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A Natural Remedy

Veronique Matthews, founder of the nonprofit Hearts & Hooves, enlists horses and dogs in the healing process.

Author Layla Schlack Photography Blake Gordon


MISSION • Matthews delivers “equine therapy,” a well-established if little-known therapeutic speciality, to children, the elderly, chronic pain sufferers and people with Alzheimer’s, among others. She says being around the animals helps her patients overcome anxiety and trauma. While physical contact is often part of the treatment, she notes, “Our clients don’t need to touch the horses. Just looking at them can be enough.” Initially, she employed miniature horses; more recently, trained service dogs and full-size horses have become part of her treatment menagerie. Matthews works with facilities around Texas and has helped launch six similar programs throughout North America.

MOTIVATION • After surgery, Matthews became a chronic pain sufferer herself. When she adopted a miniature horse named Toby, he did so much to lift her spirits and get her up and moving again that she decided to share what she’d learned. “One story that sticks with me is a couple who came out with their four-year-old. He had some level of autism, I think, but I never ask. They wanted him to experience horses. And all of a sudden his parents said, ‘Oh my God, he made a facial expression!’ It’s hard to imagine, but they had never seen him do that before.”

FAVORITE SHOPPING BUDDY • “When I’m training new miniature horses, I take them to a big pet store, and that’s how they learn to be around a lot of people.”

Go to www.heartsandhooves.org for more info.

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