Healthcare

McKinney Horsemanship Center ManeGait Worries Highway Expansion Will Disrupt Therapy

At ManeGait, horsemanship is therapy.
At ManeGait, horsemanship is therapy. Kate Pezzulli
Editor's note, 5/10/22: This story has been updated to clarify that McKinney supports option A.

When William is on a horse, it doesn’t matter that he can’t run or jump, according to ManeGait, the nonprofit therapeutic horsemanship center where he rides. The National Institute of Health says he's only one of two children with his diagnosis who don’t use a nighttime ventilator. Both ride horses.

The center was founded in 2007 and offers a broad range of therapies: weekly riding lessons, GaitWay to the Brain, which integrates brain-building exercises into equine therapy, therapeutic carriage driving, and ManeGait to Freedom, a program specifically for military veterans and first responders.

The ManeGait site touts the center’s accomplishments, including improved motor skills, communication, focus, reading and other improved competencies in people with disabilities as well as its programs, high standards and family friendly atmosphere.

“Proven program outcomes have led to a high demand for our services, creating ongoing opportunities to collaborate, innovate, and improve our programs,” says the site. “We are excited about the future of ManeGait and aspire to serve our riders, advance our industry, and enrich our community for generations to come.”

But the Texas Department of Transportation has plans for a new U.S. 380 highway, and one option, option B, brings high-speed traffic within 100 feet of where the riders do their therapy sessions. This causes concern for the center’s future and how it might function with a highway being built so close.

“I think it’s awful to do that to that charity that has been a staple in this community,” said Prosper resident Kari Willis. “It just breaks my heart.”

Worried, ManeGait riders, volunteers, donors and advocates created a petition to oppose option B, which reads “OPPOSE HWY 380 SEGMENT B to SAVE ManeGait!”

"It just breaks my heart." - Kari Willis, Prosper resident

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The petition says the facility “cannot safely operate between 16 lanes of traffic.”

Even though Prosper residents have protested option B in part because of the effect it might have on ManeGait, TxDOT insists none of the options pose a problem for the center.

TxDOT’s site says the proposed segments “avoided direct impact to ManeGait,” adding: “After additional research, it was found it is possible for therapeutic horsemanship facilities to function effectively in a variety of physical and environmental settings.”

But Madison Schein, the public information officer for TxDOT, explained that while studies have been performed to assess the possible effects the highway might have on the facility, the investigation is still ongoing.

“TxDOT continues its due diligence regarding the studies of all alternatives and potential impacts,” Schein said. “That includes contacting other organizations that provide similar therapeutic horsemanship services. As part of the environmental impact study (EIS) process, all determined feasible alternatives from the feasibility study in 2020 have been carried forward.

“The department is working on a study of facilities with similar operations as ManeGait and other professionals in the same industry to address all potential impacts to ManeGait. As part of the EIS, there are further detailed studies underway to look at what type of impacts would occur on all proposed alternatives.”

For its part, ManeGait doubts the facilities used in TxDOT’s study so far are appropriate comparisons with their own operation.

“The centers that they looked at in comparison were not apples to apples,” ManeGait Executive Director Patricia Nelson said. “One of them is out of business now. One of them actually had to move from the location that they were at because [of] the proximity to the highway and the noise.”

She said that several others were either very small compared with ManeGait or didn’t operate the same number of hours that they do, which clocks in at some 60 hours a week. Yet another facility’s arena and riding area was more than a mile and a half away from the highway.

There are also safety issues that ManeGait says could potentially be harmful for riders and horses. “If a horse were to spook at a sudden loud noise, you know, if a fire engine came by suddenly or a big truck with big rocks in it came by the highway … [it] could create significant safety issues,” Nelson said. “We have a lot of riders that are on the autism spectrum … so with that additional kind of noise and distraction that can become very unsafe.”

Many riders also endure fragile medical conditions and would not be able to tolerate the additional pollution.

Although though there are issues with option B and its possible effects on ManeGait, option B is still the cheaper, shorter option for the proposed state highway and affects fewer business, residents, wetlands, and wildlife.

For those reasons, the city of McKinney, where ManeGait is actually located, supports option B instead of option A.

“ManeGait is a vital part of our community,” McKinney Mayor George Fuller said. “They do fantastic work in this community and making sure that they are able to do the great work they do is important.”

But he pointed out that even though the possible effects need to be looked at, the bigger picture is that decisions are being made that will affect the future, and the right decisions for the next 30 to 40 years should not be based on the emotion of today.

Nelson agreed that this is not an us-versus-them situation, it’s just a difficult one.

“I think a lot of people have the impression that, you know, it’s McKinney against ManeGait … and that’s not the case at all,” Nelson said. “The city of McKinney has been very supportive of ManeGait … [and] we’re not opposed to the city of McKinney in any way, shape or form.”

Nelson added, “This is a very tough situation. The traffic does need to be addressed. We understand that. We’re not in favor of any route, we’re opposed to the route that will displace us.”

Nelson said TxDOT did send people to their facility and that after posting the information saying ManeGait wouldn’t be affected, TxDOT granted ManeGait another meeting, where they presented more materials explaining why the information used for comparison wasn’t accurate.

"The centers that they looked at in comparison were not apples to apples." - Patricia Nelson, ManeGait

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TxDOT has also made clear that the investigation is still ongoing.

“The department is at the very early stages of the U.S. 380 between Coit Road and FM 1827 segment. Data information is still being identified and collected to determine a preferred alignment. TxDOT continues its ongoing study to see the potential impacts of all proposed alternatives,” Schein said. “Throughout the evaluation, the department will remain in contact with ManeGait and other professionals in the industry.”

The results of the EIS report will be available in early 2023, and afterward there will be another public hearing stage. So while many issues including this one have been discussed around the new highway, this project is still in the developmental and design stages.

Final plans could take between two and four years to complete, and phased construction isn’t set to begin for three to four years, which cannot start without full funding of the project. So far, the project is only partially funded, and it could be years before it's set in stone. 
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