The great Walt Disney once said, “All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” When times are tough, most people would be hard-pressed to believe Mr. Disney. But, once in a while, that kick in the teeth can lead to a second wind, and with it, profoundly rewarding changes. Just ask Charlene Thomas, the owner of Glenoak Ranch Therapeutic Riding Center, Inc. in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Life took an unexpected turn for Thomas when she was 52 years old. After a marriage of 32 years, she was faced with a divorce. The mother of two sons, Reid and Ryan, was thrust into a life-changing situation. She recalls, “Suddenly, I had to decide what I was going to do when I grew up. I had two sons in college, and I had worked as a real estate broker for over thirty years, but it wasn’t my passion. My life was changed, and I had to figure it out.”
Facing adversity head-on, Thomas used the unexpected opportunity to re-evaluate her life and the value of happiness. She says, “I knew horses had always given me happiness and a feeling of being grounded. I had been away from horses for some time, but I had ridden and competed on my family’s horses in my youth. My dad had three girls, and he thought horses would be a good way for his girls to spend their spare time and learn to be responsible. It worked! My dad developed a Quarter Horse breeding program, and we stood Pappy’s Blue Ribbon and had seven King Ranch broodmares. My sisters and I broke, rode, and showed the horses we raised in Pole Bending, Barrel Racing, and Western Pleasure, and we had a great childhood. When I went off to college, though, I left my four-legged friends behind.”
In college, Thomas earned a BS in Psychology and Minor in Sociology and worked on her Masters degree before marriage and a family became her priority. She says, “Then, it was 2002, and I had a ranchette with a few boarders, a long career in real estate that really wasn’t my passion, and a divorce. It was a tough time, but I prayed a great deal and then I picked up a book titled, ‘Horses Don’t Lie,’ and read it cover to cover. The messages in the book about the way horses speak to us really resonated with me. At the end of the book, I read about NARHA, the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, (now PATH International) and EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association). I was so inspired that at 2 AM I started researching these organizations and booked a flight to Utah where I completed the certification training for EAGALA. Then, I went to Equest in Dallas where I got my NARHA certification.”
At the time, there were no therapeutic horseback riding facilities in South Texas, but on the wings of her second wind Thomas was determined to change that by founding her own program. Her boarder and friend, Joanne Montesano, a Spanish teacher, was also inspired to help Thomas get her program off the ground. Thomas recalls, “We used two of my broodmares, and together we got the program started. Joanne became a certified instructor and is still with me. I’m so grateful for all that she has done. I’m also grateful to my son, Reid Thomas, who was with me at the origin of the program and also has a passion for the program. He has helped bring incredible horses into our program.”