BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — At the M.A.R.E. Riding Center, you’ll see this photo hanging inside the barn.
"We started with two little kids, five and seven, and one horse," said M.A.R.E. Founder Diane Hopkins.
Diane met Matthew, the little boy in the picture, 30 years ago when she was a physical therapist. His grandparents bought this property and leased it to Diane. She created M.A.R.E. to help children with disabilities like Matthew through equine therapy.
“I just fell in love with it and I love the kids. You know, we did start mainly with kids when we were starting," she said.
Today, Diane still comes to M.A.R.E. three times a week, taking care of the horses and leading therapeutic riding sessions. She introduced us to Cricket, one of her favorite volunteers. She said Cricket is just one of the many horses crucial to equine therapy.
“The movement of the horse is why we do therapeutic riding so each horse has a different movement and you use different horses for different things, and that’s pretty special. They have a very special job," said Diane.
When asked to explain just how meaningful the work at M.A.R.E. is, Diane was almost speechless.
“It’s hard to describe. For me, you know, it’s all in my heart and I just love it. You’ll make me cry," she said.
Diane said it’s inspiring to watch children bond with the horses and volunteers.
“The most rewarding thing is to have a child ride on a horse and to watch them go through their lessons, smile, laugh, interact with volunteers. There's so many good things I could probably be here all day to tell you," said Diane.
And her fellow volunteers make each day a blast, even if they’re just cleaning stalls.
“The people that work here are fantastic and fun to be with, and of course the horses are here, and that’s the best thing about it all," she said.
COVID-19 has put a pause on riding lessons with children, but veterans are slowly beginning to visit the barn again. Diane said she’s proud of the growth she’s seen in her riding center, and she wants to expand its equine therapy programs to even more community members.
“I just can’t believe how fast thirty years went and where we’ve come. We’ve come a long way but we have a lot more to do," she said.
M.A.R.E. has a virtual car raffle fundraiser coming up on October 10 and Diane said she's grateful for the continuous support Kern County has given.
“With all the volunteers, I mean, Bakersfield is a great community and it’s been wonderful. A good ride," she said.
A ride that she doesn’t plan on ending any time soon.
For more information on M.A.R.E.'s upcoming fundraiser, click here.
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