Tag Archive for: 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.


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.

Why Horses?
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.


A permanent smile outlines the Samoyed’s face, matching its happy, warm personality. But don’t let this gorgeous dog fool you: he’s not just a pretty face. In fact, the Sammy or Sam, as the breed is known among fans, is a highly functional, hardy dog.

The Samoyed takes his name from the nomadic tribe who, thousands of years ago traveled from the Iran region to the tundra of Siberia. Once there, the dogs and Samoyed people shared trust as the dogs earned their working status. In addition to Artic exploration, the Sammy pulled sleds, herded reindeer and hunted and guarded property.

These dogs became companion animals, babysitting children and warming beds on cool nights. Extremely cold nights were three-dog nights, in which three dogs would be placed on the bed to warm its occupants, explains Maria Kirylo, state coordinator of Playing Again Sams Wisconsin Samoyed Rescue.

According to the American Kennel Club, during the early 1900s, the breed was brought to England to breed enthusiast Queen Alexandra. Present-day American and English Samoyeds are descendants of her dogs. Today, the Samoyed is one of the purest breeds around, the most similar to the primitive dog, with no fox or wolf DNA.

At Home
“Samoyeds make terrible, terrible outdoor dogs,” Kirylo says. They are very much part of your pack and want to be with their families. Gentle, friendly and easygoing, the Sammy is said to love everyone—intruders included. Needless to say, the Sammy will adapt to life perfectly fine with children or the family cat.

Speaking from firsthand experience, Kirylo advises that “if you can’t walk your dog several miles a day, don’t get a Samoyed.” Besides Wisconsin’s three warmer seasons, her four Sams will walk all winter long. And they do need the exercise. She says these dogs are sometimes labeled as stubborn, but it comes down to motivation. Make sure to give your Sammy an interesting job to do, one that keeps him mentally and physically active.

Because they are working dogs, Sams instinctively need daily exercise. A fenced-in yard is nice, but long walks are even better. Showing their very high intelligence, Samoyeds also participate in agility. “They are up for anything, any time, any moment, but they know how to relax,” says Kirylo She also notes that Sams “bark a lot and love to dig.” If you want a perfect lawn or garden, the Samoyed might not be ideal for you. “They’ll eat anything,” she laughs, as she pictures those tempting vegetable gardens.

One of Kirylo’s favorite characteristics of the Samoyed is that it takes a lot to ruin this happy-go-lucky dog. In rescue, she sees the dogs’ different backgrounds, but the dogs exhibit healthy levels of trust. Sure, they can bite and snap like any dog, but that’s just not who they are.

Samoyeds are typically healthy. However, almost all tend to get weak in the back end, she says. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight can prevent this. Glaucoma can develop and incidences of diabetes are a little high, but cardiac issues are not common.

Coat & Grooming
Stemming from his ancient beginnings, a Samoyed’s gorgeous coat repels water—it was a necessity to stay dry amid those artic temps. If he rolls in the mud and it dries on the coat, the mud will flake off as if the dog’s coat is nonstick. You’ll be left with a white-turned-slightly-gray dog.

Overall, the Sammy’s coat requires a great deal of care. Weekly brushing (if not more) is needed, especially during the once or twice a year seasonal shed, reports the AKC. Plenty of hair is shed but unlike Lab or cat hair, a Samoyed’s hair falls out akin to human hair. Maria likens it to picking up little dust bunnies—they lift easily off the floor.

Also, “never, ever shave a Samoyed,” she stresses. This is an act she has never done in her 17 years of rescue. Underneath all that hair is “very pink, tender skin” that is dander- and oil-free. The coat keeps your Sam warm in winter and cool in the summer because it reflects the sun’s rays.

Fun fact about the Sam’s smile: The AKC says the dog’s upturned mouth corners keep him from drooling—and prevents icicles from forming on the dog’s face—a necessary trait in the Artic.

Saying the Samoyed is “more than a pretty face” is not only one of Kirylo’s favorite phrases but also is 100 percent true. After all, who wouldn’t want a dog that boasts both beauty and brains? Add in the breed’s pleasant demeanor and medium-level energy and you may just find your perfect companion.

Homeland: Initially, Iran. Nomadic tribe traveled to Siberia.

Size: Males 21–23.5”, 45–65 lbs. Females 19–21”, 35–50 lbs.

Appearance: Muscular yet compact. Upturned mouth corners create a continuous smile. Thick, dense coat in white, cream, biscuit and yellow.

Job: Pulling sleds, hunting game, herding and guarding reindeer.

Temperament: Friendly, gentle, intelligent, loves people.

Grooming: Weekly to daily brushing. Weekly ear checks. Monthly to bimonthly nail trims.

Average Life Span: 12–15 years.