Thomasa Tompkins Sanchez ’93
Not Horsing Around
By Jeni Flynn Hatter and Russ J. Stacey ’05HH
Thomasa Sanchez has loved horses her whole life. She used to ride and show them competitively and even won several quarter horse world championships.
In 2002, she turned her equine passion into something that benefits thousands of children each year: she founded Heavenly Hoofs, a nonprofit organization in Kissimmee, Florida that provides therapeutic riding to terminally ill and disabled children.
Sanchez, who earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Rollins and a master’s degree in communications from the University of Florida, says she knew from the time she was young she wanted to devote her life to helping others. “My father inspired me to choose a profession not based on how much money it would make me, but on finding something I loved and something that contributes to our community,” she said.
Her endeavor began at Give Kids The World, a nonprofit organization in Kissimmee that grants terminally ill children a cherished wish. Sanchez brought her horses there for kids to ride as a way to take their minds off the difficult times they were going through. “I was basically giving kids a pony ride, and while it was emotionally rewarding, I wanted to do more,” she said. “My vision was to start a therapeutic riding program so I could have a significant impact on children over a longer period of time.” Her dream became a reality when the nearby Silver Spurs Arena offered to let her use 13 stalls to get her business started.
Heavenly Hoofs works with children with physical, mental, and emotional special needs through specially trained instructors and donated horses—including Candy the pony, Munchkin the miniature horse, and 10 other quarter horses and Percherons. Children learn to groom, care for, and ride the horses. “We work with kids who have trouble walking, many of whom have gone to therapy for years—but to them, when they go to therapy, it’s a doctor’s appointment,” Sanchez said. “Here, they’re getting similar therapy—when you sit on a horse, the horse’s movements make your hips move the same way as when you walk—but they’re thinking about riding a horse and not about therapy.” In just eight years, the nonprofit organization, which relies heavily on fundraising efforts (including an annual Wild West Show hosted at Arabian Nights, a Central Florida horse-show attraction owned by Rollins alumnus Mark Miller ’70), has served more than 30,000 children.
Sanchez says her most moving moment came one day at the end of a young girl’s riding lesson. The girl looked at Sanchez and said, “Thank you,” and her mother burst into tears. When Sanchez asked what was wrong, the mother explained that it was the first time her daughter had spoken in three years.
“We are all really here to make a difference,” said Sanchez, who is married with two children. “In the end, I am so fortunate God dropped this opportunity into my lap. I couldn’t ask for anything more—working with the horses I love and making a difference in the lives of children.”