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Phoenix Center takes reins of equine-assisted therapy program

Spirit Reins equine therapy program

Phoenix Center of Marble Falls announced it is taking over the Liberty Hill-based Spirt Reins, an equine therapy program. Photo courtesy of the Phoenix Center

The Phoenix Center is taking over Spirit Reins, a Liberty Hill-based equine-assisted therapy program, in the spring, according to a media release from the mental health services organization. 

The center, currently located in Marble Falls and founded by Executive Director Sarah Garrett, offers mental health programs to Highland Lakes children and their families. Garrett’s vision for the organization included an equine therapy program, which is becoming a reality.

Plans for the Phoenix Center’s new site, 3340 Texas 71 in Horseshoe Bay, features an equine facility in Phase II of construction, which is off in the distance. Right now, the organization is focusing on an 8,000-square-foot counseling center for childhood trauma treatment. It’s expected to be completed in the summer. 

The equine center, when fully realized, will include a riding arena, a barn, stables, therapy rooms, round pens, a paddock, and pastures for its therapy horses.

For now, the Phoenix Center will offer equine-assisted therapy off site after the Liberty Hill organization handed over the reins to its program. 

“I’ve been a fan of Sarah and her vision for a long time,” said Rhonda Smith, Spirit Reins founder and executive director. “Phoenix Center’s innovative and experiential approach to therapy for children who have experienced complex trauma gives me hope, and our community needs that more than ever.”

Smith founded Spirit Reins in 2003 to help children cope with the trauma of abuse or neglect through the use of horses. Both Spirit Reins and the Phoenix Center developed their model of care based on the works of Dr. Bruce Perry, an international expert in the treatment of childhood trauma.

The two organizations use Natural Lifemanship, an equine therapy model designed to address post-traumatic stress disorder in children.

Phoenix Center equine facility
The Phoenix Center’s equine facility is part of the future Phase II construction of the center’s new site in Horseshoe Bay. Artist rendering courtesy of Phoenix Center

In a letter to supporters, Spirit Reins Board of Director Jeff Horn explained that COVID-19 had taken a toll on fundraising, staff, and the program. Though the organization worked hard to keep Spirit Reins going, by October 2021, it became clear it would be too much of a struggle. Officials decided to dissolve the program and, at the same time, “combine forces” with the Phoenix Center as well as HorseLink of Paige, Texas, another nonprofit.

Founder Rhonda Smith said Spirit Reins fits the Phoenix Center’s mission.

“Without Phoenix Center, the wounds of their clients would probably go unattended and prevent children from experiencing self-worth, confidence and lasting joy. The deep healing happening at the Phoenix Center is truly life changing,” she said in the media release. “The inspired decision to add horses to the equation and carrying the brand of therapy done at Spirit Reins gives me confidence that our legacy of healing will continue. Handing off the reins to Sarah and her team at Phoenix Center was an easy decision.”

Spirit Reins officials offered to launch an Amplify Austin campaign on behalf of the Phoenix Center to raise $20,000 in support of the equine therapy program through 2022.

According to the Phoenix Center, 81 percent of the children it served in 2021 were considered low-income. The organization doesn’t turn away kids due to a family’s inability to pay. All equine therapy services will be offered free of charge or on a sliding scale based on family income.

“Our goal is for trauma-informed equine therapy to be accessible to every child and family,” said Garrett of the Phoenix Center. “We are forever grateful for the opportunity to carry on the Spirit Reins legacy and programs.”

The Phoenix Center is also seeking the community’s help in raising money to build the on-site equine facility. For more information, visit the center’s Spirit Reins equine therapy webpage.