Therapeutic Loving Caballos
Story and photo by Kristin Beery
Step Up Into TLC is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporation that was founded by Nancie Roahrig in 2006. “Step Up” refers to a command for an increase in gait while driving horses, and TLC is an abbreviation for Therapeutic Loving Caballos. She offers equine-assisted therapy programs to several organizations throughout the Tucson area. Nancie and her group of volunteers travel to hospitals, retirement communities, nursing homes, rehabilitation clinics, and group homes for the terminally ill. In addition, Nancie also travels to libraries, schools and churches to hold presentations about the horses.
Nancie currently owns a ranch outside of Marana in the Red Rock area. There she trains and keeps her “herd” of approximately thirteen horses of all different breeds. Currently, there are Clydesdales, Miniature Horses, Shetland Ponies, and Arabians. The horses are cared for by nine to ten volunteers that come to the ranch on a rotating basis to feed, water, and clean the horses and their stalls. Nancie stated that she goes through approximately seven bales of hay per week.
On her last trip, Nancie took two of the horses to an assisted living community called the Villas at Houghton. With the help of George, a dedicated volunteer, she visited residents of the community with Sir Snickers and Jumping Jack, also known as JJ.
Sir Snickers is a Miniature Horse weighing in at approximately 200 pounds. As Nancie was getting him ready for the visit, he donned a patriotic fabric saddle and shoes from the Build-A-Bear Workshop. Snickers is twenty years old and has been visiting communities and hospitalized patients for approximately ten years. Nancie stated that they can live up to 35-40 years.
Jumping Jack, or JJ, has also been making his debut all over Tucson for the past ten years. He is a 13-year-old Clydesdale who weighs in at approximately 2000 pounds. Nancie explained that JJ will eat approximately 50 pounds of hay per day, and drink around 30 gallons of water. JJ also wears a size 8 shoe, where most standard sized horses wear a size 1.
Once everything was ready, JJ and Snickers were ushered into a patio area where the residents were gathered in anticipation of the horses’ arrival. Snickers quickly started greeting the residents in eagerness of the affection he would receive. He made his rounds throughout the patio area, allowing residents to gently touch his face while they asked questions about the horses. Afterward, Snickers was allowed to go inside of the facility, where some residents had taken solace from the outdoor heat. He greeted each resident, and while he was provided with love and affection, he was giving them something as well.
Outside, JJ could be seen with his nose in the residents’ laps while they pet his head and face. His calm and gentle demeanor was surprising considering his size, and he was referred to as a gentle giant many times. Much to everyone’s surprise, JJ was caught in the act of falling asleep multiple times during the visit as the attention relaxed him.
In speaking with Michael Burton, the Activity Director at the Villas at Houghton, he said that these visits provided the residents with much more than just something fun for them to do. As he states, “Nancy and her beautiful horses along with her caring staff have been providing Horse Therapy every month here at The Villas at Houghton for over 3 years now….and it never gets old. This extraordinary program has been a favorite among our residents, family, and staff. The one hour therapy session has proven to be very effective for easing anxiety and depression. After every visit, our residents can’t stop talking about the horses. The interaction between the horses, staff, and community is an uplifting experience that the whole family can enjoy! The TLC program provides our residents with sensory stimulation as well as a sense of belonging, reminiscing about the “good ol’ days”, and creating new enriching memories to share with family and friends. Smiles, laughs, and plenty of photo sharing is guaranteed!”
This program has allowed children and adults alike to enjoy the wonder and beauty of horses. While the horses receive much wanted attention, the families whose lives they touch receive something even greater. Whether it is a parent who is afforded the opportunity to see their ill child’s dream of riding a horse come true, or a resident of an assisted living facility being able to touch a 2000 pound Clydesdale, the mission is the same. To enrich the lives of people through equine therapy.
Although Nancie does have dedicated volunteers to help in her mission, she is a non-profit organization and survives solely on donations. Anything she receives helps, whether it is monetary donations, food and supplies for the horses, or even gas cards so she can make her very important trips to these facilities. If you would like to help Nancie in her mission, please contact her directly through her website at http://stepuptlc.org/.