witnessing equine therapy changed Karen's life

· healing,equine learning,leadership,equine therapy,second chances

January 11, 2019

Derek and Nancy Lewis

c/o JF Shea Therapeutic Riding Center

26284 Oso Road

San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675

Dear Nancy and Derek:

In the 1980s I served as a volunteer at the Orange County Riding Center through the Saddleback Valley Chapter of National Charity League. Your son, Michael, made a huge and lasting impression on me.

I must have been about 14 years old the first summer I volunteered at the Center, and Michael was not much older than me. (I saw on the Shea’s Center website that Michael recently turned 50 and I’ve recently turned 48!) Though I can’t recall the number of hours I volunteered in that first summer, I remember a lot of hot days, brushing horses, mucking stalls, and assisting therapists on the ground walking alongside their horses and clients. I learned to ride on an old Palomino horse who had retired from a career in movie Westerns. I’ve never forgotten Michael.

I’ve recently authored a book which I include as a gift to you with my deepest thanks. When you arrive at pages 63-64, you’ll read the story of how watching Michael on a horse inspired me, more than 25 years later, to help people and horses to work together to heal each other.

In 2011, at a challenging point in my personal and professional life, I saw a television program with life coach Martha Beck working with Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York on a personal reinvention – something I was much in need of at the time. The Duchess worked with a guide and a wild horse to explore leadership and impact. Seeing the transformation made possible through their human-equine connection, I had an instantaneous flashback to Michael’s face the minute he was in the saddle, relaxed, happy and natural. In that moment, I had a huge insight: if horses can help people heal, both physically and emotionally, I wonder how they could help people grow developmentally to become better leaders? I wonder how I could work with people and horses to change lives? I knew from witnessing Michael that equine therapy was profound and lasting.

In the spring of 2012, I connected with a local equine leadership program in Los Angeles to experience horsemanship from this new perspective; a few months later, I collaborated with that program to offer my first equine leadership workshop. Soon after, my husband and I adopted our first two horses! Now, five years later, we are proud partners in Wrong Turn Ranch, a program and property we have built and developed with two Mustang trainers, Angi and Seth Murray, and have a home in the Santa Ynez Valley just outside of Santa Barbara where we rescue and rehabilitate both horses and people. We’ve grown our family to include a herd of more than fifty rescued wild and domestic horses, two donkeys, four sheep and a flock of laying hens who are the delight of many. We continue to do 1:1 work with humans and horses and offer customized group leadership programs with our herd.

I could go on and on telling the stories of the lives that have been changed through our horses, but you already know the magic of horse and human relationships. Let it suffice to say that Michael’s smile has multiplied exponentially.

This year as I’ve published my book and shared my horse stories and how my life experiences have transformed me, I’ve also joined the National Charity League chapter nearest me where my 14-year old daughter and I now serve our community. It is an incredible full-circle moment, and I was thrilled to discover that the OCRC, then Jostwick Center, now Shea Center – and most especially Michael – have continued to grow and thrive.

Thank you for your vision and commitment. Your lives have blessed many.

With love and thanks, I wish you a happy and healthy 2019.


January 26, 2019

This is Michael Lewis' mom & dad, Nancy & Derek Lewis.

Your letter & book reached us through the J F Shea Therapeutic Riding Center. What an incredible encouragement your letter & book was to the three of us. We are so proud of you & all you have accomplished because you decided, "There's Got to be a Better Way."

Michael has been riding weekly all these years & we all love his riding day. The Shea Center has changed so much from just one horse & a rented area to today with our own land, barns, 23 horses & 1100 riders last year & so many volunteers. Yet there is still the feeling of intimacy, caring & importance of each rider & volunteer. It's amazing!
Michael is now 50 years old & has continued to have a great zest & joy for life. We have taken Mike to Bali, Alaska, Mexico, as well as other places. Mikes favorite is Maui where he goes out in the water every day & makes lots of new friends on the way.

Derek will be reading your book first. We read the portion about Mike immediately!

And.... we would love to come see your spot in the Santa Ynez Valley.

God bless you!


Michael, Derek, & Nancy Lewis

P.S. The Name of the horse Mike rode was Shenandoah from Bonanza


Connecting the dots: what I've learned from a lifetime of volunteer service / Karen Pery