More Jackson Hole residents and visitors have experienced the healing power of horses thanks to a tight-knit group of women.
Under the leadership of Executive Director Tori Fancher, Jackson Hole Therapeutic Riding has expanded its services to about 250 regular clients each year, plus visitors.
Donors stepped up to help Saturday during the nonprofit’s annual Stomping the Divots fundraiser. The event netted roughly $330,000, which spells a lot of hay and veterinary care to keep the 14 equine therapists in top shape. During the most successful fundraiser the group has ever had and spirited play, Melody Ranch Polo tied 5-5 with Dix Farm Polo.
The match was exhilarating, the dinner delicious and the auction lively, but the most moving part of the evening was a student therapeutic riding demonstration. The powerful energy from the riders moved some in the crowd to tears, revealing the genuine beauty and importance of this fundraiser.
“From an outside perspective, it can look like a pony ride, like we’re walking these kids and adults around in circles,” Fancher said. “It’s not just about riding a horse, but about all of the little things that those riders take away and apply to their daily life.
“Whether they’re working on fine motor skills, gross motor skills, developing competence, or communication skills, or anything that they’re struggling with, you know, overcoming grief. That is something that we constantly struggle with: trying to educate the public on the benefits of our work.”
While Fancher is often behind the scenes, working to make sure everything goes smoothly, she says the staff, volunteers and participants make her job worth it and are the reason she wakes up excited to go to work every morning.
“We say in the [promotional] video, that we are a family and it’s so true,” Fancher said. “Without all the people that make therapeutic riding what it is, it just, it wouldn’t be the same.”
The nonprofit’s 11 staffers are all women.
Board member and volunteer Kristi Nielson said working with Jackson Hole Therapeutic Riding is the best thing she has ever done with her life. She believes the organization is successful because it is run by a staff of strong women and horses.
In its 26th year the nonprofit has rebranded with a new logo and expansion to help more people.
“We are now working with not only individuals with disabilities, but also United States military veterans and active duty service members,” Fancher said, “as well as those who are battling cancer, or you know, they’re in the thick of their grieving process of the loss of a loved one.”
The new logo is a continuous line drawing that connects a bowed human’s head to the profile of a horse’s head.
“We want the look and feel of our program to match sort of visual identity to match the heart and soul of the program,” Fancher said.
“And I think that you can see that through the logo. Those lines aren’t perfectly even or straight or completed, I think that also speaks to: Our work is never finished, we’re always working to help people continue to enhance their abilities.”
South Park landowner Paul von Gontard donates the polo field space and underwrites the teams each year for the fundraiser. A member of the Jackson Hole Shrine Club who wears a gold crutch pin centered on his hat, von Gontard spoke highly of the nonprofit.
“I supply the field and the match, but the mission is what makes it so special,” von Gontard said.
He’s inspired to help groups like Jackson Hole Therapeutic Riding because he believes community members are responsible for helping each other.
“It’s not generosity, it’s belief in community,” von Gontard said.
Six-year-old Crosby Prugh has gained confidence and mobility riding with Jackson Hole Therapeutic Riding for the past four years. Prugh’s father, Greg, said the organization has helped the family as much as Crosby, who is able to ride with his older brothers.
Being in the saddle, Prugh said, offers Crosby, who stands under 3 feet tall on the ground, an empowering perspective. Which has always been at the heart of the organization’s mission.
“The horse and the rider have a connection that defies words,” Prugh said.