|Charles Fletcher , SpiritHorse International|
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Purpose Prize Fellow 2012
Charles Fletcher rode his first horse at age 5, which sparked a lifelong love of the animal. But it wasn’t until he was in his 40s and visited a horse ranch offering specialized therapy to disabled people that he realized horses could help heal.
He vowed to return to such a place when he retired. And he did. When he stepped down as the head of his own telecommunications company at age 63, he began volunteering at a Dallas-area equine therapy center.
After five years, he decided he could do better. In 2002, he founded SpiritHorse International, a nonprofit therapeutic riding facility in Corinth, Texas, for children with autism, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, attention deficit disorder, Down syndrome and traumatic brain injury.
Since then, Fletcher, his horses and his therapists have helped more than 1,200 children at the Corinth center, which sees 400 patients a week. Another 6,000 patients have received therapy at SpiritHorse’s 71 centers, which started opening in 2010 throughout the United States, Europe, South America and Africa. And for the families, it’s all free.
Two independent autism studies conducted at SpiritHorse have documented significant decreases in autism symptoms.
Such success motivates Fletcher, even though the work can be challenging. “I’m just doing what I’m supposed to do,” he says. “I realize now what God was preparing me for. I can look back over my life and see the points where I was guided to do this.”