Dakota Gas employee’s daughter, who has autism, finds strength in therapy horse riding


Isabella “Bella” Turnbow, who has autism, recently found her happy place by taking part in therapeutic horse riding. Above, she’s accompanied by (from left) Kayla O’Neal, Katie Oakland and Perry Thomas.

We all have our happy place. For Isabella “Bella” Turnbow, it’s on the saddle of her new favorite horse, Pop-Tart.

Bella, who has autism, is in the pilot stage of a therapeutic horse riding program taking place on a ranch southeast of Lincoln, ND. The full program will launch in summer 2016.

The nonprofit, TR 4 Heart and Soul, specializes in providing therapeutic riding exercises for children with special needs. Each of the program’s horses has been specially trained to work with kids like Bella, and three volunteers walk alongside every participant.

Since April, Trinity Turnbow has watched his daughter build core muscle strength and confidence by taking the reins. The program also helps her improve focus.

Turnbow and his family have witnessed the joy on Bella’s face as Pop-Tart circles around the corral. She and the horse have established quite a bond. Watch the video.

“Bella shows no fear,” says Turnbow, manager of process operations at Dakota Gas, a subsidiary of Basin Electric in Beulah, ND. “Whenever they start trotting, she starts giggling.”

He appreciates the work flexibility that has allowed him to be there for Bella during her half-hour sessions. Basin Electric, which believes in supporting its employees and the communities in which they live, recently sponsored the program.

Turnbow and his wife, Lindsay Turnbow, first heard about TR 4 Heart and Soul through an autism support group based in Bismarck, ND. The two have served as advocates for local activity groups that welcome children with special needs.

Even after receiving Bella’s diagnosis at age 3, the two of them were grateful she could continue participating in Bismarck Gymnastics Academy and Let’s Dance Studio.

The pilot stage of TR 4 Heart and Soul, which included six kids total, was originally planned to only run in April, but was so popular for Bella and her fellow riders it was extended another month.

The Bismarck Tribune has a gallery of photos of Bella as she participates in TR 4 Heart and Soul on their website.

The program starts off slow. Kids build trust with their horses by brushing, then they learn simple rider’s commands.

Once a child is more comfortable with riding, volunteers set up obstacles, such as miniature basketball hoops, that encourage kids to twist and turn while they’re riding. The activities are fun and participants often don’t even realize they’re exercising, Turnbow says.

Bella smiles from ear to ear as her younger sister cheers from the sidelines, Turnbow says.

Of course, as with many other kids in Bella’s position, some parts of horse riding are challenging for her. But that’s OK.

“It’s been great to see Bella’s progress during each session,” Turnbow says. “It’s uplifting.”

Read the Bismarck Tribune story about Bella’s journey with TR 4 Heart and Soul.


  1. Kent Schneider says:

    The TR 4 Heart and Soul program was started by my niece Katie Oakland. She is an amazing lady with a big heart. If you are in the Bismarck area check it out and maybe consider volunteering.
    Kent Schneider
    Purchasing Agent
    Black Hills Electric Cooperative, Inc.

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