Harnessing the power of healing

Advertisers spend billions of dollars per year on TV commercials, hoping the viewer will leap off their couch and dash to the nearest store to buy a product. In the case of Sharla Kershen, a commercial ignited a similar response…in that it provided a clear-cut vision of her calling in life.

“I was sitting there watching TV and saw a commercial on therapeutic horseback riding,” Sharla recalled. “And then I just knew…that’s what I’m supposed to do.”

On Oct. 19, Sharla and her husband Dave will host the grand opening of their own therapeutic horseback riding facility called New Hope Equine Assisted Therapy in Argyle. The facility will accommodate riders of all disabilities and ages.

In actuality, the commercial was just one of several things influencing her decision. The Kershens’ experience working as youth ministers at Compass Christian Church in Colleyville brought a girl named Brittaney Hilt into their lives.

A heart virus when she was young caused Brittaney to become mentally disabled. After undergoing a heart transplant and fighting two bouts of transplant-related cancer, Brittaney overcame tremendous obstacles, but as her siblings grew up and moved away, she grew despondent. Sharla saw therapeutic riding as a coping method. She was also inspired by her pastor’s young son who suffers from cerebral palsy and could benefit from the same type of therapy.

To prepare, Sharla visited High Hopes Therapeutic Riding in Connecticut and underwent three months of training to learn the techniques and nuances of operating such a business. She trained riders ranging in age from 4 to 70.

“It was very fulfilling to work with those students,” Sharla said. “They were all so wonderful.”

After New Hope secured non-profit status in May 2012, finding a location proved arduous. After several options fell through, a four acre parcel of land in Argyle appeared on the market that had originally been listed out of the Kershens’ price range, but was now relisted at a lower amount.

After acquiring the property, the Kershens devoted countless hours remodeling and renovating the grounds, house and garage. Removal of gravel and brush, erecting fences and installing a handicap-accessible restroom came next. It may sound like a lot, but the Kershens are just getting started.

“We have big plans ahead,” Sharla said. The construction of an outdoor paddock space, a pond at the back of the property and a sensory trail for the riders are next on their to-do list.

“The sensory trail allows students to do activities as they follow the trail,” Sharla said. A teacher with similar training to Sharla’s conducts these activities, while two side walkers and a leader ensure the rider’s safety and control of the horse.

“A horse’s walking motion is close to that of a human’s,” Sharla said. “The riders feel the motion and it mimics walking.” She also said the activity benefits a rider’s core strength.

As for the horses, the facility owns three at the moment but the Kershens intend to add a couple more. Fittingly, one of the horses named Comet is a special needs horse.

“Comet is blind, but he’s just the most wonderful, gentlest sweet horse,” Sharla said.

The grand opening will run from 1:30-4 p.m. on Oct. 19 and offer pony rides, face painting and bobbing for apples. For more information on New Hope or the grand opening details, please visit their Facebook page at NewHopeEquine.

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