When Patti Mandrell and her husband Randy started Refuge Services in 1999, they weren’t looking to be trailblazers. They simply thought that by bringing their two professional worlds together (she was a licensed counselor; he was a skilled horse trainer) they could harness the healing power of horses. The couple ended up pioneers all the same, becoming the first to run a certified “out-patient” equine-assisted therapy program in Texas.
Twenty years later, their non-profit organization serves more than 160 clients each week, providing a unique therapeutic setting for physical and occupational therapy, as well as mental health counseling. While the majority of their clients are children and teens, the Refuge also offer programs for adults, including veterans.
In particular, Patti calls out the work they’ve done with veterans struggling with traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress. She says the horse’s rhythmic gait can help start the healing process, helping injured veterans get back on their feet and become productive citizens once more.
Patti admits that horses can be big and intimidating, especially for her youngest clients, but says they can also help heal, strengthen and teach. “These animals have the ability to touch people in a way that sometimes humans cannot,” she explains. For clients with mental health or behavioral issues, the horses provide unconditional friendship and deliver immediate, honest, and observable feedback. For those with physical disabilities, the simple act of riding helps improve flexibility, balance and muscle strength.
As for the horses, they benefit as well. “Our horses love this work, especially all the hugs and the kisses they get from our clients,” Patti says. “They may have retired from their full-time career, but this is an opportunity for them to continue to engage with people.”
In their spare time, Patti and Randy travel around the world, helping others develop similar programs. But the couple relish their time at their Lubbock ranch. “This place is a refuge for people to heal, to find hope, to rediscover themselves, made possible by their interaction with the horses” Patti explains, “For us, it’s such a privilege to be able to walk with people through that journey.”