Halter Inc. Maria Pigozzi (center) opened Halter Inc. in 2001 to treat special needs children with equine therapy.[/caption]

Maria Pigozzi's daughter was born with a congenital heart condition. In 2001, unwilling to send her daughter to day care, she looked for a job that would enable her to tote her daughter along. Initially she said she considered raising miniature horses to be used in therapy for blind children, but when a physical therapist told her kids with cerebral palsy and autism also benefit from equine therapy, Halter Inc. was born.
Equine therapy, such as the kind offered at Halter Inc., can be more helpful than traditional therapy, said Valerie Lee, whose daughter Maddie has been riding horses at the organization's ranch since 2013.

On any given Saturday morning, Maddie can be found at Halter Inc. making her way through an obstacle course atop a horse. She was born with a chromosome duplication that causes her to be small for her age–11-year-old Maddie is the size of an average eight-year-old girl. She also suffers from learning disabilities and sensory issues.

"[Halter Inc.] is my daughter's haven," Lee said. "She lives, dreams and breathes horses, so this place has become a very big part of our lives. She's a special needs child, and at Halter Inc. they know how to work with the kids who need a bit of extra help and time."

Pigozzi said she has seen firsthand how special needs children can benefit from spending time with one of the organization's 46 miniature and regular-sized horses.

"If you've got cerebral palsy all of your ligaments are taunt, but the rocking motion of riding a horse loosens that up easier than physical therapists can," she said. "The rocking motion of the horse also makes your body release oxytocin, or the feel-good hormone, so we can get a multitude of special needs taken care of. For kids with autism, being outdoors helps lessen their sensory issue. Being outdoors reduces the amount of stimulation they have."

For children with learning disabilities, the organization's volunteer staff leads them through Halter, Inc.'s trail system on educational horseback rides.

"When the kids are riding we'll talk about numbers and letters with them," she said. "It's spring so all throughout our trails we'll have baskets set out, and we'll have them drop different-colored Easter eggs into the baskets. We can talk about counting the eggs and what color the eggs are."

Though the organization's focus is helping kids with special needs through equine therapy, Pigozzi said that she has decided not to apply to have the group recognized as an official therapy center, and since 2001 she has not raised the group's fees of $60 per child for weekly horse rides.

"If you become a therapy center, that means the brothers and sisters and parents of special needs kids aren't included," she said. "If the brothers and sisters want to go play with the goats in our petting zoo or ride horses, they can."

In addition to helping children cope with their special needs, Pigozzi said her family has benefited from their time on the ranch as well. She said her children have forged relationships with the children helped at the ranch, and her daughter and son continue to volunteer with the organization.

"My kids have grown up out here seeing all these kids and have learned that everybody has something to offer," she said.

Halter Inc.

17410 Clay Rd., Houston