Dare to Dream Focuses on Healing with Horses


Humans have a long relationship history with horses, depending on them for strength and speed, but there are those who look beyond using them simply as a tool.  Marsha Lunsford, Executive Director of Dare to Dream Therapeutic Horsemanship Center, is one of those people who is moved by horses.  She explains more about the nonprofit organization that is now in its second full year of operation in Highland County.  She says, “Dare to Dream is an equine therapy center, and we use horses to help heal people from emotional or physical problems.  We provide therapeutic horsemanship to people of all different types.  We have five horses.  I usually try to match up the right horse to the person who comes with whatever they’re going to need.  Then we go in the round pen usually, if the people are able-bodied, and they learn to communicate with the horse on the ground at liberty and around pen.  And they ask the horse to do some things, and the horse decides, makes a decision, whether or not they’re going to join up with them, and be a partner to that person, so that’s step one.  We also do grooming and just learn general horsemanship as we go along, and we also ride of course.

“Our purpose is to help people with some type of challenge.  It might be that they are recovering from an injury, and the motion of the horse would be beneficial to them to build up their core muscles and maybe remind the muscles in the legs how to properly work again.  It might be that they have anxiety, stress, grief, something like that, that they’d like to work through, and being around a horse can be very empowering.  It can really help people learn to communicate.”

To help understand what Dare to Dream can be all about, Ms. Lunsford tells a personal story from her time as an intern before Highland County.  She says, “I was waiting to have some help with getting this girl out of her wheelchair on to the horse at the mounting ramp.  We were waiting our turn, and so, the horse was kind of just draining.  His name was Spirit aptly enough, and he was kind of straining.  He wanted to move over towards where she was, and I thought maybe he wanted to get a mouth of grass or something, so I just let him, but instead, he went over, and he just softly nuzzled her arm.  And she was a person who was very low functioning, but she was kind of startled, and she turned around and I said, ‘Oh my goodness.  Look.  Spirit wanted to come over and say, ‘hello,’ to you.’  And she kind of laughed, you know, so then when she got loaded up on to the horse, and we were going around, doing our lesson, I was the horse leader, she was laughing out loud.  And I said, ‘Wow, she is really in a good mood today,’ and her instructor said, ‘Yeah, that doesn’t usually happen.’  And then she said, ‘What is she doing with her hands?’  And she was reaching out, and patting the horse on the neck, and she had never really used her hands purposely before, not to brush her teeth or feed herself, but she was reaching out and patting the horse.  And so then, when she got off, I took him back over there to say goodbye to her, and she reached for his lead line, and I let her put it in her hand, and I thought about it all week, and so the next week when she came back, I realized, ‘I think she wants reigns. She wants to hold reigns like the other people do when they’re riding.’  And so I attached them to his halter.  He didn’t have a bit in his mouth, but that’s exactly what she wanted.  She held on the reigns, so she kind of surprised everyone that she had functional capability that nobody knew that she had that was inspired by Spirit just giving her a little nuzzle.”

Personally, I was invited to visit Dare to Dream, and Ms. Lunsford allowed me to interact with one of her horses.  I admit that I would never consider myself a “horse person,” not having been exposed to them much before, but I was pleasantly surprised to indeed feel a calming, empowering connection from the experience there.  Though I felt I had a better grasp of it, I still asked Ms. Lunsford why her program is important.

She says, “I think that people heal in a lot of different ways, and some of them are able to use, maybe art therapy or some of them have a therapy dog, or, you know, there are just all kinds of approaches out there beyond taking pills or finding someone that can help them talk through problems, and the same thing with physical therapy.  There are lots of different ways to be active and strengthen your body, and it just seems as if horses work for some people, and so, it’s difficult for people to be around horses, unless there’s some resource like this in order for them to have access to horses.

“We recently were really thrilled to receive a grant through the Youth Philanthropy Council, and its going to allow us to offer scholarships to Highland County residents, so I have a brief application if you’re interested in participating in equine therapy, give me a call, and we can discuss it.”

And for those who are interested, Marsha Lunsford can be reached at 540-499-2010 or at marsha@daretodreamva.com .  For further involvement, there will also be a non-competitive horse show with Ms. Lunsford’s students, as well as a natural horsemanship clinic with Tim Hayes, author of “Riding Home: The Power of Horses to Heal,” all during the weekend of September 9th.




Story By

Chris Swecker

is the Assistant Station Coordinator and a News Reporter for WVLS. He has roots in Highland County going back several generations, and he grew up in Monterey. Since graduating from James Madison University with a bachelor’s degree in Media Arts and Design, he has pursued his career at a news station and advertising agency in Virginia, on Microsoft’s campus in the state of Washington, and in both states as sole owner and employee of a video production company. He enjoys exploring life with his wife, Jessa Fowler, traveling, hiking, hunting, gardening, and trying new foods, all while discovering more about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. He feels blessed to be a small part of this talented AMR team to help give back to the community that has provided him with so much.

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