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Mending Barns, Bridles and Hearts at Hearts Therapeutic Equestrian Center

Pamme Mickelson, Executive Director of Hearts Therapeutic

Pamme Mickelson’s first week as the Executive Director of Hearts Therapeutic Equestrian Center did not go as she expected. She expected there to be a learning curve. She even expected to have trouble remembering names. She definitely did not expect, however, that the hay barn would go up in flames, quite literally, on her third day. Lucky for Mickelson and the rest of Hearts Therapeutic, the community was eager to help.

“I learned in my first few days that the Hearts community is a strong community,” said Mickelson. “When the fire first started, our neighbors from the Santa Barbara County Public Works Department came to help move the horses out of harm’s way and after that, a number of volunteers stopped by with food for the horses. Even with that initial show of support, I saw what a positive reputation that Hearts has in the community and how thrilled I am to be a part of it.”

Hearts Therapeutic was started in 1985 as a part of a 4-H group and has grown tremendously since then to offer approximately 60,000 lesson hours to over 2,000 community members. It is a place where members of the community who have challenges, disabilities or special needs can come to interact with horses.

“Hearts is the place where horses help people,” said Mickelson. “Our clients open up to horses in ways that they do not open up to other people. A developmentally disabled rider, who participated in our program for several weeks, said his first words when he told his horse that he loved him. If that does not prove the power that horses have, I am not sure what can.”

In addition to aiding individuals with developmental disabilities, Hearts offers programs for those with physical, social and emotional disabilities, veterans and at-risk youth. The individuals that participate in these programs are not the only ones that have experienced a significant increase in quality of life - many volunteers are also greatly impacted.

“When volunteers first come to us, they usually do so because the idea of working with horses resonates with them,” said Mickelson. “However, they often stay for the clients. They become attached to the riders and that personal connection is what keeps them so motivated to continue the amazing work that they do.”

Volunteer assistance was especially important after the fire in the hay barn because, in addition to donating supplies, they helped staff publicize the loss of the barn and raise funds to build a new one. Donors across Santa Barbara County quickly stepped up to support Hearts, helping them reach two-thirds of their fundraising goal in just three weeks. The Santa Barbara Foundation participated in this effort by supporting Hearts with a $5,000 emergency grant award.

“We want to be able to support our community partners during unforeseen or emergency situations,” said Amy Schneider, Director of Grantmaking and Nonprofit Excellence at the Santa Barbara Foundation. “We understand that these incidents often do not align with our grant application process and deadlines and, as a result, the Community Investments Team has been able to advocate and secure funding for ‘Timely Opportunities,’ so that we can support organizations during their time of need.”

Thanks to the support of many generous donors, Hearts has already finished reconstructing a new hay barn so that it can continue to serve its many riders throughout the county.

“I hope that we can continue to expand the number of riders that we have and add more programs, such as for seniors or corporate companies,” said Mickelson. “I believe that Hearts offers a unique form of therapy that can inspire those battling a disability or challenge to find something that works for them. To me, Hearts represents hope.”

For more information about Santa Barbara Foundation grants, please visit the website or contact Amy Schneider at
North County Headquarters:  (805) 346-6123  |   2625 S. Miller Street, Suite 101, Santa Maria, CA 93455
South County Headquarters:  (805) 963-1873  |  1111 Chapala Street, Suite 200, Santa Barbara, CA 93101