LITTLETON, Colo. — Abigail Hermes's mother can't help but notice her 12-year-old's life-changing strides.
Mother Megan Hermes said her daughter feels more like herself than ever before.
Once crippled by anxiety, the preteen is now commanding, confident and taking the reins of life.
"When she started equine therapy she was pretty much non-functioning, and equine therapy has really helped her build her confidence, learn how to identify her emotions, and just has really helped her re-enter a normal kid life," Megan Hermes said.
She's done it with the help of The Right Step, Inc. and volunteers like Debbie DeSantis. For seven years, DeSantis has volunteered at the therapeutic riding center, which gives riding lessons to kids and adults with emotional, developmental and physical disabilities.
Christine Remy of The Right Step, Inc. said most clients are on on the autism spectrum.
"Horses are wonderful for working with everyone," Remy said.
DeSantis provides a steady hand for the riders, helping them build physical and emotional strength and face their fears head on.
"There are students who come here that have no strength and they can’t even hold themselves up," DeSantis said. "There’s progression over the years where they’re able to walk and walk up the stairs all by themselves to get on the horse where they started on the ramp."
When she's not in the arena, DeSantis is taking care of it five days a week. Volunteers are a key part of the operation of the program.
"The people who volunteer here have given me a new faith in humanity," Remy said.
Whether it be faith or a newfound confidence, nobody leaves the riding center quite the same as they came in.
"This program has given me maybe as much as I’ve given it — it’s been fabulous," DeSantis said.
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