Healing Power of Horses: Montecito Bank & Trust Aids Therapeutic Riding Program

By Zach Rosen   |   May 13, 2021
The Santa Ynez Valley Therapeutic Riding Program serves those on the autism spectrum, as well as others in need of healing

Nonprofits often have to work closely with banks to help support their growth and launch new initiatives. Like a horse and rider working together, the bank can help the organization get to where it is trying to go. 

As part of their ongoing goal to give back to the community, Montecito Bank & Trust (MBT) has been hosting their Anniversary Grants program since 1993. Nearly every month, 10 different 501(c)3 nonprofits that have been personally nominated by a MBT associate are given a $2,000 check to help support their organization. 

This month the recipient of the grant is the 30-year-old organization Santa Ynez Valley Therapeutic Riding Program (SYV TRP), which provides horse therapy programs to a wide variety of community members with special needs or just in need of some healing. 

This nomination is a recognition of their efforts in the community and represents the long, close relationship they have with MBT. As SYV TRP Executive Director Robin Serritslev puts it, “Montecito Bank & Trust have been with us steadfastly for the last decade. Every need we have, either banking wise or to sponsor a fundraiser, they’re so easy and they’re wonderful. Monica Trouve’-Sapp has attended all of our galas in the past and is just a huge cheerleader for our organization. Through all of the SBA PPP they have just been incredible, and Monica has gone above and beyond what any banker could ever do in my expectation.”

For years, SYV TRP has been helping heal the community. It was first developed by Dr. Mary Ann Evans in 1990 and is now located at the Santa Ynez Valley Equestrian Center. Therapeutic riding has been particularly helpful for individuals on the autism spectrum or with cerebral palsy.

“The movement of the horse’s walking gait stimulates our spinal cord and language center of the brain, so we just see beautiful things happen. One of our moms said, ‘You know, my son is non-verbal, but when he rides, he sings,’ and we have lots of music going on for those that enjoy music,” Serritslev explained. 

“We just take a holistic approach and have a wonderful time together.” 

It is easy to see where the organization gets their slogan: Walk. Trot. Heal. SYV TRP normally hosts nearly 70 students with about half of them coming as solo riders and the other half joining through one of their group riding programs. From a school’s special education students to a program working with veterans, their organization offers a variety of focused programs for a range of ages and particular needs. The pandemic has limited services, but they currently have about 30 riders, with a growing waiting list and are slowly bringing back their range of focused programs as it is safe to do so. The United Cerebral Palsy program will be coming back in June, while the Hidden Wings program, which focuses on adults on the autism spectrum or with developmental delays, will also come back in June. Needless to say, the staff (and the horses) are excited for everyone to start coming back. 

Once a student is accepted into the program, they are free to stay as long as they would like. Some of their students have been with them for 15 years and many develop special bonds with their horse. Since the returning students may not have seen their horse in a while, these moments offer a meaningful chance for them to reconnect. Robin mentions, “We have one boy, age five, and he has a little motorized wheelchair. His horse just came over to him, and just snuggled up to him in his lap, it was just such a sweet homecoming,” Serritslev said. “They really build these beautiful bonds with each other and they recognize their students and people.” 

Therapeutic horses are not just found on any old farm. Serritslev says that the general rule of thumb is about one out of 100 horses have the ability to become a therapy horse. Beyond training, it is about character. Therapy horses must be easy going around loud noises and quick movements, yet sensitive to human emotion and behavior. 

“It is such a safe space, there is no judgement,” Serritslev said. “It is just full of love and joy. We see wonderful improvements in our students’ confidence, balance, and speech.” 

Upcoming Events

With establishments starting to reopen, the organization will be hosting some fundraising events this summer that are fun yet still safe. 

On July 10, join SYV TRP at Folded Hills Winery, Ranch, & Farmstead for a socially distanced Polo Tailgate & Match. The event will be limited to 60 cars with guests watching the polo match from the comfort of their own tailgate. Attendees can bring a picnic to taste alongside one of Folded Hills wines available at the event. Enjoy a live cake and silent auction or come with a theme and your car may even win a prize in the competition they will be hosting. All proceeds will go towards their scholarship program for supporting student riders and the event promises to be a day filled with fun, wine, and even a few horses. 

If you’re personally looking to get up on the saddle (or bike) to help, you can participate in their 2021 Cowboy Ride-A-Thon that will be hosted from July 4 – September 6. The event will be held virtually this year with riders encouraged to document their ride with photos and videos. Those joining will collect pledges for a 10-mile trek as an individual or team, all on the ride of their choice. Whether it is a horse, bike, or motorcycle, choose your own path and take people along for a virtual ride while raising money for this impactful organization. 

Of course, if you’re looking to directly help, Serritslev says that they are always looking for volunteers, and no horse experience is necessary. Although that doesn’t mean you won’t get to be around these healing animals and the meaningful experiences they bring to the community. 

“We get to be a part of healing people through the joy of horses every day,” Serritslev said.


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