Horse therapy program facing eviction from Scottsdale ranch

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. --- The staff at a horse therapy program in Scottsdale is scrambling to find a new home, after receiving an eviction notice from their landlord.

For years, the non-profit program, called Hunkapi, has operated at Camelot Farms, near 96th Street and Cactus Road in Scottsdale.

Hunkapi's clients range from children with autism and Asperger's, to adults with addiction problems and post-traumatic stress.

"The horses bring people to life. This program is so unique and there's a strong demand for it," volunteer Michael O'Brien said.  He says the adults he works with show immediate improvement after they begin equine therapy.

"We treat people with special needs.  We need them to be met with love and compassion and openness, and that hasn't been the case here," director Terra Schaad told 3TV.

Schaad says other boarders and trainers who rent space at the ranch have been openly hostile toward some of her clients who come for therapy.

"People discriminate because they're fearful of differences, and certainly our clients are different," she said.

Ranch owner Jerry Rhem, who signed the eviction notice, denies claims of discrimination.  He says the therapy program simply, "isn't a good fit," due in part to its expansion.

"I support Hunkapi 100 percent.  I've donated to them.  However, I feel that it's a bit too big for the area we have here," he told 3TV.

Rhem also pulled out a folder of safety concerns filed by other boarders at the ranch.

"Children not wearing safety gear, children running around the property unattended.   I don't know how I can avoid liability issues," he said.

Hunkapi's staff maintains its programs are being unfairly targeted.

They have been looking into new sites, but are struggling to raise an estimated $2.5million they say they need to move.

Hunkapi has been given 60 days to move its equipment and horses out.