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Thursday, September 29, 2022
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Dallas nonprofit Equest celebrates 40 years of providing ‘the human-horse connection’ for its clients

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Equest, a Dallas nonprofit that connects children and adults, including those with learning and emotional disabilities, with horses and equine-assisted therapeutic services, has come a long way in its 40 years.

The beginnings were humble enough but the goals have always been the highest, Equest CEO Lili Kellogg told the Dallas Express during a recent telephone interview.

We started 40 years ago with just a few clients and one horse and an instructor,” Kellogg said. “Now we serve thousands of clients, we have 30 horses, we have a staff of 33 and so there has been tremendous growth. There also has been a lot of changes at the same time.”

Some things are too important to have changed in all that time.

“What has been constant is that we have utilized the human-horse connection to improve the quality of life for all whom we serve,” Kellogg said. “That has never wavered.”

Kellogg said the human-horse connection can be quite powerful and strong.

“That’s where the hope comes in. When a client or a family member or their therapist or instructors or medical professionals see progress that hasn’t necessarily been seen in other activities and modalities, that gives great hope, to the client and to their families,” Kellogg said.

Equest got its start as the “Freedom Ride Foundation,” founded by Evelyn Zembrod and Susan Schwartz in 1981, and took on their current name later in the same decade.

Since then, Equest has moved three times and today is well settled in at its location at 811 Pemberton Hill Road in Dallas where today the organization offers eight programs, including veterans and active-duty military programs and equine assisted learning. This year, Equest completed its Al Hill Jr. Arena, one of two covered arenas, in addition to outdoor arenas and trails. As a nonprofit, Equest depends on donations and volunteers to deliver its services while recognizing the power, strength and restorative nature of “the human-horse connection,” Kellogg said.

“That’s where the hope comes in,” she said. “When a client or a family member or their therapist or instructors or medical professionals see progress that hasn’t necessarily been seen in other activities and modalities, that gives great hope, to the client and to their families.”

Some Equest clients have uttered their first words while participating in a program and others have made connections with horses that they could not with anyone else.

“We’ve had clients with autism and the horse is the first sentient being that they acknowledge praise to or that they might initiate a conversation with,” Kellogg said. “The horses really help embody a team work attitude because they are team member.”

Horses benefit as well, getting plenty of good exercise and having a purpose in life, which makes the human-equine connection “a win-win situation,” Kellogg said.

“They know when they’re doing a job and they get the attention, they get the reward when they’ve done something well,” she said. “From that standpoint, maybe like a lot of us they’d rather be on vacation all day, but they know, they know, they really do.”

Some of the horses had previous lives in competitive arenas “but for one reason or another they can’t perform at that level anymore,” Kellogg said.

“They come here and we’re kind of their semi-retirement job,” she said.

Equest also has been around long enough to notice changes in the industry as it has grown, become a bit more sophisticated. The research also has caught up, proving what the folks at Equest knew all along about the efficacy of the human-horse bond.

“That has been fun to see as well,” Kellogg said.

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