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Martha McNiel talking to Volunteer, Rob Hoffmann. 2014 Recognized by PATH International, Region 11: Pete, Horse of the Year, Terri Stinson, Volunteer of the Year, and Garry Stauber, Therapeutic Riding Instructor of the Year. Group Ministries and other organizations sent kids to DreamPower for four-week programs using equine-assisted therapy. “Our first foster client came from a local children’s residential program. A smart nine-year-old girl who had been running away from school, refusing to do homework. Our rules are simple – you can’t hurt others, yourself or the animals. For her, we added another rule. You can’t be absent without permission. “That young girl had been diagnosed and was on medication for bi-polar disorder. She wanted to ride so badly that she stopped running away. She was the first one to learn how to canter and she rode with us for more than three years, making tremendous prog- ress emotionally and in her behaviors. After leaving our program she was adopted. She graduated from high school with straight As, went on to college, and got off her meds. We’ve stayed in touch over the years.” Students who continue to live in the local area, are welcomed to stay in the DreamPower program after they “age out” of the foster care system at age 18. In 2010, DreamPower also began to work with the Palo Alto Veteran’s Administration and the Santa Cruz and San Jose Veteran’s Centers. “The first group included veterans who had done tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. At one point in the program we hosted a family fun day, so the veterans’ families could see what they had been doing at the ranch.” “I had matched one vet with a horse named Red that was strong-willed just like he was. The vet told his wife, ‘There was a time when frustration in a riding lesson would’ve made me want to get off and shoot that horse, but I learned to work through my anger and keep going.’ The wife came up to me with a big smile and said, ‘Thanks for giving me my husband back; I thought I’d lost him. He’d done multiple tours. He used to shut down and isolate himself. Now, when he comes back from the ranch, he talks non-stop.’ I have heard similar stories from many wives and husbands since then.” DreamPower also offers clinics to help clients overcome fear when they run into problems handling their own backyard horses. “We cover the psychological aspects of fear as well as riding skills. A horse is a big and powerful animal. They can be dangerous if they are not trained, ridden and cared for properly. We urge people to get a horse that’s a good fit for their interests, skills, and temperament. Unlike any other sport, with horseback riding, it’s all about the relationship between rider and horse. If it’s not fun, don’t do it.” In 2012, McNiel moved DreamPower to WoodMyst. “It’s an excellent facility and we are very happy there, as are my staff and clients.” Today, DreamPower offers 16 programs, spanning three categories of equine-facilitated psychotherapy, equine-facilitated learning and therapeutic horsemanship. The organization is also designated as a Premier Accredited Center by PATH International, the acknowledged industyry authority when it comes to therapeutic riding. DreamPower is a 100 percent volunteer organization. Hundreds of volunteers are involved in helping McNiel and her staff run the various programs. This year, the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce honored DreamPower as Non-Profit Organization of the Year. “Last year we served more than 450 clients. We could not accomplish all that we do without our volunteers. Some come for the learning; some come because they have the know-how and want to give back. Some arrive with no previous experience around horses, and we train them in horsemanship basics. “It’s great to have high school and even college students participate as community service volunteers. We also work with students who are learning equine-assisted therapy as part of an undergrad or graduate degree program. DreamPower Horsemanship partners with a number of community organizations including Advent Group Ministries, Community Solutions, and the Santa Clara County Office of Education. Therapeutic riding programs qualify under the requirements of the county’s Adaptive Physical Education program. DreamPower’s Equine Journey Wilderness Program provides students with opportunities to go horse camping. G M H T O D A Y M A G A Z I N E MARCH / APRIL 2015 9