ROCKFORD, Mich.,—Horse lover Rachel Mraz knows how therapeutic horse back riding can be.
"I've riden my whole life," Mraz told FOX 17 News. "So it was pretty obvious for me that if it was therapeutic for someone who doesn't need it physically, I can't imagine how rewarding it is for the kids to be able to ride."
Equest Center of Therapeutic Riding in Rockford. The center offers equine therapy primarily to kids with special needs, along with clients of all ages dealing with mental and physical disabilities. The treatment uses horses to rehabilitate and help individuals recover.
Executive Director Kathy Ryan explains it's a tough workout "disguised as fun".
"A lot of the kids don't realize they're working," explained Ryan. "It allows them to feel a lot more of the warmth of the horse and the movement of the horse...all those help to work different muscles and work on balance."
The treatment has been in such high demand that the facility found itself with a long waiting list and the need for more horses and land to increase its ability to help more clients.
That's where Mraz comes in. She took on the challenge of spearheading a capital campaign aimed at raising just under one million dollars. Through her hard work in the community to coordinate local sponsors and philanthropists, the Equest Center has achieved 85 percent of that goal.
All the money raised will help the center add on more land, and give the existing barn a makeover. More horses will be added and more kids like eight-year-old Jack Bulkowski will learn the healing power of simply getting on the back of a horse.
Bulkowski suffers from a genetic form of cerebral palsy and has been using equine therapy since he was two.
"It's amazing for him," said mom Karen Bulkowski. "When we first started coming here, he couldn't even sit on the horse...He knows when we're coming out here, and he gets excited as soon as we pull in."
The center plans to begin construction on the much needed upgrades next month.
For her efforts, the Equest Center recognized Mraz with the first annual "Many Hands, One Vision" award.