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.