Kathy Hinderer says she and her husband, Steve, went “way out on the twigs of the limbs.”

When the couple swapped their Burns Park home for a Lodi Township farm in 1999, neither had ever lived in an agricultural setting. But they hoped the sixty-acre farm, which they dubbed Heritage Hill, would provide a more therapeutic environment for their son Ben, who has Asperger’s syndrome.

Then seven years old, Ben grew up exposed to a variety of life skills and interaction with farm animals, and Hinderer calls their experiment a success–he now works full-time as a mechanic at Briarwood Ford and is engaged to be married.

In the process, Hinderer, a physical therapist, became fascinated with equine-assisted therapy. In typical therapy, patients with movement disorders such as cerebral palsy may spend a forty-five-minute session performing various movements on exercise balls and bolsters. Hinderer says the repetitive motion that comes from riding a horse can accomplish the same effects in five minutes. “Once I found out how much more successful this was than traditional therapy, I was hooked,” she says. “You can disguise it as fun. The clients don’t realize how hard they’re working until the end of their session.”

Hinderer obtained a certificate in hippotherapy–the clinical term for equine-assisted therapy–from the American Hippotherapy Association and opened the Michigan Abilities Center (MAC) at Heritage Hill in 2006. Hinderer uses the farm’s thirteen horses and one donkey to lead about thirty lessons per week, serving forty to fifty clients per year. Although most are children, she’s seen people as old as ninety-three. In addition to movement disorders, she also has clients with developmental disabilities. “Even if they can’t verbally communicate very well, they’ll just be in the presence of the horse, smiling and laughing,” says Ali Torrence, one of many volunteers who help lead MAC sessions.

Hartland resident Andrea Dixon began taking her three-year-old daughter Jade to MAC last fall. Jade has acute flaccid myelitis, a rare neurologic condition that caused complete paralysis of her left leg when she was six months old. Jade has since regained some movement in her leg and can walk with a brace. It’s hard to say whether that’s due to her MAC sessions, traditional physical therapy, or both. But her mother says Jade much prefers her time on horseback. “She loves it,” Dixon says. “She doesn’t really see it as therapy … It’s just a recreational activity in her eyes.”

In 2015 the Hinderers established Heritage Hill Haven, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, to support MAC, which Hinderer wryly describes as a “no-profit” business. Even with her donating her own time, she says, it’s become impossible to maintain MAC’s horses and infrastructure while keeping clients’ costs affordable.She recently launched her first full-blown fundraiser with a goal of $25,000, and she hopes donors will sponsor individual horses at the rate of $5,000 a year.

Even if they don’t find sponsors, Hinderer rules out selling horses to reduce costs. With their specialized training and a variety of sizes and temperaments to meet clients’ varying needs, she says the animals are “worth their weight in gold.”