If you ever find yourself walking the trails early on a summer morning at Baker Park in Maple Plain, look carefully through the mists when you near where County Road 24 meets County Road 19. You might just see some pricked equine ears and curious eyes greeting you.
Tucked into a quiet parcel on the property where the Three Rivers Park Police headquarters sits, a small band of 17 special horses graze on the long, lush grass in a pasture adjacent to the trail.
These are the heroes of We Can Ride, Minnesota’s largest and oldest therapeutic riding program. We Can Ride is a Premier Accredited Equine Assisted Activities and Therapy Center with PATH International (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International).
We Can Ride was established in 1982 and has served thousands of clients in the years since. Their mission is simple and powerful: to connect humans and horses to transform the lives of individuals with disabilities and meet the evolving needs of our greater community. It’s not about what disabilities or challenges the riders face, but rather what their abilities are and how they can be discovered through therapeutic horseback riding and other equine assisted activities. This year, the non-profit will serve about 275 people, aided by a committed army of over 500 volunteers.
The heart of the program is obviously the horses. The herd consists of unique individuals who come from a wide variety of backgrounds. McDreamy, a retired racehorse, has been featured on television features about We Can Ride, airing on NBC national news and KSTP-TV in Minneapolis. His best pal, Rascal, is a former St. Paul police horse. Griffin performed search and rescue. Kota and Splash are highly trained dressage competitors. Koal and Klara were beloved family pets. Fallon, Party and Edwin took their young owners through dozens of competitions and shows. And Jasper has been a therapy horse all of his 30 years. The list goes on….
While the horses may come from different places, they share some striking similarities. All have unusually high emotional intelligence – horses and dogs have the highest EQs of all domesticated animals. They have low flight/fight responses so they stay calm in the midst of unpredictable circumstances with riders who may have balance and emotional issues or seizure disorders. They enter new relationships with people happily and bond with them deeply.
And now, the ponies have found another part of the community with whom to share their healing magic. Equine Connections is a popular program created last year to cater to the emotional needs of first responders. These classes help police, fire and EMT professionals decompress from their stressful hours on the streets. The classes teach participants — some who never touched a horse before — to competently handle, communicate and perform tasks with their new best friends. The results have been remarkable. All students said they experienced significant stress reduction.
Wish you could join in the fun? You can. We Can Ride offers riding classes to all members of the community and of course, they’ve got lots of opportunities to volunteer. Check out the website to see the options.
And don’t forget to wave to the ponies next time you pass by!