I started the program in 2013 after Willy Ross, a day program for developmentally disabled, autistic, and deaf adults, closed their doors. I had been working with them as the head of their equestrian program for almost twenty years. When they closed, we had orphaned horses on our hands. I offered to take the horses and equipment off their hands, and we started the Let’s Ride program from there.
It sounds like you took a potentially negative situation, and turned it into a positive one. Do you see it this way, and what was your biggest challenge?
I see it as a gift. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and felt very passionate about. Our biggest challenge was making board payments for five rescue horses, and although that’s still a challenge I have more time to dedicate to building the program these days.
Who are your clients?
People of all ages recovering from major injuries, like broken backs and necks, people with autism, cancer patients, terminally ill clients, people with cerebral palsy, and the developmentally disabled. We also offer riding lessons and trail rides to the general public. The proceeds go toward the program and the care of our five rescue horses.
What do you love most about coming to the ranch every day?
It’s a zero-stress environment. The horses don’t complain, and they’re always happy to see me.
How do the horses in your program help people?
Let’s Ride’s horses have been trained to be very delicate and patient with our clients. They give our clients happiness and a sense of empowerment. If our clients are unable to ride, simply grooming, petting, and feeding a horse means a lot to them. It shows in their faces and it shows in their attitude. Non-verbal kids have come out to the ranch, I’ve seen them get on a horse and the next thing you know they’re talking to everyone around them. It’s quite a transformation to witness. It’s also rewarding to see the parents of these kids see this change in their own children. That’s why we keep doing what we do.
How does the program operate?
We have many volunteers that come in and get trained to care for the horses. They also help with leading and side walking the horses while our clients ride. Safety is our top priority, which is why we need quite a few volunteers to remain successful. Between my partner, Patti Bauman, who is our equine specialist, our volunteers who are generous with their time, sponsors and donors who are generous with their money, and the income from our lessons, we stay afloat.
What are you most thankful for?
I wouldn’t be able to do this full time without the help of my father, who I live with. If it weren’t for him, I’d have to seek employment elsewhere, which would give me less time to dedicate to the program. Also, our clients are not the only people who benefit from being around our horses. I’ve seen how they have helped all of us who run the program through difficult life situations. I lost my sister, Joannell, earlier this year to cancer. I don’t know how I would have gotten through it without these horses and my friends at Let’s Ride.
Tell me about your horses. What’s their story?
They’ve all been abused or neglected in some way, some more than others. We’ve lost a few of our rescue horses over the years. One of the challenges with rescuing horses is that sometimes you get to them too late. But our focus remains on keeping them comfortable until the end, allowing them to transition with dignity. Humans did this to them, and humans will fix it.
I would imagine that for people who don’t know much about horses, they may read this and have some concerns about getting on or near a horse with a history of abuse or neglect. What would you tell them?
When a rescue horse comes to us, they get 3-6 months of training and evaluation to determine if they are fit for our program. They must exhibit that they are docile and forgiving over this period. We have only had one horse come into our program that was not a fit, and we ensured that he had another safe and loving home to go to.
What is the most powerful equine therapy moment that you have witnessed at Let’s Ride?
An autistic and mentally disabled woman who attends a day program was at the ranch recently. She wanted to ride, and we arranged to have side walkers and leaders. She was very nervous and it showed in her body language, her muscles were clearly tense and tight. We got her on the horse and it was all going fine but she was still very tense, her legs and hands tightly curled. I talked her through it, trying to get her relaxed as we started the lesson.
About two minutes into it, a Monarch butterfly landed on her shoulder and stayed there for almost five minutes. We all remarked how beautiful it was, and as she looked down at it, her body language immediately shifted to a very relaxed position. She started smiling, it was a beautiful moment. Even after the butterfly took off, she remained relaxed throughout the rest of the lesson. It was an enchanting moment and it speaks to all the elements, including the ones outside of our control, that make for a memorable experience for our clients when they visit the ranch.