A year ago, Michael Vaughn’s cerebral palsy was causing him a lot of pain.
The 20-year-old struggled with tightness and a lack of flexibility in his muscles. He couldn’t raise his arms above his head and holding himself upright was nearly impossible. That changed after he started equine therapy at Open My World in Leander.
“I could barely move my legs or sit up for long periods of time and would get pains in my legs, but now I don’t get them anymore,” Vaughn said. “It’s really opened my world. The name speaks for itself.”
Equine therapy uses horses to achieve physical, occupational and emotional growth in people with disabilities, such as autism, Down Syndrome and cerebral palsy. The area hosts multiple such programs, the well-known Ride On Center for Kids among them.
Open My World was created in 2008 by Donna Roland, a former special education teacher from San Diego who had just retired. Her plan was to move to the Austin area with her two horses and continue entering competitions.
But seven weeks after leaving her job, she realized that wasn’t going to be enough to occupy her time.
“It made sense to put the 27 years of teaching special ed and my 30-plus years of passion for horses together,” Roland said. “It was as though everything I had done in my adult life had prepared me to do equine therapy.”
Today, the small organization has seven horses, two certified instructors, 42 clients and a $90,000 annual budget. The five-acres the nonprofit uses has a petting zoo, trails and several ponds.
Open My World’s small budget has prevented the organization from building a covered arena to use in bad weather, Roland said. The group has a partially built structure but needs another $10,000 for the roof, she said. The group is holding nighttime trail rides Dec. 12 to 15 to raise money for the project. For more information, call 512-259-6665 or go to www.openmyworld.org.
Vaughn said he was hesitant when his family first started taking him to Open My World. But as time went on, he saw that his once-a-week lessons had strengthened his trunk and increased his flexibility. He can now sit up longer and stretch his arms over his head. He no longer needs physical or occupational therapy.
Vaughn trusts the horses and loves spending time with them, he said. He has also bonded with staffers.
“I really have a soft spot for them in my heart,” Vaughn said. “I tell them all the time, ‘You guys have changed my life for the better.’”