The key to getting to the next level in our lives, is catalysts.
Those words, spoken by ROCK founder and CEO Nancy Krenek, are manifest every day at one of Georgetown’s most compelling non-profit organizations. There is not enough room in this magazine to list the good things this special place does for those seeking or waiting for equine-assisted therapy.
You may get a sense of how uplifting, and even spiritual it is—just to be there—if you know there’s actually a waitlist to be a volunteer.
Thanks to Nancy’s vision and George and Barbara Brightwell’s 20-acre donation, which got it all started, Ride on Center for Kids is a superb collection of 30 staff members, 30 horses, and more than 400 volunteers. “Rocketeers” do everything from training to sweeping, and they agree that every life is transformed when a person spends time there.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Nancy had already been a successful physical therapist for 36 years when she had her epiphany about catalysts. While helping students in GISD, she saw the tremendous impact being made when they were given power wheelchairs. “They started waking up, and I realized sometimes people are put into the ‘box’ of their diagnoses. When students had movement and the opportunity to make choices for themselves, a whole new part of them emerged, and I was overwhelmed with the potential. The wheelchairs really rocked their worlds and they began to do different things; personalities came out, they began talking. I decided to become a specialist in movement.”
Nancy had loved horses from a young age and finished a 100-mile trail ride when she was in the Girl Scouts. “It made me think I was cowgirl enough to become one. So, knowing that power wheelchairs and horses would produce the same results, it was an easy decision between the two.”
She began her new mission in a pilot program at Emerald Meadows Equestrian Center in Hutto. She worked there two afternoons a week, after school, so her therapy kids could be around horses. She quickly realized she was going to need her own land.
Nancy drove by the land off the Inner Loop every day and asked the realtor if she could buy five of the 20 acres. “I was so drawn to the windmill and just knew we were supposed to be on that land. The Brightwells heard about my interest and had read a story on our program in the newspaper. They invited me to tea and—unbelievably—gave it to me. All 20 acres.”
Nancy started raising money, borrowed panels from local farmers to build sheds, and found support in many members of the Georgetown business community. Merlin Hoppe, for whom the covered arena is now named, helped build fences, put up sheet rock, and did every job imaginable to get things going. “We moved in during April 2006 and promptly outgrew it. In 2014 we were able to purchase 20 more acres. Fortunately, I have been blessed to have really smart people around me, on the board, staff and as Rocketeers; from day one to today. ”
ROCK primarily provides equine-assisted activities and therapies to children, adults, and veterans with physical, cognitive and emotional challenges. What makes it special is the bond created when humans and horses are together.
Among her hundreds of success stories are autistic children who hugged and kissed their parents for the first time; or were finally able to stop wearing diapers so they could attend school. “There are things people don’t even realize exist as a challenge. My very first rider had Down Syndrome. She also had gravitational insecurity; when she approached any kind of step or rise, she would lie down and crawl across. We started with that goal, but she did so well on the horse, she was finally able to raise herself up to the potty too. Sometimes the results are more than we thought, and the horse is always a catalyst.”
When Fort Hood needed experts to support their cavalry troops, Nancy and her team traveled to San Antonio to work with amputees. “We built ramps, served food, and taught veterans to help each other. We made videos to document and share the good news, which brought others in military and mental health centers around the country into the fold. Today, we also have programs that support at-risk youth and veterans with PTSD. Our successes there are individuals who have had severe trauma but are truly seeking peace and better relationships; i.e., a new way to manage the challenges of young life, or civilian life after combat, without anger or fear. Working with a 1,200-pound animal that senses your mood is transformative because you understand, in turn, how fragile your child, spouse, or parent is. When stuck, you learn what the horse already knows—move your feet forward. My next goal is to be able to give that peace to first responders and foster families. ”
“One of the wonderful features about ROCK is that each and every day we are celebrating heroes.
If you’ve never been here at a time when there are riders and horses in the arena, take a tour. It is a place that touches so many lives and it will touch your heart too.”
~Board President Lindsey Roberts
Journey to Excellence
ROCK is committed to improve on quality. Nancy says, “I built ROCK for the people in front of me. I didn’t dare dream of children not yet born, or adults who had not had a stroke, or vets not hurt yet. But I’m not a visionary, all I’ve done is look at the faces of families. When I saw their look of disappointment because they couldn’t work in the rain, I knew we had to build a covered arena. When I realized, even with clients from nine counties, we cannot meet the needs of all those who need us, we began doing research.”
Nancy and her staff have been doing research since 2007, and she is an adjunct professor at Texas A&M. “This is not just a pony ride. There is so much science, and our work has been published in peer review journals. We are part of getting the facts out there to help make this therapy more widely understood. We believe in the service we provide, but I believe part of our job as leaders is to educate people about us, and help others do the same.”
ROCKS tenets are, and have always been safety, integrity, compassion, honor, and excellence. “That includes the understanding if you don’t prioritize safety 24/7, you shouldn’t do what we do. It includes how we spend every dollar given, having the compassion that comes from walking in others’ shoes, and fellowship. But even with all the awards in the world, the real heroes to me are the families, our staff, and the Rocketeers who have chosen to be here, some for more than 20 years.”
Not content to be a leader in programs, research, and education, Nancy and ROCK already have plans to expand their lands again, and program availability with it.
To contribute to ROCK, visit RockRide.org.
Saturday, April 4, 2020
2050 Rockride Lane Georgetown 512-930-7625
Tickets $250 • Sponsorships and Tables Available
The Barn Dance is ROCK’s annual fundraiser for programs and scholarships for special needs children, and Veterans.
The Yellow Brick Road event will transform the arena into something magical; lights, a dance floor, one of the year’s best auctions, dinner, and a performance by Wynn Williams, a captivating showman and cowboy with a modern take on country music.
Nancy says the highlight for the 2020 event is the education program that will share, in heartwarming detail, the impact of the horse-human connection.
More to the story…
Nancy says although working with Veterans was not part of her original plan, she believes in the service ROCK provides and as more adults and Veterans came to ROCK, adding to and improving the quality of their programs was a natural outcome. As such, they have been on a tangible journey to excellence with the Malcolm Baldrige Foundation and received Level 3 recognition. “It’s about process improvement and that is what we do here with families, individuals, and the people in our organization. We are already on our way to the next level to join up with the likes of BiG and The Caring Place. We have also received the Georgetown Chamber award for Ethics in Business.”
ROCK is also a leader in programs for calvary horses, namely the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M. Expert trainers work with the horses that march onto Kyle Field during football games. “We have a small program on campus to provide A&M students with experiential learning in the equine assistance industry,” Nancy says. “We are under the biomedical science program in the School of Veterinary Medicine. As well, Priscilla Lightsey teaches with me, and when she is not here, she is running a similar program in Beijing. It’s amazing that what we do is not just contained on this acreage. When a rock hits the water, the ripples go out bigger and bigger.”
ROCK doesn’t just provide horses. Another program, in conjunction with therapy, is a weekly fellowship meal for Veterans. Food is provided and served by members of the community on Tuesdays and Fridays and provides another layer of community for clients and their families. “We all need community,” Nancy says. “Because here, it is Veterans helping each other and the friendships go beyond what goes on in the arena.” The fellowship meals take place year-round and many Veterans who have finished the program come back just for the meals. Research has shown that breaking bread together is critical to the process of decreasing anxiety and an increase in the quality of life. Plus, “They do it to stay connected and more than one of them will happily tell you that the horse saved their lives.”