Established in 2002, Lennon Equine Therapy serves children and Veterans in need, using Arabian horses exclusively. Located in Arizona, this family operated program focuses on the transformative and empathic abilities of horses.
“My youngest daughter Alissa was born without a third of her immune system,” founder, Annette Lennon, explains. “She is on infusion every two weeks to stay alive.
In 1996 she received a vaccine that attacked her cerebellum - as a result, she had to learn to walk and talk all over again and was in a wheelchair for two years. After traditional therapy would not help, the head of Neurology at Phoenix Children’s Hospital suggested we try Equine Therapy.”
From here, the Lennon family’s journey into horses, and specifically Arabians, as therapy partners would begin. Having grown up with Arabian horses, for Annette, they were the natural choice. “When I was 5-years-old, my father had a dear friend, Yale Syminoff, who owned a show barn in Scottsdale where he bred and showed Polish Arabians,” she recalls. “My father would take us out to visit, and eventually I rode and cleaned stalls for Yale. All my time was spent at the barn, and every Arabian show, we would go along as a family to watch. In February 2006, my father made me go to the International show at Westworld, despite the fact that he could no longer attend due to his health. He passed while I was at the show. My grandfather rode a Polish Arabian in Hungarian Cavalry during World War 1. Suffice it to say, Arabians are kind of family tradition for us.”
When searching for a therapy horse, Annette held true to this tradition. “We purchased an Arabian gelding from Buckeye, and six months into riding him, Alissa never looked back,” she recounts. “She was walking and growing in strength. We were so very blessed. We wanted to share this gift with other people with special needs, thus, we needed to expand our string of therapy horses. Our second horse was Jamboree Mandolyn, an Egyptian mare from California, and our third horse was a Padron daughter, TS Sierra, who we later sadly lost to diabetes.”
With their new team members assembled, Annette and her family began sharing their “blessing” in earnest. “We talked with my daughter’s high school and started working with children with cerebral palsy,” she says. “We met a mother of two non-verbal, non-ambulatory children, and we started to work with them. They are now walking with assistance and thrilled their mother introduced us to HopeKids.”
According to their webpage, HopeKids provides ongoing events, activities and a powerful, unique support community for families who have a child with cancer or some other life-threatening medical condition. “We started offering our services to this group of children and their families for a place they could come ride, relax, and connect with others like themselves,” Annette explains.
The next step in their therapy program began after a tragedy hit the Lennon family. Annette became aware of another group of people who were very much in need of the solace Arabian horses could provide. “In December 2006, my oldest daughter’s husband, who was serving his third tour in Iraq, was killed,” Annette recalls sadly. “At the time I also was working for Triwest, taking care of Active Duty families and their special needs children - PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) was now a reality. From 2013 to 2018 I worked at the Veterans Affairs hospital as a nurse. In 2015 I met a lovely Liberty trainer named Leslie Nichols, and together we wrote a program for Veterans with PTSD and TBI (traumatic brain injury). The head psychologist at the United States Department of Veterans Affairs approved the program for their homeless Veterans, and we began our work. The program operates on the principle that the horse is a mirrored image of the person he is working with on the exercises - he has the choice to work as a partnership or walk away.”
Her own experiences with Equine therapy also cemented Annette’s determination to continue to share its rich rewards with others. “In January 2013, I suffered a major heart attack,” she says. “I had just purchased my Purebred Arabian mare, Mi Flicka, the year before. She was to be my greatest rehabilitation, both emotionally and physically.”
Aside from her personal connection to the breed, it is the unique qualities of the Arabian horse that Annette feels make them perfect for her therapy program. “The Arabian horse has the capacity to take care of its rider and be used in any venue imaginable,” she explains. “Whether English, Western, Cow Horse, Racing, or Endurance - they excel. I have just not known any other breed to so easily sense the needs of a fragile child on their back, or a struggling human by their side.”
“Our best therapy horse was a Reiner and number one in Brazil for Western Pleasure, at a time. He was a Purebred Arabian named Van Raf. He had an amazing temperament - the children could stick their hands in his mouth and crawl under him and tirelessly; he took care of them. He passed this last November at 24-years of age, leaving our hearts and our program with a huge hole to fill. In August 2018, we purchased a school horse from A&M Arabians - ‘Quinn’ who has turned out to be a great therapy horse. He stops when he feels the child is off balance and is patient enough to work with the Veterans.”
Annette has a multitude of amazing stories of Arabian horses connecting with special needs children and Veterans. “A notable Veteran story is of a young Iraqi Freedom Vet who had a TBI and would not talk with us at all,” she shares. “He walked out into the middle of our arena with my mare, who tends to keep distance from new adults until she sizes them up. My standoffish mare walked right up to him and placed her head on his chest. He starting crying. I started to cry watching them - the most beautiful thing I ever saw, pure love and healing.”
“A diabetic and fragile young boy from HopeKids came to visit before Van Raf passed. He did not really connect with any of the other horses. I explained to him that Van Raf also had diabetes, which was controlled by thyroid medication and a special diet. I moved on to work with other kids. When we turned around he had gone into the pasture area where Van Raf was and had his forehead touching the horse’s, having a long conversation with him. They connected.”
“Then there was my favorite young man with Cerebral Palsy, Aidan. His mother Tessa is our webmaster and member of our board. Aidan rode Van Raf to stretch the muscles in his legs until he could go for tendon release surgery and reconstruction on his legs and feet. He received the surgery in November of last year. He now is able to walk with his braces fifty feet for first time in his life and stand on the school bus. We are hoping he and Quinn will become partners in the future as he continues his Equine Therapy.”
Though she and her family continue to be a blessing to others, Annette remains thankful and touched by those who come through the gates of Lennon Equine Therapy. “It has been the most humbling experience to work with these children. To meet the parents that walked the same path we had walked, including a ‘Make A Wish’ trip. To work with those who so bravely served our country. Our non-profit is funded mostly by my husband and myself. We have had fundraisers to help with vet bills and feed costs and truly thank everyone that has donated. In particular, I must thank Tessa Ringo and her family - their help and support raised the funds for our wheelchair ramp. We hope to keep growing and reach more special needs children and make a welcome place of peace for our Veterans.”
Extremely grateful, Annette mentioned a long list of people who she was beyond grateful and thankful to for their support, including the Arabian Horse Association who has sent invitations to shows for Annette’s therapy groups. We were unable to list them all, from trusted farriers to responsible horse rescues, volunteers and many more who have contributed to the Lennon Equine Therapy program in some way, but hope they know who they are.
To learn more, Annette invites anyone to stop by and visit to come meet the therapists - their Arabian horses!