The Small Miracles Therapeutic Horseback Riding Center in Rock Springs was founded to enhance the physical, emotional and cognitive growth of people with special needs through therapeutic equine activities.

Small Miracles serves 45 students per week, each with their own unique goals developed by medical professionals, parents and Small Miracles staff members. While some students need to work on physical therapy, others have behavioral issues that must be addressed.

"It is amazing what you can do with a horse to keep students engaged," said Gwen Keeling, Executive Director. "We serve kids four years old through adulthood, but most are school age."

Because the horses are able to simulate the human walking gait, many students are able to strengthen the same muscles needed to walk by riding the horses. The center also works with students on fine motor skills and memory exercises. In addition, a recently developed program helps improve character education for at-risk youth.

"In character education, we work on twelve lesson including choices, teamwork, and responsibility," said Keeling. "For instance, we ask a child with a lot of negative energy to put the halter on the horse. The horse senses that attitude and begins to back up. It is like a light bulb moment, ‘Oh, I need to change my attitude to make this work.'"

With the growing epidemic of autism, Small Miracles' waiting list has doubled for autistic children trying to take part in the program. Keeling says the program has developed a curriculum specifically for children with autism.

"One of the main symptoms," Keeling explained, "is sensory processing. We are working with the horse and child trying to introduce something from one of the five senses. The horse is there for support. It will accept you no matter what you have done. It is a very innocent relationship. We are blessed to orchestrate this communication. To see a child come out and experience new things is an incredible moment for the parents."

To understand the need for a therapeutic equine program in the region, Mary Smith started a pilot program with seven students in 1995. After six months, 25 students were on the waiting list. In January 1996, the program was officially founded and has grown from 20 students to its current enrollment. Speedway Children's Charities provides sponsorships to help students' families afford the $2,000 yearly tuition.

"We would not be able to service our 45 students a week without this money," Keeling acknowledged. "It gives me goosebumps. It is an awesome thing to be able to reach so many people and make a difference in so many people's lives. It is amazing to me that the sole purpose is to raise money just to give it all back to kids in the community."

"I can't tell Claudia Byrd and the foundation how much it means, not only to Small Miracles, but to all the kids that have participated."