energy,” Case said. She added that the experience she had at Riding Beyond was something she will never forget.

Broersma said it’s thanks to donations that Riding Beyond is able to offer many people a calming experience with one of her horses free of charge. Visit the Riding Beyond website for more information on sessions available and how to support the nonprofit.