by Elizabeth Gracen:
Welcome to the first in a series of informative articles that feature everyday people doing amazing things to make the world a better place.
Whether it's their random acts of kindness, a passion for a cause, or a life dedicated to advocacy, service, research, or rescue, we commend and support their efforts and believe that their lives serve as an inspiring example of who we can be.
In our first article, we'll be featuring a powerhouse young woman named Jessie Kersh. Jessie's love for horses led her to the important vocation of equine therapy with her organization, Courage Therapeutic Riding Center.
In late October, Flapper Press posted a query on Facebook. We were in search of people who wanted to write for our ANIMALS category in the WELL-BEING section of the website. I was thrilled when Jessie approached us about her work with horses and equine therapy.
As luck would have it, a couple weeks later, we both suddenly realized that we have a much stronger connection than a simple Facebook query: we both have roots in Russellville, Arkansas, our families linked in the past and apparently not to be unlinked by time. It was a nice surprise.
Jessie has already written an inspiring post for Flapper Press called Gift Horses, but we thought it would be a good idea to find out what makes this amazing young woman tick. I interviewed her and immediately knew that she should be the first person featured in our new series - Making The World A Better Place.
Don't forget to click on the donation button at the end of this article so that you can be a part of making the world a better place by contributing to Jessie's organization, the
Without further ado...
Please meet Jessie Kersh!
EG: Jessie, first of all, thank you so much for your lovely first post to the site and for the terrific photographs of the work you are doing. Let’s just get this out of the way first. You are the daughter of Graham Kersh—someone I remember vividly from my tween days. I had a massive crush on his brother, Richard, when I was growing up, and his sister, Kim, was someone I idolized in a geeky way during that time. I can’t believe we have connected in such a social media success story sort of way! Please tell us about your work with the Courage Therapeutic Riding Center and how you became involved with the program.
JK: Courage TRC has been a dream come true for me. I knew early on how powerful the healing powers of horses could be, and I felt very compelled to share that with others. Luckily, I crossed paths with Lexie Kerr my freshman year of college at the University of Arkansas, and she had a similar dream. We blazed separate trails after studying together for years, but both chose similar paths in equine therapy, working and volunteering at different centers. We always kept in touch, talked about horses, lessons, struggles in our work, and generally cross referenced a lot of information constantly. After 2 years working for an outdoor education and equine therapy center in South Texas, Arkansas called me back very loudly. My home state needed what Texas had in the Equine Therapy department—not just a center within a reasonable distance but a CHOICE of many that specialized in different niches. After I earned my PATH Intl. certification, various other certs, and returned, Lexie and I decided our individual missions were more than similar, and we decided to join forces. Throughout college, we both acquired a unique group of horses with the intent for them to provide therapy.
Together, we created Courage TRC, its programs, therapy herd, and established it as a non-profit. We outgrew our first facility quicker than expected and were able to relocate to a private spot in Prairie Grove, Arkansas. That transition is its own tale. We’ve both instructed, trained, managed volunteers, and participated in countless community events. As a more abstract thinker, Lexie keeps me focused and gives me necessary frameworks when I need a boost. From the beginning, she has handled the management of the land and 16 horses, as well as the finances and many other detail-oriented tasks. This allows me to create programs, community awareness, and outreach. The ability to partner with someone in non-profit work has been crucial. It’s not all about the good stuff with kids and horses, sometimes you have to fight for things that aren’t easy to fight for. You’re challenged to deal with information you wouldn’t imagine when dreaming about this profession. Running a non-profit has been like having an entire additional family. The entity can be healthy or not, but it depends on you and a small army of people who believe in the cause 24/7. Every struggle has been growth, and totally worth it in the long run.
EG: Your first post talks a lot about the passion you have for riding and for horses. Please share your feelings about the connection and emotion you feel regarding these beautiful animals.
JK: Being able to interact with horses throughout most of my life has undoubtedly made me a better human being. Before emotion is even discussed, I’d like to present to you a few lists related to how equines "did it" for me (*disclaimer—these concepts are not perfected, they are examples of what horses continue to teach me about):
Presence of Mind/Mindfulness
Persistence/Consistency/Dedication/("Not something I quit," for lack of a better description)
Increase in Positive Perspective about the world in general.
Human needs satisfied:
Meaningful, significant, symbiotic relationships with another sentient being.
The fulfilling importance of mutual trust.
Adrenaline (and the opposite)
Consistency in cycles, systems, behaviors (and the opposite)
Creating awareness of the possibility of inconsistency, because, well, life.
Practice elements of healthy “control” (i.e. feed, tack, health, habitat)
With all of the lists in mind, the single most important concept I hope people can understand about what I’ve gained from working with equines is the infinite perspective they have to offer no matter how I show up for them.
It was always a world that made sense to me, being able to totally submerge myself in it and feel a sense of security and rest. Everything with them made sense. But when it didn’t, even somehow—it did. They always opened a part of me that was stuck before. If you spend time with them and you listen to and understand them, they can teach you everything you need to know (maybe things you didn’t really know you even NEEDED to know).
EG: You live in what I consider to be the most beautiful part of Arkansas. I haven’t been back in a while, so tell me about your state and if you plan to stay there.
JK: Arkansas is beautiful. The mountains and fresh water feel like home. There is a really great feeling driving into the area when the landscape starts to change. The exposed bluff faces and dense forests are beautiful in the Ozarks during every single season. For now, I don’t have any plans to go anywhere permanently. However, the ocean is kind of my mistress if you know what I mean. My home away from home.
EG: What do you think people need to know about animals? How do you feel about the state of animal welfare in general? What could we be doing better as a nation to guarantee that animals are treated humanely?
JK: Animals are at our disposal. Creating awareness of our effect as people and the reality of what we tend to brush under the rug will be the way that we can help. I don’t think that the majority of people realize the effect we have on the fate of every single species on this planet. Unfortunately, the majority of humans tend to be inherently selfish and unaware of the macro because the micro is so hectic.
As a whole, we are unaware of the impermanence of everything. A long time is a human lifespan to most. The systems we tend to create and human nature aren’t cohesive, and it’s caused us to lose sight. There is value in every biological installation in our world if we listen and observe instead of control or eliminate.
Ideally, I would like us to see the value in all animals, but bringing information and services that are accessible to people in need is how I would like to preserve the horse. They make us better. We were all made to mesh with everything on this Earth in some way, keeping in mind it may not be the way we first see it.
EG: Jessie, Flapper Press would like to do everything we can to promote the work you are doing, so we'll be promoting your organization and providing a link to help you raise funds for the Courage Therapeutic Riding Center. Tell me a little bit about what is entailed financially to keep your organization thriving.
JK: Any therapeutic riding facility’s operating expenses can be hefty at times. Especially, considering that we feed 15 animals weighing around 1000 pounds each. The horses require forage and hay year round. The cost of hay depends on weather and seasons. If we have too much rain, or not enough, hay prices can be over 100$ for a round bale. One round bale of hay will feed one of our herds (we have two) for a few days only. Some of our older horses require grains with more nutrients and vitamins in them. Therapeutic grade tack and quality materials are costly as well. On top of that, there are regular and emergency veterinary expenses, land management, tractor maintenance, etc.
The breakdown of the actual cost of one therapeutic riding lesson would be over $500, considering what goes into it. Of course, we couldn't and wouldn’t ever charge this much.
Courage TRC relies heavily on community support and in kind donations. Our strategies behind finances are always morphing, along with the needs of our community, laws,
and economical factors. It's important for us to stay involved and really pay attention to whats going on around us.
Fundraising is another huge aspect behind Courage’s financials. We typically host two major fundraisers a year (we are young as an organization, so they have started slowly, but increase each year slightly) and we attend as many other smaller community events as possible to create awareness. Occasionally, agencies are able to pay for sessions on behalf of their clients. Often times, parents pay for services out of pocket.
We love being able to offer scholarships, partial and full, for sessions when we are able to do so. In a perfect world, no one would have to pay for services. In a perfect world, insurances world wide would recognize EAAT as prevention and less costly than many long term prescription drugs, intervention methods, or incarceration. But also in a perfect world, we as people could recognize the importance of building strong children and creating a community ready for them- no matter their levels of ability. I believe that we will get there one day.
The easiest way to donate is to visit our website. www.couragetrc.org/donate.
We actually recently lost the horse pictured on the page. We held a vigil for him and had over 35 people show up on a Friday afternoon. He was our Equine Founder. Hard stuff. Expensive stuff. We SO appreciate your help.
EG: Thank you for that information, Jessie! Please tell me about what you’ll be writing about in the future for Flapper Press!
JK: Writing is much easier when it’s about something I understand well and derive emotion from. That could be anything from backyard chickens and equine therapy, to birth, death, and patterns in nature and human behavior. I’m here to express in hopes of offering perspective to someone who resonates with my subjective world. It’s a total two way street.
Jessie, thank you so much for sharing your life and work with us. Welcome aboard. We are honored to have you as part of the Flapper Press family.