COLLECTED, WRITTEN & EDITED
By NASTASSIA PUTZ, PAULA MACIOLEK & JESSICA PAIRRETT
Whether you have a child with behavior problems, a teenager with depression or anxiety, or a family member with physical health issues, equine therapy or hippotherapy can benefit anyone suffering physical, mental or emotional ailments.
The earliest known mention of equine therapy can be traced back to roughly 400 B.C. and was discovered in ancient writings from Greek physician Hippocrates.
It wasn’t until 1952 when Liz Hartel from Denmark won a silver medal in Grand Prix dressage at the Helsinki Olympic Games that it entered the limelight. Hartel found that using horses was a great way to strengthen her lower body, especially after she had developed some paralysis in her legs caused by polio. Hartel’s success woke up the medical and equine communities in Europe, and therapeutic riding programs began emerging.
Talk then traveled from Europe to the U.S. and Canada, giving like-minded individuals the initiative to start therapeutic riding centers in North America. In 1969, the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) was started and eventually became known as PATH International, which includes dozens of different equine-assisted activities that benefit people with special needs.
This brilliant and organic therapy can now be found locally in most areas and has helped shape the worlds of many. According to PATH International’s 2017 Fact Sheet, autism spectrum disorder is the number one most served population under the special needs umbrella. And ages 6 to 18 seem to be the majority of the participants in equine therapy. Take a look at some of the local ones here in Wisconsin.
BY PAULA MACIOLEK, COPY EDITOR
Just 45 minutes north of Madison, Wis., a non-profit organization called Baraboo River Equine-Assisted Therapies, Inc., also known as B.R.E.A.THE, Inc., offers equine-assisted activities and therapy or EAAT for people ages 4 and up who have special needs.
B.R.E.A.THE was started in 2016 by Chris Singer and her husband when they came back to their Midwest roots after living on their southern California horse ranch. “We had five horses when we came here,” Chris explained, “and were looking for a way to give back to the community and benefit people—more than just us.”
Riders of a wide variety of physical and other disabilities can participate in learning horsemanship, both inside and outside of the barn, and get great exercise. “We have a lot of riders with autism, physical disabilities and learning disabilities, PTSD, spina bifida, Down syndrome.” Riders do not control the horse but rather helpers on the ground do. For the most part, there isn’t any kind of special equipment needed in sessions. “It depends on the rider, of course. We’ll use a traditional saddle or bareback pad, and if they’re really unable to support themselves, they have a side walker that walks on each side of them. Ninety nine percent of our riders can sit themselves.”
While participants might be excluded from sports at school because of physical or cognitive limitations, they can enjoy the inclusion that EAAT offers. “You’re not going to find them playing soccer, but we can put them on a horse and teach them how to control a 1200-lb animal, and they’re learning something and building core strength and confidence. That’s the positive reinforcement that sports have that [our riders] are able to participate in.”
Volunteers are an important part of the efforts, and Singer is always looking for people who have weekday and evening availability Monday through Friday. Help with special events and fundraisers is needed, too.
Of course, the lessons cannot happen without the horses. They need to have a special temperament that Singer describes as “pretty bomb-proof.” She explained, “they have a lot of input they’re dealing with during a lesson, so it can be pretty stressful. They have someone on their back who doesn’t really know what they’re doing, and a lot of times they can be off-balance, so the horse is working hard to keep that person on their back.”
Singer currently has six horses, and she needs three more to join the ranch for summer sessions. “To go out on the open market, it can cost $2000 to $10000 to purchase a horse. We are lucky if we get someone to donate their horse.” It’s challenging to find a horse that is of the right temperament, has the ability to do certain things such as trotting, while not having too many cost-prohibitive medical needs.
People are referred to B.R.E.A.THE via school counselors, special education teachers, parents who network with each other and share with other parents, as well as students on field trips at the ranch who go home and tell their parents. Even chiropractors, physical therapists and county health specialists spread the word about the benefits of EAAT at B.R.E.A.THE.
To get involved at B.R.E.A.THE as a rider, a volunteer or to make a donation, visit barabooriverequineassistedtherapies.org or call 608-504-2299.
BY PAULA MACIOLEK, COPY EDITOR
Three Gaits, named for the three movements of a horse—walk, trot and canter—is a nonprofit organization that provides equine-assisted activities and therapy (EAAT) for people with physical, emotional and intellectual challenges. Located just south of Madison in Stoughton, it began in 1983 under the leadership of Gail Brown and Lorrie Renker with just one horse and eight riders and “a love for horses and an interest in providing equine-assisted activities for individuals with disabilities in Dane County,” describes Mary Ann Roth, interim executive director.
Clients range from age 4 to 70 and may have physical, emotional and intellectual challenges or disabilities including, but not limited to, autism, ADD/ADHD and Down syndrome.
Three Gaits offers therapeutic horseback riding led by instructors who are certified by PATH International. Services include group sessions that are mounted and unmounted education in which riding skills with a therapeutic value are taught. They also offer both occupational therapy and hippotherapy. Roth explains that occupational therapy in this setting “utilizes the movement of the horse as the treatment tool.” Hippotherapy is provided by a licensed occupational therapist and is done in a one-on-one setting. Sessions run three per year in 12-week sessions.
Roth lists the benefits riders receive as a “gain in physical strength, balance, increased self-esteem, following directions, learning a new skill, socialization with classmates, [and] volunteers and staff developing a special bond with their horse.”
Three Gaits enjoys the efforts of approximately 350 volunteers who are involved with office work, care of the horses and fundraising to name just a few. They also are involved with hands-on work in the lessons supporting the riders by walking alongside and leading the horses. Roth shared that “…they come to us with a wide range of skills to offer, and what skills they do not have, we provide training. We are always looking for more volunteers.”
The work of the EAAT provided at the ranch is supported from United Way and grants from foundations. Private donors are a vital source of monetary support, and Three Gaits relies heavily upon them. Fundraising events are also held through yearly events that include several horse shows, a student horse show, a tomato plant sale and a major event taking place in the fall as well as a continuing GoFundMe effort to help with covering the cost of hay, which Roth reports as having “…almost tripled in the last year with unpredictable weather and such a wet growing season.”
The horses in their barn range in terms of breed and Roth describes them as having a calm disposition, gentle, sound, in good health, experienced in a variety of riding disciplines. Often, they will add to their barn by people donating horses. Sometimes, children have a horse while growing up and when they leave for college, they donate the horse to Three Gaits.
People find out about Three Gaits by word of mouth, from doctors and therapists, referring participants as well as state case workers.
To find out more about the EAAT programs, visit 3gaits.org or call 608-877-9086.
BY JESSICA PAIRRETT, COPY EDITOR
Snuggles and kisses, gentle nuzzles and hilarious antics. These are all attributes we love about spending time with our dogs. We’ll include the feline variety in there as well. But what about the quality time spent with horses? If you haven’t had the opportunity to do so yet, you’re sure missing out.
Located in Franksville, Stepping Stone Farms is one of those special places where you can meet a number of equally special horses. The nonprofit is a therapeutic facility that also rescues or receives donated horses. Lia Sader, founder of Stepping Stone Farms, says that horses have been her passion since she was a young girl. In Lia’s past life, she was a farrier working on horses’ shoes and hooves. But in 2004, her calling changed, and the farm was born.
Saving Those in Need
Stepping Stone Farms, while rescuing horses of any breed, keeps a focus on those who are older. Working with horses also included working with their owners, many of whom had the wrong breed of horse that did not meet their needs, Lia says. Sadly, Lia also met many owners who no longer wanted their horses because they could no longer be ridden or there was another unforseen circumstance.
Most of the horses that come to the farm are leaving bad situations. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have been intentionally neglected or did not receive good care. Sometimes, Lia says, the horse’s owner is doing the best he or she can to care for the animal, as can happen with dog rescue. One of the horses Stepping Stone Farms took in came from a situation in which its family just could not afford the food, and the horse was extremely malnourished. But this is where the beauty of rescue steps in to help the horses continue along their journey.
“The horses need to live their lives, have a job and do something,” Lia says. Just because a horse may be older or have a foot condition does not mean their life is over. This just means they’re ready to move on to that next chapter.
One rather particular fellow is 40-year-old Pony who Lia describes as a grumpy old man—but not all the time. He’ll keep to himself but knows how to be a friend, too. One visitor to the farm, a young girl, had poor social skills and had a hard time making friends. That is, until Pony followed the little girl around the show ring. “He taught her how to be a friend,” Lia marvels. This goes to show that age is nothing but a number!
A Therapeutic Mission
Saving animals, both large and small, may warm the hearts of some of us. Those same animals can also provide therapeutic benefits. Stepping Stone Farms offers therapeutic riding but also programming for children and adults who have mental health issues. Equine-assisted coaching is one way in which the horses are used for therapy.
Lia is a huge proponent of Eagala certification, in which an equine specialist and a mental health clinician work as a team along with a client and a horse. The Eagala model is ground-based with no riding involved. This allows children and adults of all abilities to take part in the therapy. The group works inside an arena, and the horse and client can interact as they wish, which creates a deep connection and gives the client space for reflection.
Clients at Stepping Stone Farms will currently work alongside Lia and a chosen horse (she has an opening for a therapist!) to build self-efficacy, self-confidence, self-acceptance and self-discovery. While working with these giant, gentle beings, clients also build skills in communication, trust, assertiveness, healthy boundaries and impulse moderation. Equine therapy also helps in the reduction of anxiety and isolation.
Having experienced the benefits of equine therapy herself, Lia wants to share the same benefits with others. When Lia was 17, her mom passed away. Lia used to suffer from depression, and it was time spent with animals—horses in particular—that helped her heal.
Horses may be large and powerful, but their size can help us take pause and reflect on times when we feel overwhelmed with large obstacles looming ahead of us. Plus, they are intelligent and especially sensitive to their environment. That includes reading our body language which they interpret and respond to accordingly. And, just like our beloved dogs, horses have their own personalities, moods and attitudes, too (remember Pony?).
Why not stop and check out Stepping Stone Farms yourself? During the last weekend of April, make sure to visit the farm’s free fundraising event “A Day of Horse Play.” The event is held rain or shine and will offer a good time whether or not you bring the kids!
Call (414) 379-2314 or visit steppingstonefarms.com for more info.
BY NASTASSIA PUTZ, PUBLISHER
Development of the MKE Urban Stables is well underway and will be completed sometime this spring. Located at 143 East Lincoln Avenue, the stables will be first and foremost a dual program to benefit Milwaukee youth and Veterans, while allowing the community to intermingle with police officers in a positive manner according to Kent Lovern, chief deputy district attorney of Milwaukee County.
Lovern is the board president for the stables and is excited to see the transformation that may come from officers and youths viewing the world through each other’s eyes. Ideally, these stables will help break down barriers between the two (often opposing) cultures and create a dialog in which both see the humanity in each other. He notes that youths will also be able to learn from the Veterans in the same capacity.
Ed Krishok, the vice president and treasurer of this project, says the facility, which will be a home for the MPD Mounted Patrol’s horses, will be ready sometime later this year for equine-assisted therapy, but a date has not yet been confirmed.
The MPD is partnering with the VA and Hamilton High School to make this therapeutic program possible according to Lovern. Hamilton High School is the largest Milwaukee public school with the largest number of special needs students. So students would benefit from a local facility geared towards helping them. And currently veterans have to travel to use a facility in Illinois for therapy.
Krishok would like to mention how grateful the stables are for its community partners who are responsible for bringing this “one-of-a-kind equine center and community gathering place to life.”
• Provide Equine Programs & Experiences That Keep Youth & Veterans Coming To MKE Urban Stables
• Improve Police and Community Relations by Helping to Build and Support a Human Connection Between Both
• Build a Culture & Appreciation of Service
• Establish MKE Urban Stables as a Multi-Cultural Gathering Place Reflective of Our City
BY NASTASSIA PUTZ, PUBLISHER
REINS Equine-Assisted Activities and Therapies began in 1982 by a group of students from Lakeshore Technical Institute in Sheboygan, Wis. The acronym REINS stands for Riders (Participants) being Encouraged, Inspired, Nurtured and above all Successful. At first this organization was created to provide recreation and exercise to those with special needs. In 2013-14 it began to evolve into the program that many are familiar with today: A non-profit organization with two forms of equine-assisted activities and therapies (EAAT) known to improve the lives of those with special needs through interactions with horses.
“We are accredited by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International and our instructors are certified in therapeutic riding instruction and/or equine specialists in mental health and learning,” says Theresa Zimmermann, executive director. “This level of expertise allows us to offer a range of equine-assisted activities and therapies to our clients.”
Therapeutic Riding & Equine-Assisted Learning
The therapeutic riding program is open to ages 4 and older. It focuses on the main skills associated with learning how to ride while making educational modifications and accommodations to riders with disabilities. Instructors modify classes as needed to help participants reach their physical, cognitive, social and emotional goals.
In comparison, assisted learning services help clients develop critical life skills such as trust, leadership, assertiveness, communication, self-confidence and self-awareness according to PATH. This particular program was originally designed for middle school and high school-aged children with noted behavioral problems. However, REINS offers this to younger children as well. The program is called “Learning to Lead,” and includes a mounted and unmounted version.
How Equine Therapy Differs
Zimmermann explains that the key difference in this type of therapy is based on the enjoyable and motivational environment available to the client. It allows the instructor to target certain skills that may be harder to address through traditional therapies and/or interventions.
Disabilities They Serve
Spinal Cord Injuries
And Many More!
When & Where
REINS is currently working on expanding the seasons they can offer therapy. As of this spring, they are building an outdoor riding facility that will be named “Freedom Ring.” During an outdoor riding experience, a participant named Caleb told his mom he felt free, thus influencing the naming of this outdoor arena.
REINS is always looking for volunteers (12 or older) and donations. Please visit reins-wi.org for more information. Scholarships are available for those unable to afford tuition.
“Without the support of the communities in which we serve, we simply could not do what we do,” says Zimmermann.
Contact Theresa Zimmermann at
920-946-8599 for more information.
Donations can be mailed to:
P.O. Box 68, Sheboygan Falls, WI 53085.
June 15 – Aug. 28
(No classes week of July 20)
BY NASTASSIA PUTZ, PUBLISHER
Nestled on a beautiful 17-acre horse ranch, and hiding amongst a quaint residential town is Heaven’s Gait Ranch Inc. This “hidden gem,” as patrons like to call it, began with the humility of one woman’s desire to help others. It then continued to grow throughout the years because many people joined together to make her dream a reality.
With her faith in God, her love of horses and her respect for U.S. military veterans, Elaine McClaren wanted to make a difference in the lives of those around her by creating a therapeutic riding center for individuals with physical, social, emotional and psychological needs. In the mid-2000s, she went in search of the perfect piece of land—finding one right in the heart of the Cedar Grove community. However, despite her high hopes at the time, she was diagnosed with cancer, and unfortunately never lived to see her dream come true.
In 2016, Elaine’s family and friends choose to carry on her torch. This group of caring entrepreneurs included: Brian McClaren (Elaine’s son), Margaret Mary McClaren (Brian’s wife and executive director of Heaven’s Gait) and Mark Zirngibl (Margaret Mary’s father). They decided to keep her vision alive by incorporating Heaven’s Gait as a non-profit, therapeutic riding center that serves individuals with special needs and veterans with disabilities.
So in order to build this compassionate community, it took a village of people to recognize the need and challenge the adversity against it. Margaret Mary confirms that it was “a Godsend of people with good hearts and quality values coming together that created Heaven’s Gait Ranch and its mission.”
With the help of family, friends, neighbors, previous employers, educators, mentors from around the country and even overseas, Heaven’s Gait officially opened its gates for lessons in 2017.
“Countless people took a chance on us, and their faith encouraged us to keep going despite various obstacles along the way,” says Margaret Mary.
“For all of these reasons, I am proud to say Heaven’s Gait Ranch was founded under the guidance of our Christian values, built with the support of generous donors and blessed with the time and talent of many volunteers.”
Unless you have been to this ranch before, as a new patron you will need to keep your eyes open to see the sign quaintly positioned off Main Street downtown. Then while driving down to the barn, you will notice horses hanging out in the outdoor pasture grazing and patiently awaiting their next riding adventure. Currently, there are eight gentle giants (therapy horses), an indoor/outdoor arena, trails, heated stables and a sensory learning space located inside the barn where people enjoy hanging out.
Equine Therapy is Vital
Margaret Mary explains, “For some of our participants with special needs, riding is the only activity they do, so it’s crucial for them (and their families) that they keep coming to remain mentally sharp, socially engaged and physically active.”
But this is not the only significant reason behind their ongoing programs. “For some of our Veterans with anxiety or post-traumatic stress, November through March can be particularly painful; holidays can be difficult, and it’s depressingly dark for anyone that time of year, let alone for someone who may not work because they remain at home on disability. Heaven’s Gait Ranch becomes so much more than just a fun place to ride; it’s a home and a family that cares for your well-being—week after week, season after season, year after year. And our family is committed to you for the long-haul.”
For information on volunteering or registering someone to ride, contact Margaret Mary at 920-400-0628 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Winter 2020 Session: January 13 – March 19
Spring 2020 Session: April 6 – June 4
Summer 2020 Session: June 16 – August 27
Fall 2020 Session: September 14 – December 17
BY CHERESE COBB, FREELANCER
If you ever feel that the world sometimes looks at you strangely, you’re probably a horsey person. The whole getting up at 5:00 a.m. to clip, braid and ship your horses halfway across the country to win a 37-cent ribbon is baffling to non-horsey people.
Horses are better than people, with one exception—dogs. If a non-horsey person enters your house, they’ll need to step carefully to avoid crushing any of the Jack Russells or Corgis that’ll most likely come barking towards them.
Nine out of ten horsey people have dogs. Sure, horses and dogs are different. Horses have been tamed while dogs have been domesticated. Dogs are predators and can make their own choices. Horses are prey animals. They have less of a say in what they want to do and closely follow their teammates’ instructions. But horses and dogs are also a lot alike. In a world where bad headlines reign, they’re the definition of what it means to be good. They’re big-hearted creatures who live in the moment and are sensitive, kind and the best listeners. But there’s more. A lot more…
1. Horses are great big wusses.
“Horses are huge and scary,” is something horsey-people hear a lot from normal people. It’s tempting to raise a scathing eyebrow. Try and resist. Non-horsey people don’t know that horses are incredibly sensitive beings. “They can feel a fly land on their fur,” says equestrian Brooke Brodersen from Milwaukee, Wis. “They don’t realize their raw power.” And as prey animals, horses aren’t necessarily brave. Kelly Meister-Yetter, event coordinator for The Healing Barn in Millbury, Ohio, says that one summer the track was more water than dirt. Before she could ride on it, her horse made her walk through every single puddle. “Apparently, they contained terrifying, horse-eating monsters that only he could see,” she says. “He was essentially throwing me under the bus. He was more than a little surprised when I survived the ordeal.”
2. Dogs are big babies.
Your friends and family might give you funny looks when you coo “Well done, good boy,” as your horse goes bananas past a wet barn mat or empty feed bag. But dogs can be big babies too. Nicole Schaefer, the founder of Yellow Dog Legal in Beaverton, Ore., has a dog named Cody. His biggest fear? BBQ. “He literally just stands in front of it and barks endlessly,” she says. Dr. Marcia Morgan from Bend, Ore., says that her 13-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever is terrified of water. Even after two years of swimming lessons, Baydon Poochini won’t go in above her knees.
3. Horses are terrified of plastic bags.
Normal people don’t give plastic bags a second thought. They’re useful for carrying all of our junk—although, they’re not great for the environment. A plastic bag is a triple threat to a horse. It’s an unknown object that moves and makes noise. When you see your horse sweating, puffing and distressed, you realize plastic bags are everything that’s wrong with our throwaway society. Non-horsey people, who allow them to carelessly drift into hedges, where they’ll get stuck and spook horses, really deserve to come back as one in their next lives.
4. Horses & dogs have iron stomachs.
Horses might be suckers for Subway sandwiches, Hamburger Helper and Doritos. They may have eaten their fair share of Slick ‘N Easy grooming blocks and cigarettes, but it’s dogs who really eat the darndest things. “Cody eats wood a lot. He made a hole in the molding under our main window and ate part of the deck. He also loves eating pillows,” Schaefer says. Meg Marrs, the founder of K9 of Mine, says that her dog Remy ate her PlayStation headset. Maybe he heard her yelling into it and decided to come to her defense? Jay Michaelson, the founder of HandsOn Gloves, admits his Great Pyrenees loves icy horse and cow poop. “Her favorite perfume is cow flop, and she loves it all around her neck. She also brought up a four-foot frozen rat snake one time,” he says.
5. Horses & dogs love to give hugs & kisses.
Dr. Carole Lieberman from Los Angeles, Calif. has an American Paint Horse named Gimli, which means “heaven,” according to Norse mythology. “He kisses me, but what’s even more special is what I call ‘Gimli hugs.’ I put my arms around his neck, squeeze and nuzzle him,” she says. “He then turns his head around to squeeze and nuzzle me, and we stay locked until either he gets distracted by something passing by or he decides he’s given me enough love for the day.” Horses aren’t the only ones saying, Kiss me. I’m furry. Vicki Liston is the YouTube host of “On The Fly…DIY.” Her 11-year-old dog Bailey is an untrained kisser. “If you’re on the floor doing push-ups, crunches or planks, he takes full advantage of your face’s proximity.”
6. Horses are geniuses.
There’s a reason you never see “My horse is smarter than your honor student” on bumpers. Dr. Evelyn Hanggi, the co-founder of the nonprofit Equine Research Foundation, told Horse Talk in 2012 that many non-horsey people believe horses have walnut-sized brains and aren’t able to think. “Domesticated horses have to live in largely unsuitable or artificial environments. They must suppress instincts while learning tasks that aren’t natural behaviors,” she says, “and must co-exist with humans who sometimes behave bizarrely—at least from an equine standpoint.”
Horses are the most perceptive of all domestic animals. They can see with virtually 360-degree vision and sense when their rider changes position on their backs (even a slight turn of the head). Horses are faster learners than cattle, pigs, sheep and dogs. They’ll entertain themselves with feed buckets and mirrors that are hung up in their turn-out area. “My horses play with grass all day and night,” Michaelson says. “One of my first horses loved playing with a construction cone in the water trough.” Need proof that horses are secretly geniuses? Ask horsey people where all their money is. They’ll reply, “Oh, yeah, I’m riding it.”
7. Dogs are pretty smart too.
When Alana Mustill from Manchester, England lost an expensive earring, she looked all over the house for it. “When I came out of the restroom, Bow (her sausage dog) was sitting outside the door with the earring in front of her,” she says. Hester Grainger, the cofounder of Hudia, says her dog named Roscoe helps her every day babysit her two children who have Asperger’s. “If they’re sad, he just sits with them quietly,” Grainger says. Dogs also can smell as little as a picogram (a trillionth of a gram) of any odor. What’s that like? “The average cinnamon roll has about a gram of cinnamon in it. Sure, the human nose is on it from the moment we open the door of the house,” says Alexandra Horowitz in “Being a Dog,” published in 2016. “Now imagine the smell of one trillion cinnamon rolls. That’s what the dog coming in with us smells.”
8. Dogs look like their humans.
Sadahiko Nakajima, a psychologist at Japan’s Kwansei Gakuin University, says people decide if dogs look like their owners by comparing their eyes. “I constantly get comments that I look like my dog and that she’s basically me in dog form,” says Alexa Lampasona from Boise, Idaho. When she rescued Ava last August, she felt an instant connection. From trail running to stand-up paddleboarding, she quickly picks up on any outdoor activity. “Like me, she’s high energy,” Lampasona says. “Our names have a similar ring too.”
9. Horses & dogs smell.
Stepping in dog poo or “landmines” is a no-no. “Usually that only happens when I’m already out in the yard picking it up, or I’m doing yard work and missed a pile,” Liston says. “When you’re barefoot and it squishes in between your toes, it’s disgusting.” This doesn’t apply to horsey people who’ve mucked their fair share of poo and ingested more than they want to know. It’s perfectly acceptable to eat a sandwich in the barn with your dirty hands and then refuse to touch city door handles. If you’ve bought a new truck with nice leather seats, it’s okay to toss sweaty and dirty tack on them too. Enjoy the aroma of manure? If you hang around horses for any length of time, it sticks to you. Horsey-people would bottle that smell if they could. When assistant trainer Jenny Caldwell was in college, she’d go into her tack trunk and smell her horse leather. “The love of horses is in your blood,” she says.
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