Cancer survivor Granger Durdin is on a mission. In 2015, she launched her non-profit program Hope, Healing and Hooves (HHH) as a way to support at-risk and underprivileged kids and give back to the community. Thanks to Durdin and her donors, her program provides an equine experience like no other.
While similar programs support individuals with severe physical disabilities, HHH focuses on wholly supporting the emotional and social needs of student participants. Building self-esteem and fostering a sense of accomplishment for riders is at the heart of that experience.
National research shows that SEL not only improves achievement by an average of 11 points, but it also increases social behaviors (such as kindness, sharing, and empathy), improves student attitudes toward school, and reduces depression and stress among students. It's a foundation for safe and positive learning and enhances students' ability to succeed in school, careers, and life.
The most effective SEL programs involve coordinated activities in the classroom, supports for families, and community involvement/practices. This joint partnership approach ensures students are equipped to develop self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and decision-making abilities, all critical for life success.
The HHH program non-profit program is hosted by Magic Moments Stable. The stable, housed on a 2.5-acre plot of land situated next to Sherwood Elementary, are surrounded by a growing spread of modern, new housing developments.
On a typical morning, students walk by on their way to class, commuters commute, and horses playing in the paddocks against a backdrop of new construction. This country and city contrast embodies what Durdin-Pugh and her team of staff and volunteers are working to create – a new perspective.
“Our program aims to lift kids and opens their eyes to their potential,” said Durdin during a recent afternoon visit. Since the first partnership with Spring Shadows Elementary in 2015, HHH has expanded to three schools in SBISD, opening the doors of opportunity for countless kids in SBISD and looking to add surrounding school districts.
“If our program helps keep kids in school to get better grades, see their potential, gain a sense of accomplishment, then we’re doing what I set out to do,” said Durdin.
Rachel Martinez, Spring Shadows Elementary principal, confirms the program’s positive impacts. From improved attendance, grades and classroom behavior she’s seen results.
“Our students are invited into the horse-riding program and have to meet certain academic and behavioral guidelines for improvement to continue,” said Marinez.
“It holds our students accountable, and our kids will do pretty much anything to ensure they can attend the program. It’s pushed our curriculum to the next level for the teachers.”
As a district bus rolls up to the stable gates with 1st Graders from Thornwood Elementary, Durdin and her crew are prepared to welcome the day’s riders. Students depart the bus, check in and sit down for a snack.
Next, riding gear appears complete with helmet, riding boots and huge smiles. The riders' afternoon is divided into three parts; an academic lesson, a riding session, and time spent learning about horse grooming and care.
HHH provides riding gear as part of program participation. Supported by donations, the program pays for the teaching staff and the housing, feeding, and maintenance of the animals. Durdin estimates it costs about $200,000 to cover annual costs. All students in the program attend for free.
Once everyone is in their riding gear, students settle into groups as a lesson on the role of the horse in history begins — those lucky enough to get to ride in the first riding session file into the arena. More smiles greet the trainers already in position with horses at the ready.
It’s obvious trainer, horse, and student have a well-rehearsed and structured program. That structure, direct interaction, and focus on communication are what both Durdin and Community in Schools Student Support Specialist Adrian Carrillo credit much of the program’s success.
“It’s a different kind of success,” said Carrillo. “You can see it in student behavior, how emotions are being managed and expressed, how students are more able to manage their time and classroom activities, these are benefits of the HHH program, and you can see that improving.”
Carrillo, who works directly with students on campus in his role with Communities in Schools (CIS), works with the campus principal to organize, launch and sustain the HHH program partnership at his school.
“It’s not just about problems and focusing on yourself,” said Durdin. “I survived cancer, and I attribute it to my horses. They gave me a reason to get out of bed - they needed me. That connection and perspective are what I want to share with kids.”
For Durdin growing the program to serve adults, cancer patients, and countless more kids is her goal. “My dream is to expand the program and to be able to serve all kinds of individuals who need this kind of experience - in the saddle - that’s my dream.”
As the next round of riders preps for their turn in the arena and the first training session winds down, Carrillo reflects just how impactful the experience has been for his students.
“I brag about our kids that are in the program,” said Carrillo. “The very first week the trainers told me we have a horse whisperer on our hands. The level of connection and communication these kids have - the skills they are building that will help them later in life - it makes me proud.”
It’s sure Carrillo and that pride will be on display when HHH hosts its annual program graduation in May. His kids and other program participants will demonstrate their riding skills and receive special recognition for program accomplishment - along with accolades from outside the arena.
Inside the arena student and horse will parade as one, demonstrating the power of a new perspective and hope for the future. We look forward to seeing the show.
For more information visit the Hope, Healing, and Hooves (HHH) Program website.
The HHH program is a non-profit organization hosted at Magic Moment Stable.
Volunteers and donations are encouraged and welcomed.
Hope, Healing & Hooves: Warming Hearts in SBISD from SBISD on Vimeo.
Submitted by Melissa Wiland, SBISD Communications, firstname.lastname@example.org.