Whether it’s a stallion or a mare, horses have played a huge role in Lili Kellogg’s life. And now her passion helps others find healing through therapeutic human-horse connections.
Kellogg grew up surrounded by horses. Throughout high school and college, she rode, trained and showed them. After graduating with a degree in animal science from Colorado State University, the equestrian took her love for horses and began an extensive career in the therapeutic riding industry. She made her way to North Texas in 1984 and soon after started working as the Program Director at Equest.
With 30 therapy horses (and looking for more), two cats (Hilly and Billy) and one adorable miniature donkey, Taco, Equest has offered life-changing therapeutic services to over 800,000 disabled clients. The Dallas-based nonprofit connects clients with patient, loving and intuitive horses. These gentle giants provide physical, cognitive and emotional support — and most importantly, bring big smiles to the faces of Equest clients.
The horses mimic human movement patterns and help strengthen the core, mobilize the joints, and ultimately, increase the balance of people living with a physical disability. “Horses are prey animals and live on high alert, but can still be peaceful which allows for the development of the social and emotional connection with our clients,” says Kellogg.
Before taking the helm as CEO of Equest, Kellogg served as the executive director of SIRE in Houston, the director of ManeGait Therapeutic Horsemanship in McKinney, Texas. This accomplished woman also coached the equestrian teams at the national and international levels, including Team USA at the 1996 Paralympics. But Equest’s mission would reach even further than the vast Texas borders.
It was in 2000 when Princess Anne, Queen Elizabeth’s II’s daughter, was making a trip to Texas that she requested a tour of the Equest facility. As an accomplished rider herself, the Princess served as president of the Riding for the Disabled Association, a facility similar to Equest. After stables were tidied up and the horses looked their finest, Princess Anne arrived at Equest in a Ford Windstar minivan.
How did the horses, cats and donkey come to Equest?
Our therapy horses are either donated from generous donors, purchased or on lease, and come from all walks of life. Some have been English or Western show horses, trail horses and even police horses. What they all have in common is they are well-trained, quiet, sound and forgiving — the hardest characteristic to find. Hilly and Billy are our pest control. A former instructor’s feral female cat had a litter and asked if we wanted two kittens. Six years later, they are still with us. They are domesticated, very social and very much part of Equest. Taco had a home elsewhere that was not suitable for him and his needs.
What changes did you bring to Equest when you came back as CEO in 2015?
When I returned to Equest in 2015, the organization was in a period of transition having a facility in Wylie while launching a second facility at Texas Horse Park. My primary job was to ensure that the new location implemented the same safety procedures and quality of programs that upheld Equest’s standard of excellence for the last 35 years. My next focus was to position Equest so that it was financially sound and stable and to re-establish relationships and cultivate new ones. As CEO, my overall role is to enhance the sustainability of Equest and the quality of its programs.
How are horses a therapeutic resource for people from different backgrounds?
From a physical standpoint, horses and humans have similar movement patterns. For clients with a disability, a horse is therapeutic in strengthening their ability to walk. Since horses live on high alert, they’re able to interpret or read nonverbal communication for developing a social and emotional connection with our clients. From a cognitive standpoint, in our therapeutic horsemanship classes, the instructors utilize different techniques to help improve learning, memory, and problem-solving.
What’s your most memorable experience so far with Equest?
I could write a book! If I had to choose one, probably the most personal and memorable experience is representing Team USA as a coach with an Equest rider and another Equest coach for the Paralympics in Atlanta in 1996. It has been inspirational to see other Equest riders chosen for the Paralympics as the years go by.
What have horses taught you?
If you have a passion and live your passion, then your life is very rich. They have also taught me about responsibility, perseverance and discipline. It takes hard work and dedication to get up at 3 a.m. to you get to the barn by 4 a.m. to go to a horse show. Ata young age, horses taught me to understand and respect individuality. Each horse is an individual. You can’t ride them identically. You need to listen to the horse and ride them the way they need to be ridden. Every being is an individual, and everyone is different.
Cover photo courtesy Equest