Friday Standing Ovation by Ovation Riding: Reins to Recovery

Story by Noelle Maxwell.

Each Friday, Horse Nation teams up with Ovation Riding to spotlight an individual or organization that is doing good work in the horse world. This week, we salute Reins to Recovery.

This week’s honoree:


Photo by Noelle Maxwell.

Have you ever witnessed someone who doctors said would never be able to walk take their first steps, thanks to therapeutic riding? Have you heard someone say their first word, ever, while on horseback? Have you seen a rider go from not being able to sit up by themselves, to riding without any assistance?

Calli Johnson has seen all of this as the founder of Reins to Recovery, a non-profit organization dedicated to encouraging the physical and mental development of people with physical, emotional, social and psychological disabilities. Based in Seymour, Indiana, it also offers programs for at-risk youth and victims of violence or abuse.

Calli’s interest in therapy animals dates back to a project about human-animal interaction she did in high school. She worked with a class of kindergarten students who had disabilities and took a dog to visit the class once or twice a week. Watching the students interact with the dog, it was clear the impact an animal could have on children struggling to connect with the world in a meaningful way. Calli initially planned on going to college to study occupational therapy and eventually work with therapy dogs, but then her path took a horsey twist.


Calli Johnson with Jordan, a miniature horse who loves visiting schools, libraries and group homes. Photo by Noelle Maxwell.

During her classes Calli discovered hippotherapy and fell in love with the world of therapeutic riding. She began volunteering at therapeutic riding centers whenever she had the chance. She switched her studies to health services and business instead of occupational therapy so she could take her newfound knowledge back to her hometown and start her own therapeutic riding center. In 2008, she launched Reins to Recovery.


Inside the barn at Reins to Recovery. Photo by Noelle Maxwell.

The first therapy horse to join Reins to Recovery’s herd was a pinto gelding named Joe. Joe has an interesting story; he’s a rescue horse adopted through an organization known as Horse Angels. He was struck by lightning as a foal while nursing from his dam — his dam did not survive, and Joe is blind in his right eye. There’s still a lump on his body where the lightning exited. Joe is the mascot for Reins to Recovery, and the blog on their website is titled Joe’s Jabber.


Reins to Recovery’s mascot, Joe. Photo by Noelle Maxwell.

Ginger, another therapy horse. Photo by Noelle Maxwell.

Ginger, another beloved therapy horse. Photo by Noelle Maxwell.

In the seven years since Reins to Recovery was founded, there have been numerous success stories. One rider was in the program after being told they would never walk; therapeutic riding was the last effort to prove the doctors wrong. That rider is now walking and has been building strength. Families who had difficulty communicating have worked through their issues, thanks to equine psychotherapy. Riders who couldn’t sit up without assistance have progressed to riding without any assistance.


Desensitization work with a therapy horse. Photo by Noelle Maxwell.

Congratulations to Reins to Recovery on receiving the Indiana First Lady’s Charitable Foundation Grant! The organization was very excited to receive this grant, as it is a non-designated grant, meaning that it can be used on whatever is needed most, at any time. These types of grants are uncommon, and Reins is a deserving recipient.


Photo by Noelle Maxwell.

Reins to Recovery’s programs are mostly volunteer-run and new volunteers are always welcome! We encourage our readers to learn more about the organization and how they can help by visiting its website and Facebook page.

Many thanks thanks to Ovation Riding for their support of both Horse Nation and individuals and organizations that are doing good work in the horse world. If you know someone who deserves a Standing Ovation, we would love to recognize them in a future post. Email the name of the person or organization along with a message about the good work they do to [email protected]. Photos/videos are always welcome, and include a link to their website if applicable.

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