Programs at McKinney's ManeGait Therapeutic Horsemanship promote physical and emotional well-being

Brianna Nelson practices for the State Special Olympics on a horse named Charlie during a lesson at ManeGait.

Brianna Nelson practices for the State Special Olympics on a horse named Charlie during a lesson at ManeGait.

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At least eight certified instructors, 26 therapy horses and more than 300 volunteers work at the nonprofit ManeGait Therapeutic Horsemanship to help children and adults overcome physical and emotional obstacles.

Located on a 14-acre property, ManeGait was founded in 2007 by Bill and Priscilla Darling. It is now run by a 16-member board of directors. The mission is to help people of all ages through the use of horsemanship and equine therapy, ManeGait Executive Director Patricia Nelson said.

Many of the riders participate in multiple programs, Nelson said.

“Our riders have all sorts of different challenges,” she said. “They can be physical challenges, cognitive challenges, emotional challenges [or] learning differences.”

Depending on a rider’s challenge, the instructors will add in different riding and learning styles. Instructors are certified through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International.

“Our riders, their families and volunteers celebrate even the smallest achievement in the arena, and it is wonderful to be a part of those achievements,” ManeGait instructor and program director Sarah Dobbins said in an email.

One reason therapeutic riding works is because a horse’s gait is similar to a person’s walk, Nelson said. The constant movement of the horse under the rider influences the rider’s body to move in the same way, which develops core strength, balance, fine motor skills, concentration and cognitive thinking over time.

All of ManeGait’s horses are put through an extensive vetting process before they can be accepted into the program, Nelson said. Horses are purchased or leased, and can be accepted through donations.

“We have a pretty rigid criteria of what we’re looking for and what we accept in a horse,” Nelson said. “They have to ... tolerate all sorts of behavior and people around them.”
By Emily Davis
Emily graduated from Sam Houston State University with a degree in multi-platform journalism and a minor in criminal justice in Spring 2018. During her studies, Emily worked as an editor and reporter at The Houstonian, SHSU's local newspaper. Upon graduation, she began an editorial internship at Community Impact Newspaper in DFW, where she was then hired as Community Impact's first McKinney reporter in August 2018.


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