Volunteers like to call Hearts & Horses, the signature fundraiser of Therapeutic Riding of Tucson - known as TROT - the most heartwarming fundraiser in Tucson.
TROT provides equine therapy to a wide range of clients, from kids to veterans.
"TROT is a magical place. We witness life-changing events every day. We have seen children who can suddenly put a sentence together and some of our parents have heard, 'I love you' for the first time or seen their child sit up in a wheelchair and not have to be strapped in," said Vicky Zoerb, co-chairwoman of the fundraiser with Marla Skinner.
"During the Hearts & Horses program, clients will give testimony as to how TROT has impacted their lives, and it will be very touching for people in the community who don't spend time on the property to see what we can achieve."
Zoerb, a member of the board of directors who is coordinating the event for the seventh time, said the ultimate reward is the clients who benefit from the equine-assisted therapies the nonprofit offers.
TROT serves clients with cognitive and physical special needs including cerebral palsy, autism, Down syndrome, multiple sclerosis, stroke, traumatic brain injury, hearing or vision impairments and developmental delays.
"There is a huge spectrum of people who we can help to improve their everyday life, and to see that happen is just so cool," Zoerb said.
TROT offers four primary programs: Therapeutic Riding, which serves children and adults and seeks to improve balance, coordination and strength to improve mobility and independence; a Hippotherapy Clinic to provide speech/language, physical and occupational therapy for developmentally delayed children; Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy using horses to treat anxiety disorders, addictions, behavioral disorders, mood disorders, grief and loss in clients of all ages; and a Heroes on Horses Veterans Program for veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder or physical impairments.
TROT also offers an Under Western Skies program of equine-related activities for children of servicemen and women deployed from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. It partners with Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona to provide a Pony Tails summer camp and works with two local school districts and Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind.
It has recently expanded to provide services to children through the Arizona Department of Economic Security Division of Developmental Disabilities.
"For many of these families, it would be very difficult to access this type of life-changing therapy if it were not a benefit through the Division of Developmental Disabilities," said TROT Executive Director Ali Boelts.
"This is more than recreation," she said. "We see real progress emotionally and physically. … They grow stronger and gain self-confidence without even knowing it since they are having such fun horseback riding."
TROT's success can be attributed to its 250 volunteers, who lead "riding teams" of a horse handler and two side walkers to protect riders from becoming unbalanced and help with animal care, property maintenance and projects, administrative duties, fundraising and other tasks.
"We treasure our volunteers more than we can ever say. We can never thank them enough," Boelts said.
The native Tucsonan and University of Arizona graduate is convinced improved awareness about TROT will lead to increased support.
"There are so many amazing nonprofits here, but like many of them, TROT has no budget for marketing," she said. "Tucsonans are generous, lovely people, but if they don't know about us and all that we do, they can't give."
If you go
• What: Hearts & Horses: A Night to Remember.
• When: 6 p.m. April 13.
• Where: Skyline Country Club, 5200 N. St. Andrews Drive.
• Cost: $175 per person ($100 is tax-deductible).
• The details: Festivities at the black-tie event include a champagne welcome and a martini as well as a program featuring a presentation by two Therapeutic Riding of Tucson participants, live music by East 2 West, dancing, dinner, a silent auction and a live auction featuring a custom necklace by Abbott Jewelers and an eight-night African safari provided by Destination Southern Africa.
• Tickets and info: Go to www.trotarizona.org or call 749-2360.
Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at email@example.com