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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Do you have an "I love Three Rivers Parks" story? Whether you find peace on a wooded trail or inspiration in a nature center, learn how these beautiful natural spaces and the amenities and experiences within them are possible.
If you've been to French Regional Park, you may have been lucky enough to cross paths with — or even befriend — longtime park guest Ray Robinson. You can find Ray on a bench by the beach listening to jazz and chatting with fellow park-goers.