A married couple in Sandoval County have been doing good for the community for more than 14 years. This week, Mike and Twuana Raupp were rewarded for the countless hours of volunteer work the married couple have put in.

The Raupps, who have been married for 32 years, co-founded Loving Thunder Therapeutic Riding Inc. in 2008 to fill a personal need for a supported riding environment for their own disabled daughter. The mission for Loving Thunder was and remains to empower and improve the quality of life for people with mental and physical challenges through therapeutic horsemanship and equine-assisted activities.

“Our disabled daughter, she’s 40 now, we went around to other programs and didn’t like what they were doing for their therapeutic ridings,” Mike Raupp said. “(The programs) were not having them do anything; they were falling asleep on the horse, and it’s like, you know, they need to do something”

Loving Thunder did something. There are several programs offered at Loving Thunder, including  for special needs, at-risk youth, veterans and foster children. Each program operates year around to recognize the need for consistency in the riders’ lives. Sessions are scheduled with six weeks of riding and two weeks of break throughout the year (except Christmas  and New Year’s). Each session is an hour long and allows the rider to saddle, ride, groom and get to know the horse. Sessions can booked here.Loving Thunder had the program in Rio Rancho for 13 years and opened a new facility in Corrales a little over a year ago. It is a nonprofit organization that operates on donations and sponsorships. There is a group of 20 volunteers on the books, but the program is always looking for more. There’s 12 horses in the program in Corrales, which has  covered stables for the horses. However, the roofs covering the horses are in poor condition.

“The horses here, when they’re under the covering and it’s raining or snowing, they’re taking a shower,” Mike Raupp said.”I’m up there monthly trying to patch a hole and it’s just super bad shape.”

So the Raupps decided to ask the Sandoval County Commission to serve as a fiscal agent for the purpose of seeking funding from the New Mexico State Legislature to replace the organization’s roof. At the Jan. 25 county commission meeting, Loving Thunder presented a proposal for approximately $140,000 in order to fix five roofs.

“We’ve been patching and patching and patching and being a nonprofit, we watch every dollar that comes through the program, and all of that goes right back out to the participants of the program,” Twuana Raupp said. “Participants that we have are children and adults with disabilities, could be a veteran with PTSD, could be a child with autism. It could be someone in a wheelchair, and we use the power of the horse to provide healing opportunities for them. We are in a nationally accredited organization with PATH International, which is the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship. And you know, we’ve we’ve had our program in Rio Rancho for 13 years. And we’ve now been in Corrales for about a year. So we’re quite pleased to continue to grow and provide more opportunities for the community. And we’re asking you to be our fiscal agents so we can go and try to get some state funding to help us with these projects.”

District 2 Commissioner Jay Block had a better idea. Block, who served more than two decades in the United States Air Force, asked the Raupps about their work with veterans.

“The veterans that we serve are disabled veterans; that can be as little as 10% disabled,” Twuana Raupp said. “The funding comes through PATH International and it comes through two grants that they get. One of them is funded with Wounded Warrior Project and the other one is a VA grant that they get almost every year. It’s a grant, so you get it sometimes and you don’t get it sometimes.”

The veteran program, designed to help veterans overcome traumas, including amputation, PTSD, brain injury, anxiety and social isolation, caught the eye of Block.

“That’s fantastic. Well, you got me in kind of a good mood tonight,” Block said. “OK. So here’s what I’m gonna do for you. I have a little bit of money left, so what I’m going to do for you, because this means a lot, what’s your favorite branch of the military?”

After Twuana took the hint and replied “the Air Force,” Block approved the requests to fix two roofs at the Corrales facility at a cost of roughly $35,000. “Oh man, oh man he blew us out of the water. I think we’re still kind of dragging our jaws right now,” Mike Raupp said. “He is an awesome man to step up and and do that.”

Twuana Raupp added: “I had to pick my chin up off the floor.  It was shocking. You know, we went in there asking for a fiscal agent and we come out with two of our buildings funded, you know, so it was very surprising. It really made me kind of think you know, it’s a good thing to just keep hanging on.”

The purpose of Loving Thunder is similar to that thought as the program helps all different types of people to feel like they can keep hanging on, no matter how bad things get.

“I call the horses, they’re sponges because when you’re out here at the ranch, all of a sudden, your bad thoughts and feelings for either at home, at work, life the horses are just taking it from you and they accept you for you,” Mike Raupp said. “They don’t care if you’re black, white, dark skin, you know, Asian, the horses are non-judgmental. They don’t care what religion you are, so you’re accepted for you here at the ranch, even in a wheelchair. They see you as you.”

To donate to Loving Thunder, click here. To volunteer at Loving Thunder, click here.