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Cathleen Thatcher

“Horses and children, I often think, have a lot of the good sense there is in the world,” muses horsewoman Josephine Demott Robinson. Cathleen Thatcher, founder of Swan View Therapeutic Riding Center in Azle, agrees. As an advocate for the “forgotten ones,” Thatcher started Swan View eight years ago as the culmination of a lifetime of loving horses and the blessing of raising her son Josh (now 28). “With Attention Deficit Disorder, hyperactivity and Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Josh was my greatest teacher. He was an amazing child to raise,” Thatcher says.

What She Does:
Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, Thatcher teaches therapeutic riding lessons to riders who span the ages of 4 to 79. The benefits are many, including easing conditions such as ADHD and cerebral palsy. Even stroke victims find aid in their recovery at Swan View.

Thatcher, who does not take a paycheck, does everything from coordinating volunteers and securing donations for special events to meeting each rider’s special needs and caring for her horses.

Even on a recent (rare) chilly morning, Thatcher abounds with enthusiasm in the confines of a snug barn. With soothing music drifting from her iPod, Thatcher simultaneously walks a rider to the mounting deck, intoning “Hold your head up, keep your balance, look at me,” while telling her volunteer, “This stirrup needs to be hitched up,” then rubbing the horse’s muzzle and saying, “You’re beautiful, Max.”

Thatcher says her horses are therapeutic for everybody. “Families network here for resources, support and camaraderie. My teenage volunteers grow up here. They learn responsibility and commitment,” she explains. “My riders see other kids with needs greater than their own. My families gain strength from surrounding themselves with people who have similar challenges.”

These aren’t just any horses, but young, well-trained Peruvians known for their smooth gait. “Peruvian horses are like cars with really good shock absorbers,” says Hudson Oaks parent Christy Bellah.

On a Peruvian, there is little up-and-down movement, which shields children from a bumpy ride. “There is no pounding of the spinal column,” Thatcher explains. Peruvians are naturally even-tempered and incomparable Peruvian saddles keep riders secure.

Thatcher coaches her riders in team drills so they can perform at special events like Fort Worth’s Chisholm Challenge. “For the kids, competitions are their opportunity to shine,” Thatcher says.
Thatcher’s gifts with children and horses are obvious. Using reflective listening, Thatcher helps her riders voice frustrations and applauds their efforts when they succeed. “It’s amazing to see the smiles on their faces when they take charge and accomplish something,” she says. When one of her riders experienced an anxiety attack before a performance, Thatcher utilized yogic breathing exercises. She sat quietly with him and said, “Close your eyes. It’s OK. Just breathe.”

How She Does It:
Thatcher draws strength from her faith, a core of dedicated volunteers and families and her husband Joe, who volunteers with Thatcher in running the facility. Although she concedes that starting Swan View was tough work, after eight years, she knows this is where she is meant to be. “This is the real deal,” she says.

One of the greatest gifts Thatcher says she receives is seeing the children grow and blossom. “On land, the child may never walk, but on the horse, the child has legs.” With fondness, Thatcher recalls a child with autism who had never spoken in his lifetime. During a lesson, the child uttered his first word — “whoa!” — to the horse.

Has Swan View changed Thatcher’s life? She says simply, “It is my life. It is why God put me here. It is the fruition of all I have been prepared to do.”