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‘Gift Horse’ film screening in support of Phoenix Center


MARBLE FALLS — Jerry Strickland knew the powerful message wrapped up in the upcoming movie “A Gift Horse” would be a great way to promote the Phoenix Center in Marble Falls.

Both the center and the film share a common bond through the healing power of horses.

“The movie is about a 10-year-old girl who lost her mother, but through this bond with a horse, she finds hope,” Strickland said. “And the Phoenix Center does an incredible job working with kids who have gone through some type of trauma. And they use this great horse program during the summer. So I thought what better way to promote the center and build awareness about it than to do something with the movie.”

Strickland, who is a founder of the Linda and Jerry Strickland Family Foundation, learned of the movie through a business acquaintance. The foundation leadership then decided to sponsor a screening of “A Gift Horse” in Marble Falls. The event is 4 p.m. Jan. 25 at the Uptown Theatre, 218 Main St.

John Schneider of “Dukes of Hazzard” fame and Kyla Kenedy of “The Walking Dead” are among the stars. Two of the actors, Madeline Thelton, who plays Charlotte, and Katie Kelly, who plays Abigail, are scheduled to attend the screening.

“What Sarah (Garrett) and her staff are doing at the Phoenix Center is amazing,” Strickland said. “As a foundation, we support the center, but one of our hopes through this screening is to build more awareness of the Phoenix Center and what they do.”

Garrett, the Phoenix Center founder and executive director, said she’s extremely excited and grateful for the screening. As a nonprofit, the Phoenix Center provides mental health and emotional care to children ages 3-18 along with support for their families.

“I’m not sure people in the area realize the innovative approaches Sarah and the staff use to help children,” Strickland said.

He made the connection between the movie and the Phoenix Center through the center’s equine therapy program.

“During the summer camp, they use horses as part of their treatment program, which is really an incredible experience for the kids,” Strickland said. “The equine therapy has the chance to make a real difference in these kids’ lives.”

Garrett said that while the movie is based on a young girl who rides a horse, her program uses a ground-based equine therapy approach, but one that has the power to transform children and help them through their grief, anger or other issues.

“There are several models of equine therapy,” Garrett said. “The one we use is trauma-focused equine therapy, which focuses on building healthy relationships.”

The advantage of using horses is they provide instant feedback.

“Let’s say a child is struggling with anger or has a low frustration level, those same frustrations may happen when we’re working with the horse,” Garrett said. “But becoming angry or destructive with a horse isn’t going to be as effective. The horse isn’t going to respond in the way the child wants it to. They learn horses work with you when you treat them in a more positive way.”

Garrett added that in a sit-down counseling session with the therapist providing “tools” for the child to use the next time he or she gets angry or frustrated, there’s a delay between learning the techniques and actually using them.

“With a horse, it’s immediate,” she said. “So a child learns quickly what works and what isn’t.”

During the camp, held at Candlelight Ranch between Marble Falls and Lago Vista, a youth works with a horse with the end goal of getting the animal to follow him or her around the pen without a halter or a lead.

“The horse has to want to follow them,” Garrett said. “It’s about building a relationship and trust. Horses don’t fake it. They give real reactions in real time.”

Strickland said it’s cutting-edge programs like this one that make him and the foundation want to spread the word about the Phoenix Center.

“There are so many children who can benefit from what the Phoenix Center offers. We just let people know about it and keep supporting it,” he added.

The screening of “A Gift Horse” is one of the ways. Admission to the screening is complimentary, but people should make reservations. Anybody instersted in attending should email Patia Strickland at

Go to for more information on the Phoenix Center.

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