Shery McDonald Galbreath has transformed 40 acres in Southeast Parker into a little piece of heaven with her jewel of a facility for individuals with special needs - the SaddleUp! Foundation. Shery (or “Bear” as her friends call her), a native of Colorado and a “cowgirl by nature” is a true treasure among us. She became inspired to create the SaddleUp! Foundation by a young friend of her daughter’s who became paralyzed in a serious car accident. Shery has devoted the last 10 years of her life to giving people with physical, mental and emotional needs a “safe haven” and a reason to hope for a better life through the joys of horsemanship.
The embraceable, caring and loving Shery wows you with her enthusiasm and dedication. She is accomplishing her goal of empowering individuals with special needs through the equine assisted activities and therapies she has organized at her family-friendly ranch. The facility is meticulous, and the staff and volunteers are equally committed to bringing relief and healing to the clients of the SaddleUp! Foundation.
While I visited the ranch, I saw first hand the bonds built between the special needs individuals and the horses. You watch these courageous human beings come to life; and the beautiful smiles on their faces show their gratitude and happiness. Maybe that’s why “Bear” is always smiling too as she watches the progress being made in the horse arena through the effective therapies provided at the SaddleUp! Foundation.
Shery McDonald-Galbreath is a phenomenal woman with expertise in media relations, marketing and communications. She has worked as a writer for the Denver Rocky Mountain News, as well as a contributing lifestyles reporter for Denver 9NEWS. She has been featured as a radio guest on 100.3 FM, and she is extremely active in our community with many other causes such as the Kempe Children's Foundation; Betty Ford Children's Foundation; VOA; Families First; Oasis Network; Arthritis Foundation; Children's Diabetes; Girls Inc.; D.A.R.E.; to name a few. She has served as chairwoman for numerous fundraising events and currently devotes the majority of her charitable time and energy to raising funds for SaddleUp! Foundation.
Shery has a presence and a sincerity that touches people. Shery is proud of what she, her organization, and her family have accomplished. Shery says: “We try to make Sunday a day for the family. I’ve been blessed with so much in my life, and I want to teach my daughter, Emma, that the more you have, the more you should give back.”
("SaddleUp! Foundation" - a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization - relies on donations and grants to help defer the high cost of maintaining the horses and the facility. If you would like to SaddleUp! with Shery, visit the website at: www.SaddleUpFoundation.org.)
Why and how did you start the SaddleUp! Foundation? I officially founded SaddleUp! Foundation in 2002 because a sweet friend of my daughter, Emma’s named Katie, was in a car accident and became paralyzed, and I wanted to make a difference in Katie’s life. We had to do something to make her friend, Katie, smile, so Emma and I (as lead walker and side walker) began offering our “mother approved” horses to be used for Katie’s therapy. I learned about a special form of therapeutic horseback riding known as “Hippotherapy” which therapists use to promote the activation of postural control, balance, and the motor and sensory systems. Along with developing self-confidence, it’s shown to provide improvement in joint mobility and coordination along with increased muscle power.
Why does riding a horse work so well in Hippotherapy? This form of therapy uses the natural movement of the horse to help individuals with special needs increase their functional abilities and achieve greater independence. Horses are the perfect partners because a horse’s movement simulates the same three movements as a human pelvis, and it creates a movement pattern similar to a human walk – the strides are identical. The horse also provides sensory input to the patient that promotes increased motor function. People who cannot walk can experience what it feels like to walk.
What is the mission and vision of the SaddleUp! Foundation? We are dedicated to empowering individuals with special needs through equine-assisted activities and therapies provided at a family-friendly ranch. Our dream for the future is to become the premiere facility providing integrated therapeutic activities for people with disabilities, their families and caregivers. We also provide a respite for families while their children enjoy equine assisted therapies. I am hoping to be able to help at least 150 people suffering from a range of challenges from Down Syndrome, Muscular Dystrophy, Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Traumatic Paralysis to Autism - to the sort of emotional challenges that come with being physically or mentally abused.
How are you accomplishing this? All of these individuals can benefit from working with our horses. Our therapists and instructors utilize advanced techniques and equipment and other therapeutic activities such as riding and vaulting in addition to Equine Facilitated Learning and Psychotherapy. We are very unique for many reasons. The cost of the Hippotherapy to our families is minimal compared to other facilities. We cover all the cost involved except for a minimal fee paid to the therapists.
Our environment is also unique. We have a beautiful facility that can accommodate the entire family with a comfortable viewing lounge and outdoor playground. Our staff and volunteers interact closely with participants with special needs as well as their siblings and parents. The parents don’t sleep, and we try to make their “challenged” lives easier. We have a separate suite where the parents can spend the night. We will give them a nice, comfortable dinner with candles, music and flowers; and they can even see a movie or have a massage. We will watch the children, and the next morning we fix breakfast for everyone.
Do you work with other programs? How do you get your referrals? The SaddleUp! Foundation works with other programs such as The Children’s Hospital, Kempe Children’s Foundation, Oasis Network, Mental Health Center of Denver, Denver Options, Developmental Pathways, Douglas County Wrap Around, as well as other organizations – plus by physical and occupational therapists – and by parents.
Shery, you have traveled all over the United States. What is your favorite place to go? Laguna Beach, CA where my in-laws live.
Would you say you are living your childhood dream? Yes, I am accomplishing a childhood dream of creating an opportunity for others to experience the joys of horsemanship. We cater to all levels of horsemanship, but what really gets my heart galloping is how SaddleUp! opens up its barn doors to students who have physical and emotional challenges.
What or who are you most proud of? I would have to say I’m most proud of my daughter, Emma. While she works with our SaddleUp! physical therapists to help our students, Emma sees how the smiles on the faces of the riders can say it all. Emma beams knowing she is doing something important, and I’m extremely proud of her.
Besides Emma, who else inspires you? My husband, Jim Galbreath. When I first met Jim, I was working in the media. We were always dressed up and attending wonderful charity events that I would write about when I was a Society Writer for the Rocky Mountain News. I used to tell Jim that as much as I loved my job, I was a “jeans and t-shirt” type of gal. When I decided to quit and begin SaddleUp!, Jim was my biggest supporter. He has always believed in what my dreams were for this foundation, and for that I will always be grateful. Jim says he is proud of me for helping the families who already have unbelievable medical bills by not charging them more for the use of our facility or horses. He knows it’s the right thing to do.
How is your daughter’s friend, Katie, doing now? Katie, who became a quadriplegic during her car accident, is a beautiful 14 year old who started ninth grade at Cherry Creek High School this year. Hippotheraphy, along with the guidance of our therapists and volunteers, has helped Katie improve in many ways. When she first started riding, she had to be held up while she was on the horse, now she sits up by herself. The riding has helped Katie use muscles (that were dormant) in ways she hasn’t used them before. Katie usually rides Randy and says that the horses don’t judge you, they just listen. She has so much fun when she is out of her wheelchair and is saying things like: “This is like flying; it’s like being free!” It’s a joy to see her smile.
Do you have a favorite quote? One that comes to mind is from my adored grandmother, Emma, who used to say to me when she was blissfully happy “My cup runneth over.”
One of your mottos is “A Horse is a Horse…is a Therapist!” – can you explain that? Most horses, with the exception of possibly stallions and competition horses, can be used for equine facilitated activities and therapies. What is important is that they have a calm, patient and trainable temperament. The horse’s job can be extremely stressful, so the “right” horse is one of the most important ingredients for a successful experience. Safety is the top priority and every horse at SaddleUp! has to undergo a thorough assessment before being considered for the program. We proactively train our staff and horses to cope with stressful situations. Although there is no such thing as a bomb-proof horse, the SaddleUp! Foundation is proud of its “mother-approved” herd.
What are the names of your horses? The names of our horses that live in, as our friends call, “Bears Barn and Spa” are: Prince Phillip, ‘The Duke’, Elvis, Robin, Salsa, Isabelle, Allie, Rex, Randy, Slick, Toby and Zeek. We can’t forget the dogs: Bruno, Ubu, Bernice and Buddy.
What are your sources of income for the Foundation? We are a not-for-profit organization, and each year, we need to raise substantial funds to cover our operating costs. Even a $50 donation helps.
Our students and their families are like our extended families, and the atmosphere at SaddleUp! is always warm and welcoming. Anyone who owns a horse understands the expense of taking care of one. Everything from a trim for a horse; a few bags of shavings; bales of hay; grain; grooming supplies, etc. The love we all get from these majestic animals is worth every penny.
Donations to our non-profit will help defer the high cost of maintaining the horses and the facility. The minimum goal for each year is to raise $400,000. The most important use of the donations will help the SaddleUp! Foundation continue to offer our facility and horses to our Hippotherapy families at minimal cost.
Shery “Bear”, how do you want to be remembered? I want to be remembered as being kind and compassionate, and I would want Jim and Emma to be proud of me.