Ten-year-old Abby Peterson, of Whitehouse, loves horses so much that it fills her heart to the brim with excitement.

Over five years, she’s become a pro at riding and always looks forward to when she gets to ride with her favorite horse, Connor.

“My favorite part of riding the horses is the grooming,” she said. “I just love the horses so much. My heart is full of horses. I want to be a rooting, tooting cowgirl.”

Abby is one of 25 students at the Starbrite Therapeutic Equestrian Center, a nonprofit dedicated to helping kids, adults and veterans with physical, mental, social and psychological disabilities.

She’s been coming to Starbrite ever since it opened earlier this year for weekly riding sessions.

“It helps with my joints,” she said. “I love the horses so much.”

Her dad Eric Peterson, who is also a board member at Starbrite, said the riding helps build strength in her legs and mid-section, and it also helps with her self-confidence.

“It forces her to grip the horse with her legs and keep control of the horse,” he said. “She enjoys riding. She learns more discipline with having to groom the horse and learning the process of what you have to do to ride the horse.”

Peterson said Abby looks forward to riding every week, and she always has a smile on her face.

Starbrite Executive Director Cindy McCall said the riding and grooming of the horse, as well as carrying the equipment, help her clients work on their left and right brain skills, focus, motor skills and strength.

“When they sit on that horse, it forces them to focus,” McCall said. “The power of the horse is great.”

Some of the issues horse therapy can help with are cerebral palsy, ADD, ADHD, Alzheimer’s, brain injuries, Down syndrome and autism.

The center first opened in February, but due to COVID-19 lessons didn’t really start until sometime in June, McCall said.

On Friday evening, the center, located at 15015 FM 848 in Whitehouse, hosted a grand opening and ribbon cutting to showcase what it has to offer.

Program Director Kim Oliver demonstrated the horse therapy sessions with a few of the clients, including Abby, to highlight the benefits of equine therapy. 

During the lessons, riders will often get on the horse and receive guidance from the instructors who are also there to ensure everything is safe.

McCall said in every situation there is a person leading the horse and another beside the horse to protect the rider.

She said it’s great to see parents watch their child light up with joy as they ride one of the horses.

“For parents to see their child’s joy, it’s something they’ve never experienced before,” McCall said.

The center is also looking to expand by creating a $1.7 million facility that is expected to be ready in 2022, she said.

McCall said the capital campaign for the project will kick off next year in an effort to add 30 horse stalls, therapy rooms and equipment rooms.

She added that the staff is learning from other facilities in Texas to grow Starbrite in the right way.

“We want to service the children we have well,” McCall said. “We have to grow with the children, staff and horses that we have.”

For those interested in learning more about Starbrite, visit starbritetyler.com or call 903-530-4050.

McCall said students will often ride once a week and people are typically riding on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For new clients, Oliver will go over medical safety to determine if horse therapy is right for each particular person.

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I came to the Tyler Morning Telegraph in September 2019. I report on crime, courts, breaking news and various events in Tyler and East Texas.