Therapeutic riding takes a special place in my heart. My eldest daughter has Cerebral Palsy and has been riding in a PATH Intl. program since she was four years old. In addition to the physical and occupational therapy benefits, the level of confidence she has acquired is immeasurable. I’ve watched her struggle with being different, with normal teenage girl drama, and isolating herself when she feels sad. Horses and her therapeutic riding facility have always been the one constant she can rely on.
I am thrilled to feature Kathy Palm, the CEO of PATH International, this month on the Equestrienne series. Thank you for reading!
What is your experience with horses?
I began my professional journey with horses through a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck. I grew up in the suburbs with no access to horses. I was obviously enamored with them from a very young age, because when my mom cleaned out the basement and gave me all of my childhood drawings, I realized that every one of them included a horse – not necessarily well-drawn, but recognizable. In addition, rather than the traditional (in my young world) Barbie dolls, I had a “West Set” which was comprised of a mom, dad, and two teenage girl dolls the size of Barbie dolls, a cardboard ranch-house and fencing and multiple horses, complete with tack that the dolls could “ride”. Strong evidence that my love affair with horses started early.
Professionally, however, I went into non-profit management. I spent the first fifteen years in non-profit live theatre management. I reached a point in my career that the next natural step was to become a managing director for a theatre. At the same time, I realized that I didn’t have the kind of passion for theatre that I saw was necessary to fundraise and lead. I do think theatre is very important, I just didn’t have a strong enough drive to lead it. I realized that I had developed all of these skills in leading a non-profit and now wanted to put them to good use for a mission I was passionate about.
This is where the hard work came in as I started exploring my passions. I knew it had something to do with animals and people together, so I volunteered for my local vet clinic and the local humane society. Then, the little bit of luck came into play as I happened to see an advertisement for an Executive Director position at a therapeutic riding center just 30 minutes away. Up until that moment, I didn’t even know that equine-assisted services existed, let alone had existed in “my backyard” for almost twenty years.
I will never forget walking into the barn for my interview. I took a deep breath and when the barn smell hit me, I immediately felt as if I’d found my home. It took some convincing since, at that time, therapeutic riding centers were used to hiring people with horse experience, and mine was essentially limited to a few lessons and trail rides. But I did convince them that they wanted an experienced non-profit leader who loved their mission more than they wanted someone who would be out in the barn, deciding what hay to feed. They already had equine experts for that. Luckily for me, and ultimately for them, they offered me the job and I accepted. That was in 1999.
I immediately immersed myself in learning everything I could about equines, including taking lessons in an inclusive class once a week. I saw for myself the amazing connection between horses and participants. I watched riders take their first step or speak their first word because of the horse and the therapist or instructor that guided the session. I saw the incredible bonds that grew up between human and horse. And the amazing positive impact of those interactions on body, mind and spirit. And the positive impact I personally experienced on my body, mind and spirit.
What is your business name?
Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, Intl.
Why did you begin your business or pursue your passion?
I am passionate about the human/horse connection and leading an organization that provides credentialing and education to providers of safe and effective equine-assisted services.
What is unique about you or your brand?
Our mission is to lead the advancement of professional equine-assisted services by supporting our members and stakeholders through rigorously developed standards, credentialing, and education. We are an international resource for all things equine-assisted services.
How does your brand or business positively affect other equestrians or horse welfare?
We set standards, credential and educate to ensure safe and effected services are delivered to children, adults or veterans with physical or mental challenges. We also set standards for horse care and work internationally to set horse care guidelines.
What challenges have you faced in life or business?
Running a non-profit like a business, maintaining the heart while making decisions to be sustainable. Working towards the recognition of the legitimacy of equine-assisted services.
What keeps you motivated or inspired?
People. The members of PATH Intl. are an incredibly dedicated, talented and supportive group of people. I love interacting with them and figuring out how to solve problems and improve the work and the industry as a whole.
Who has influenced you and why?
I have had many mentors throughout my life who have taken the time to listen and provide feedback as I wrestled with professional issues. I have had up to four different executive director/CEO round table groups that met on a regular basis to provide support and feedback. I credit them with helping to make me successful in my leadership roles.
How could your story benefit others?
My story is an example of how dreams do come true with a lot of hard work and a little luck. Taking the time to understand what motivates you, what’s important to you and then turning that into a lifelong pursuit.
What advice would you give to someone starting on a new adventure or business? What advice would you give?
Make sure you identify what type of experience you are looking for – not the job description, but what do you want to be doing day in and day out? Take notes each day for a week on what experiences motivated you and made you happy, and what experiences were draining. Then turn that into your dream business. And make sure that you create a business plan – don’t let your heart get ahead of your head.
Are you working on anything currently?
I am the CEO of PATH Intl. We have been working on supporting our members during the pandemic, industry-wide terminology, 3rd party accreditation of our registered level instructor certification, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and developing an online training for EAP-PTSD Curriculum – a research based curriculum to treat veteran’s with PTSD symptoms through equine-assisted Psychotherapy.
Learn more at www.pathintl.org.