“I am the world’s richest man because I get paid in hugs and smiles, the most valuable currency that exists. I love my children and I love my job,” says Charles Fletcher, founder of SpiritHorse, an international network of equine therapy centers that offers free riding programs to children with severe disabilities…

Following his early retirement, Fletcher decided to follow two of his passions: horses and his desire to improve the lives of severely handicapped children. With the help of a network of experts, he founded SpiritHorse at his ranch in Texas. His vision was to offer free sophisticated treatments to children of disadvantaged families (as well as to adults) suffering from autism, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, etc.

Each week some 400 children take advantage of his programs and develop skills such as speech, balance, core and leg strength and social interaction. Since its creation, SpiritHorse has helped some 5000 children.

Two independent studies conducted by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam have documented significant decreases in autism symptoms.

The impact of SpiritHorse has traveled far beyond the ranch. Fletcher and his staff have trained and licensed 91 other centers in the U.S., South America, Africa and Europe, making SpiritHorse one of the largest and only research-based therapeutic riding centers in the world for people with disabilities. These centers must operate as self-sustaining units – raise their own funds, hire their own trainers – but Fletcher offers free guidance every step of the way.

Fletcher, now 76, has put his land in a trust for the nonprofit, and his brick-ranch home is now the SpiritHorse HQ.

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