Ten years after longtime San Juan Capistrano resident Kathy Holman launched the horse rescue program Otra Mas, the nonprofit is looking to celebrate its founder at the upcoming Healing Hearts & Hooves Celebration.
Oltra Mas offers equine therapy with retired horses, giving the therapeutic horses a forever home and a new career, Executive Director Belinda Kiesecker explained.
“We started out originally focused on adults that were facing life challenges, mostly addiction, and then we thought, well, if we could have reached these adults as kids, could we have changed the trajectory of their lives?” Kiesecker said.
“The answer to that was, yes, if you can reach kids, you have a chance of them developing some life skills that will help them as adults meet those challenges,” Kiesecker continued.
The nonprofit now works with the Boys & Girls Club of Capistrano Valley, as well as the Wild and Whimsy Foundation, to bring equine therapy to kids.
“We’re growing and changing, reaching out to new demographics and utilizing equine therapy programs and mental wellness programs, which are not therapy-based with the horses; they’re more feel-good-based,” Kiesecker said.
Kiesecker added that seeing all that the nonprofit has accomplished over the past decade “makes me dizzy.”
“To see that we are branching out into these new populations of people that need mental health support, it just fills our hearts,” Kiesecker said. “It is our mission, it is our purpose, and we are doing it, and we’re living it.”
The nonprofit raises funds to offer scholarships that cover between 70-100% of the costs to provide its program to clients, to keep the costs affordable for its clients, including the Boys & Girls Club and local veterans, Kiesecker said.
Kiesecker noted that the nonprofit offers meditation and opportunities to bond with the horses.
Since horses are prey animals, “their No. 1 concern in life is safety,” Kiesecker said. “So they are constantly evaluating everyone and everything in their space for safety. They see a person, and they want to know, ‘Who are you, what do you want, why are you here, and can I trust you?’ ”
Those working closely with horses learn to show up authentically, Kiesecker said.
“They don’t care what that authenticity looks like,” Kiesecker said. “They don’t care if you’re scared, they don’t care if you’re competent, they don’t care if you’re anxious, they don’t care if you’re depressed … they just want to be able to read you so that they know who you are.”
Kiesecker added that to have a successful relationship with a horse, it’s important to trust yourself, the animal and to communicate clearly.
“So, we have these exercises that we do that are very much geared at teaching the kind of life skills that you need in order to be successful in life, because those are the same ones that you need to be successful with the horse,” Kiesecker said.
“You have to be present, aware of your surroundings at all times,” Kiesecker continued. “Connected, aware of your communication and then, are you leading or following? Are you trustworthy? Are you calm and relaxed? Are you grounded? All the things that the horse will respond to.”
For children participating in Otra Mas’ programs, Kiesecker added that many kids walk away more confident and feeling accomplished.
“For these kids, being able to handle this giant horse at the end of two hours, really, truly, has the ability to build their self-esteem in a way. What else can you do in two hours to get that?” Kiesecker said. “The results are immediate.”
Celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Otra Mas, the nonprofit will honor Holman for her lifelong dedication to the San Juan Capistrano equestrian community, Kiesecker said.
“She’s been in San Juan since she was a little girl and managed the equestrian center for over 40 years and has just given back in many, many ways to the equestrian community,” Kiesecker said.
The nonprofit will present Holman with the inaugural Icon of Capistrano Award at its upcoming Healing Hearts & Hooves Celebration on Oct. 6.
“We are presenting her with the first-ever Icon of Capistrano Award, which we will make an annual award,” Kiesecker said. “So, every year when we have this event, we will be picking a new person to be the Icon of Capistrano given from Otra Mas.”
Attendees of the event can expect to learn more about the nonprofit and its philanthropic efforts, as well as enjoy live entertainment and a dinner at El Adobe de Capistrano.
More information about Otra Mas, purchasing tickets or making a donation can be found at otramas.net.