Rein Dance Foundation Director Cindy Iacovetto getting help grooming Tuffy the horse from three riders taken during last year’s Mane Event.
Rein Dance Foundation Director Cindy Iacovetto getting help grooming Tuffy the horse from three riders taken during last year's Mane Event. (Photo courtesy of Rein Dance Ran)
FLORA VISTA — Helping individuals with special needs feel the reward of grabbing a horse's reins provides Cindy Iacovetto her own reward.

Her nonprofit organization, Rein Dance, has been bringing together horses and people with disabilities since 2001, but Iacovetto needs volunteers to continue the work.

Two days a week at her two-acre ranch home, she runs a summer program called "The Mane Event" that teaches individuals 2 years and older in Western horsemanship and horse care. The program begins June 10.

On June 15, Iacovetto will host a barbeque fundraiser with live music, hayrides and the real draw — the chance to meet the horses and miniature donkeys that live at the ranch.

But the real experience is what happens over the course of the summer, as the children conquer their fears, gain increased balance and coordination, experience greater freedom and independence and discover new possibilities for themselves in the process.

The program includes an obstacle course and the opportunity to take field trips to a local veterinarian and to Kid Fest at McGee Park in June.

Each rider in Iacovetto's program is charged a $25 registration fee to start and a rodeo-entry fee of $25 to participate in a special rodeo at the San Juan County Fair at the end of the summer.

The program also relies on financial donations from individuals and local businesses. The fees riders pay cover supplies and the trophies and awards they all receive.

"They are all winners. We've had some mini-miracles happen that just astound me and remind me why I'm doing this," Iacovetto said. "We've seen children drop their crutches and walk over to a horse, or a nonverbal child who uttered the word horse' when the child and animal were together."

Aside from English and "Horse," she speaks fluent Spanish and knows sign language.

But most of the communication between horses and humans is a special language all its own, Iacovetto said.

She has seen positive change in autistic children who are calmed in the presence of horses and deaf children who were elated at being able to use sign language to communicate with their equine friends.

"The word can't' doesn't exist at the ranch," she said. "So much of what our riders learn goes beyond grooming and horse care. They learn life skills, self-confidence, empathy and compassion."

In her 21 years therapeutically bringing horses together with people, Iacovetto has seen a lot.

"It's not just the people who gain so much from the experience," she said. "The animals are nurtured by the interactions and relationships at the ranch, too."

Charlie, a retired packhorse she adopted from friends in Durango 26 years ago, turned 40 this year, a milestone Iacovetto attributes to the nurturing relationships he has enjoyed. On average, horses mature after five years and do not often live beyond 30.

"I believe he has lived this long because of the love and friendship he has had at the ranch," she said. "He's an old, white, thin horse, but I tell people, that's what old looks like in a horse. He's loved, he's fed well."

As part of her organization's community outreach, Iacovetto also runs teen and senior programs in her mission to foster relationships between people and horses.

One of her two miniature horses, Rocky, has been a frequent guest in area schools and senior living facilities, even moseying into the homes of shut-ins and delighting them with a bedside visit.

Volunteers - some with no equine experience - are thoroughly trained by Iacovetto in all aspects of the

program from its funding to safety. Horse care and wrangling are also included.

Aztec resident Matt Williams has volunteered at Rein Dance Ranch for eight years, an experience he says changed his life.

"I used to have a lot of issues, but being around the horses has changed me for the better," Williams, 31, said. "The horses are good at sensing emotions, so if I'm having a bad day, I'll go out there and before long my spirits are lifted and I'm good to go."

Williams handles anything that's needed at the ranch - caring for the horses, mucking the stalls, setting up the obstacle course, helping the riders as they experience the thrill of sitting in the saddle.

"I enjoy volunteering," he said. "There's a lot that gives you that special feeling of good things happening. Horses are very serene, easy to be with once you get to know them and they get to know you. The whole experience is awesome."

For more information on getting involved with the Rein Dance organization, call 505-801-0373.

James Fenton can be reached at jfenton@daily-times.com; 505-564-4621. Follow him on Twitter @FentonDT.