IDAHO FALLS — It hasn’t been an easy ride, but Champ’s Heart has every reason to celebrate Wednesday.
March 1 marks the one-year anniversary of Champ’s Heart moving onto its own property at 988 South 45th East in Idaho Falls. Prior to finding a permanent place to call home, the local nonprofit bounced around from Shelley to a temporary location in Idaho Falls.
“When I started this four years ago with one horse and a couple of kids from the church, that’s all I expected. It’s taken off,” Larry Cudmore, founder of Champ’s Heart, told EastIdahoNews.com. “Once this got going crazy like this, I was worried about how to sustain it. I’ve gotten so much help from the community. It’s going to outlive me which is wonderful.”
Champ’s Heart now has two employees, 200 trained volunteers — in January alone, 1,500 volunteer hours were put in — and 250 children who are facing cancer, disabilities or other challenges, are attending weekly. The current waitlist is around 40 children.
“There was a day when if I didn’t show up, nothing was going to happen,” Cudmore explained. “Now, everything can happen when I don’t show up.”
Before its new home, Cudmore had to shut the program down in the winter and only offer sleigh rides on Saturdays due to the cold. That no longer has to happen thanks to their indoor arena which was insulated and paid for by donations.
The organization operates Monday afternoon from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., Thursday at 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. for the kids. Special events are held Tuesday nights for local organizations. Veterans are welcome to attend Champs Heart on Fridays.
“(The Veterans Program) started slow because veterans are a very different participant than children in terms of everything they are dealing with, (such as) their PTSD, coming home … getting jobs. They’ve been through a whole lot,” Cudmore said. “Now, it is starting to take off.”
Cudmore has watched the horses interact with veterans and children and has seen the joy the animals bring them. There are 13 big horses and six little ones, which is the maximum amount of horses allowed on the property, according to Cudmore.
Cudmore reminds the community they are not certified therapists. Instead, Champ’s Heart is an “equine ministry.”
“There’s story after story after story,” Cudmore said about the horse interactions. “I have no idea how this all happens in terms of the horses working their magic on all kinds of people.”
Something that Cudmore believes makes Champ’s Heart unique is it doesn’t charge for the horse encounters. Every child — including the child’s family — participates for free.
“It’s a family thing,” Cudmore said. “It’s been my intent from the very beginning that we’re not going to use this program to separate families. We’re going to do it to give families experiences they can have together.”
He is thankful for the generosity and support he’s received to get Champ’s Heart where it is today and provide people in eastern Idaho with this opportunity.
“It is here to stay,” Cudmore said. “I’m so thankful for that.”
For more information on how to apply, volunteer or donate, click here.