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Two Words, a Set of Reins, and a Therapy Horse Transform Lives of Disabled Children and Adults

Blue Shield employee Kim Kellogg combines love of volunteering and horses at Xenophon Therapeutic Riding Center, with support from Dollars for Doers Program.


What powerful, gentle, and astute animal gives mentally and physically disabled children and adults the ability each week to control a small part of their daily life, which is often filled with nonstop challenges?

The answer is a loving, trained therapy-horse, who responds to the guidance of its reins and the words “walk on” from its rider to begin its healing role in strengthening that rider’s body, mind, and heart. This magic happens at the Xenophon Therapeutic Riding Center in Orinda, Calif., where Corporate Communications team member Kim Kellogg volunteers four hours a week as a ‘sidewalker.’ During therapeutic lessons, Kellogg walks alongside the child and horse to ensure stability and safety for the child, and provides verbal prompts as needed. She also helps set up the arena’s lesson-specific training course and lays out the students’ riding helmets.

With a staff of seven certified equine instructors, four licensed occupational and physical therapists, more than 150 volunteers, and seven remarkable therapeutic horses, this 30-year-old nonprofit offers transformative equine-assisted activities and therapies to its students. It serves 60 children a week, ages 2 to 18, who have disabilities such as autism, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, and other diagnosed cognitive and physical issues.

Each child’s 30-minute lesson is customized to meet individual therapy needs and goals, established collaboratively with parents, teachers, and other healthcare specialists. The horse’s multi-dimensional, repetitive movements positively impact the physical, psychological, and behavior functions of the students.  Xenophon also offers equine therapy programs for veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) , and for individuals with early-stage dementia and their caregiver.

Kellogg has been a life-long volunteer, primarily holding board and leadership roles or serving on fundraising committees for nonprofits. She also loves horses, and rode casually at local stables and forest preserves as she grew up. “When I heard about Xenophon last year from a friend, I couldn’t believe it: two passions of mine brought together in one place. Also, the tasks required met my personal goal to do something completely different than my past volunteer roles. I immediately signed up on its volunteer waiting list and was admitted to the program early this year. This role is, without doubt, one of my all-time favorites. It fills my heart, week in and week out,” she said.

Xenophon, a premier accredited center under The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH), a national governing body, has been producing measurable, life-changing outcomes for its students for decades. “In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve seen life-changing results for students within weeks or months,” Kellogg said. “It’s incredible. And those joyful faces of the children when they realize that the words they use and the reins in their hands can control the movement of the thousand-pound horse they’re riding! It’s profound.”

Jean Johnstone, executive director of Xenophon, offers a few clues to the nonprofit’s success. “We provide a safe, non-judgmental space for students to be themselves. Using the horse as the therapeutic delivery method, creating a customized plan for each student that addresses their unique situation and abilities, we help students – and their families - achieve ambitious goals,” she said.

“Therapeutic riding focuses on improving muscle tone, balance, and motor skills, while developing riding skills, which is something exciting and new for our students. It also addresses good communication, social skills, self-confidence, and self-esteem -- qualities that help them be their best at home, in school, and in life. Plus, the smiles are infectious!” she added.

Since Kellogg volunteers during non-work hours, she submits her time to Blue Shield of California’s “Dollars for Doers” program, which donates $10 for every hour employees volunteer at any California-based 501©3 nonprofit outside of work hours. Xenophon is also an eligible nonprofit organization for the Blue Shield Matching Gifts program, so anyone can support it without being a volunteer.