How Horses Are Changing Lives at We Can Ride

By: Erin Scearcy Larson

May 27, 2019

Category: People of the Parks

Above: Derby, a therapeutic horse, enjoys some time in the pasture. Photo by We Can Ride

Three Rivers Park District is home to an incredible collection of places that provide hours of fun and education. But you may not know that one special location nestled in Baker Park Reserve provides life-changing services for people with special needs in a most unique and fascinating way.

A group of specially-trained therapy horses live year-round next to the Park Police headquarters. 

What Is We Can Ride?

horse and people at We Can Ride
Photo by We Can Ride

We Can Ride is a therapeutic program that works to improve quality of life for individuals with special needs or disabilities through equine assisted activities and therapy (EAAT). 

Since 1982, we have served over 6,000 families from eight counties in Minnesota. Over 275 clients come to us annually with a variety of diagnoses, including autism, learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, multiple sclerosis, developmental delays, spina bifida and more. 

Programming is available for ages two and older; applicants are carefully screened to best ensure that EAAT is appropriate for their needs.

Benefits of Equine Assisted Activities and Therapy

Increased muscle tone, balance, core strength and flexibility are some physical benefits of EAAT. In addition, therapeutic riding and assisted activities have offered many moments of joy, confidence, excitement and pleasure. Our equine therapists have collectively spent thousands of hours sharing what only horses can provide as a gift to humans.

Connecting the Perfect Horse with their Ideal Partner

horses at We Can Ride
Photo by Shelly Paulsen

Clients are closely matched with their therapy horses based on individual needs and programming goals. We Can Ride’s herd consists of mostly senior horses who have been donated or leased free of charge. Derby, Clown, Diego, Gus and Jasper are a few of those that have devoted their lives to helping others, and they work every day of the week to support clients in achieving their EAAT goals. 

Much of the magic of We Can Ride is the relationships that develop between our horses and clients. Just as with people, horses have individual personalities, experiences and strengths. The trick is to connect the perfect horse with their ideal partner. 

horse and client share a moment
Photo by We Can Ride

Our specially-trained staff is expert at putting together winning combinations with often transformative results. Paired with their horse, clients can participate in a number of therapies.

Therapeutic Riding

Because horseback riding rhythmically moves the rider’s body in a manner similar to a human gait, clients can improve flexibility, balance, muscle strength, sensory integration, motor skills and much more.

child on a horse
Therapeutic riding. Photo by We Can Ride

Hippotherapy

Our horses team with a Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH)-certified instructor, a credentialed physical or occupational therapist, and volunteers. Together they utilize physical, occupational, or speech and language therapy in a 5:1 environment.

Equine Assisted Learning (EAL)

Since horses communicate non-verbally, they are wonderful teachers by showing how non-verbal communication impacts others. Many individuals and groups excel at identified goals through this unmounted, unique program. 

horse and client at We Can Ride
Ground work therapy. Photo by We Can Ride.

Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP)

Horses participate with a certified mental health professional and equine specialist as a treatment approach that offers opportunities to enhance self-awareness in clients and helps them reflect on patterns of thinking, behaving and feeling. 

Get Involved Today

volunteer and horse at We Can Ride
Photo by We Can Ride

We Can Ride not only depends on our horses, professional staff and therapists, but we also have an army of over 500 committed volunteers to help care for the horses and assist with sessions. 

Are you interested in helping out or know someone who might want to be a client? Visit wecanride.org for more information. Barn tours are also available by appointment.

If you are ever walking through Baker Park Reserve on a spring, summer or fall morning, look for our horses enjoying relaxing trail rides as a reward for all of their hard work!

About the Author

Erin Scearcy Larson is the Fund Development Manager for We Can Ride.

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