Nyema has autism spectrum disorder. She has difficulty with social interactions, focusing and staying on task. But when she’s with Alice – her favorite therapy horse – those challenges seem a little less daunting.
“She’s learned to get her horse, groom her, saddle and bridle her, ride her and then do everything in reverse,” says Nyema’s mom. “Some days are better than others, but she always gets the job done, because she knows that is what is required to ride.”
For Jill Kuzelka, founder of Whispering Acres, stories like Nyema’s are exactly why she started the Nebraska-based non-profit. “We’re a safe place for people to work on challenges, often in a way that doesn’t seem like work,” she explains.
The non-profit offers something for everyone, from its much-loved petting zoo – complete with pygmy goats, chickens, peacocks and donkeys – to the High Hopes Equine Assisted Learning Center, which empowers children and adults with physical, mental, emotional and social challenges to create more active, healthy and fulfilling lives.
“Helping people live their best lives is the ultimate goal for me,” Kuzelka says. The animals at Whispering Acres seem to share her commitment. Take Duke, a 12-year-old Paint. Jill recalls an especially memorable first visit for one young, non-verbal client, who didn’t want to get out of the car. “Duke stuck his head in the car window, and they’ve had a great relationship ever since,” she says. “Now even on his bad days, he still wants to pet Duke.”