Margaret Dickens is trying to retire. She has tried twice before. “When you’re a founder, you can’t just leave,” laughed Margaret, who plans to take the title of Emeritus Director of Wings of Hope, the equine therapy center just south of Burleson, a little north of where FM 917 and CR 806 coincide.
“This field of equine therapy is not just pleasure riding. We’re helping the people physically and mentally, and we have 150 volunteers helping us do it. I want Wings of Hope to continue long after I’m gone.” Growing up in Fort Worth, Margaret rode horses all her life.
“During my first job as a camp counselor, I took my earnings and bought my first horse,” said Margaret, who believes horses help people to be whole. “It’s a combination of the spiritual side and the physical. The horse is an amazing healing
tool for the people Wings of Hope serves. These children and adults are disabled. They have to have a doctor’s release saying that riding their horse won’t
Wings of Hope Equitherapy is a premier center fully accredited by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) serving 97 adult and youth clients from Tarrant, Dallas and Johnson counties since 1996. “We are involved in Special Olympics, Chisholm Challenge and Horses for Heroes,” Margaret said. “At this point, as I am retiring, I am free to be a connection with the parents and caretakers, because our program director, Julie Rivard, is doing a great job of running everything smoothly.”
The staff and volunteers keep a busy schedule caring for the horses, managing the barn, teaching riding lessons and leading nondenominational prayer meetings between each class. All Wings of Hope instructors are NARHA certified and have extensive experience with both horses and disabled riders. Riders are taught to control the horse with reining. They are taught to control themselves through the use of games played from astride the horse. And they are taught responsibility through teamwork and stable management with volunteers. To help clients develop spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically, therapy at Wings of Hope is designed to increase cognitive skills and self-esteem, and to improve balance, coordination, posture, fine motor control and articulation in each rider.
“These children and adults have bonded with the horse, and they think about their horse and their riding lesson all week long! For every rider, we need three volunteers during their lessons. What the child or the adult rider experiences in the hour they are in their lesson, amazingly, is 12 people giving them care during that hour! And their parents and caretakers are supported through the prayer group,” Margaret said.
“We’ll have a child for one hour. Parents have them for 23 hours! The care these
children require is unbelievable.” The pleasure Margaret gets from helping people is contagious. She first entered this field in the 1980s, when she was already volunteering at a soup kitchen in Fort Worth. She learned there her gift was rehabilitation and exhortation. “In the soup kitchen, I spent hours and hours praying with children and adults, leading them to the Lord. We baptized 150 children from the streets! When you’re energized in what you’re doing, you realize you’re doing what God is calling you to do,” Margaret said. “It’s life-changing when you’re operating in your gifts.”
She knew, however, that she needed paying work and she prayed for a place to work that would allow her to use her gifts. “I wanted more. I loved horses. I wanted to make use of my gift of rehabilitation,” Margaret explained.
“What happened next was a miracle!” She answered an ad on October 15, 1986, and was immediately hired to work in Keene at Odyssey Harbor, which served children who had been abused, teaching them to trust again through therapeutic riding.
Margaret’s life experiences have taught her that once you learn one skill, you can use it in other areas. “I had been director of religious education for St. Andrews Episcopal Church before volunteering in the soup kitchen, and at St. Andrews I had learned to play guitar and lead vacation Bible school,” Margaret said.
“That experience prepared me to be effective when Patti Pace and I led the church and prayer meetings at Odyssey Harbor. She and I used to tune our guitars and say, ‘It’s OK if it’s not perfect; it’s just the love that counts!’ As it turned out, the combination of all of it was most important. The prayer group and the riding was a ministry that those kids responded to.
“We added prayer and church to our therapeutic riding and what we did was so effective that when Odyssey Harbor closed in 1996, they agreed to give us their horses if we would open a private, nonprofit equestrian program.That is how Wings of Hope began,” Margaret said. “I know I was led into this organization and it was God who turned it into a ministry.”
At Patti Pace’s place in Burleson, Patti and Margaret began to give riding lessons to clients who were not abused, but were physically, cognitively and emotionally handicapped. For three years, between prayer meetings and lessons, Margaret and Patti also raised funds to purchase 26 acres in Egan, dedicated to Wings of Hope.
Volunteers were always welcome. Margaret’s niece had a friend named Nancy Knox, who rode cutting horses. She chose to volunteer, but died shortly after making the commitment. “Her family donated, in Nancy’s memory, enough money to build a covered barn and an arena. With that, other foundations came in to support Wings of Hope,” said Margaret, adding: “As my husband used to say, ‘If God is chairman of the board, and if He wants it to happen, then it will.’ After that, Lockheed Martin came on board to help build the stalls and tack room, HB Zachary Construction donated
the concrete, and Morrison Supply Company donated the plumbing and fixtures. Three trucking companies from Cleburne transported seven truckloads
of reclaimed asphalt to build the parking area and United Co-op Services donated the outdoor lighting.” The Amon G. Carter Foundation has been a big supporter, funding the driveway, the purchase of more land, a farm truck and a site plan for future improvements, which will include an outdoor arena, more barn and stall space, and a chapel for prayer meetings and church services.
For now, Margaret often leads a prayer group at Wings of Hope. Recently after a riding class, a beautiful dark-haired woman in a wheelchair, the woman’s caretakers and other riders joined in for worship. Margaret picked up her guitar and asked the client what song she would like to hear. Pointing to letters on a laminated card to spell out words her vocal chords could not quite articulate, the woman called for “The Joy of Jesus” and Margaret picked up her guitar. With a big grin on her face, she urged the group to sing out, “I am so happy, so very happy, for I’ve got the joy of Jesus in my heart!”