PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. -- Nearly 25 Monterey Military Community families took part recently in therapeutic horse riding when a local business donated its facility for a morning of horse riding and interaction.

Hope, Horses & Kids, which is run by executive director Lori Tuttle, is a nonprofit equine learning program "designed to help local kids with social and emotional difficulties or disabilities."

The visit to HHK in Salinas was coordinated by the Exceptional Family Member Program's manager Linda Moseley as part of an outreach to military families with special-needs members.

Moseley said she pursued the animal-interaction program because that type of therapy is known to be beneficial in helping children with social and emotional difficulties, as well as physical and mental disabilities.

And, after explaining the Army's Exceptional Family Member Program to Tuttle, the experienced horsewoman offered the entire riding program with instructors for free to the group, Moseley said.

As a result, Tuttle and her team spent a few hours on a sunny June 16 with special-needs members of the community showing them what the HHK program is all about and "introducing them to our wonderful four-legged staff."

For the EFMP group, the fun involved horse rides, some grooming, leading and "other fun stuff," Tuttle said.

Tuttle's Hope, Horses & Kids, which has been a program for about two years, can tailor any program around the specific needs of a child, including special needs requiring dramatic assistance, said Tuttle.

Helping children keeps the HHK staff busy.

The majority of HHK's students have special needs, such as autism and learning disabilities, explained Tuttle, adding that they have nearly 20 clients who do private lessons once a week.

"Since we also teach a life-skills type curriculum, we don't turn anyone away. The only time I might suggest another barn would be if a student were interested in riding competitively."

Additionally, they work regularly with a local middle school and with a foster home organization. "Between those two organizations we have about 30 kids come throughout the year," she said.

Tuttle, who has been doing this type of work since 2000, was very cheerful with her description of the Presidio event. "All of the kids had the chance to groom and lead Tucker, groom Ella, feed Toby carrots, and they all rode Rocky, Duncan and Ping Pong."

That interaction is important because HHK's core philosophy involves an instructional approach that includes the teaching of positive life skills: respect, responsibility, relationships, boundaries, empathy, choices and consequences.

Also, building on the model, effective communication with a horse involves patience, understanding, attention, forgiveness and consistency, Tuttle said, explaining that all these are abilities any young person will find useful throughout their life.

With the outstanding attendance and positive responses from the children and families, Moseley said that Tuttle has opened her faculty to the Presidio's EFMP program twice a month.

To participate in that offer, Moseley said that families must be registered in the EFMP program and coordinate through her office for enrollment and screening.