608-877-9086 info@three-gaits.org

End of Year Newsletter

2023 was a year filled with progress for Three Gaits, our participants, and our staff. We welcomed new faces, saw our programming expand again after COVID, and were amazed at the accomplishments our riders made. Read on to learn more about our programs, families, staff, volunteers, and farm. 

From the Board Chairs


A Message from Three Gaits’ Outgoing Board Chair, Katherine Brewer

As I step away from my role as Board President, I’m filled with a deep sense of gratitude for the incredible journey we’ve shared together. Serving this organization has been an honor and a privilege, and I am immensely proud of the strides we’ve made in bringing the transformative power of horses to people with disability in our community.

Over my nine years on the board, the collective dedication to the mission has been palpable and energizing, even though the dark days of the pandemic. The commitment and passion of our staff, volunteers, board members, and supporters have been the cornerstone of our success. I’m inspired by the resilience and unwavering dedication of all of you in the face of challenges.

While my time as Board President comes to an end, my belief in the mission of Three Gaits remains unwavering. As we prepare for the new year and new leadership, I have every confidence that under the fresh perspectives and wise guidance of Vicki Russell, board president, and Jolie Hope, executive director, we will continue to thrive and make a meaningful difference in the lives of those we serve for the next 40 years and beyond.

I extend my heartfelt gratitude to each of you for your support, commitment, and belief in our shared vision. Thank you for allowing me to be part of this community and for having entrusted me with leadership of this remarkable organization.

Welcome Vicki Russell, Three Gaits New Board Chair

As a non-profit, Three Gaits is privileged to be guided and supported by an all-volunteer board of eight directors who bring expertise in strategy, finance, programs, and development. Vicki Russell began her career at Three Gaits as a lesson volunteer, and has grown to managing large volunteer work groups, event planning and working with our horse, Dillon, to be active and happy in his retirement. She reveals her thoughts on her new leadership role at Three Gaits.

I am honored to assume the role of Board Chair at this exciting time in Three Gaits growth. We just celebrated 40 years, we’re welcoming a new executive director, and I am eager to work with this engaged and talented board. We’ll be connecting with our volunteers and community, our staff and participants, to discover how Three Gaits can meet emerging needs that equine-assisted activities and therapies can address.

I’ve been with Three Gaits for 7 years in several roles, and this opportunity intertwines my passion for helping others with the profound healing power of horses. Witnessing the therapeutic magic unfold between individuals and horses transcends words.

Personally, I have had my own transformative journey discovering horses’ ability to sense emotions, and how this unique avenue fosters emotional well-being. The non-judgmental nature of horses creates a sacred space where individuals cultivate self-esteem and confidence as well as enhance physical and cognitive abilities. It is my sincere hope that through this journey we will create within Three Gaits a space of healing and growth, where every hoofbeat resonates with a rhythm of empathy and understanding. With the outstanding support of staff, volunteers, and donors, we walk hand-in-hoof to enable the transformative power of equine therapy to echo in the hearts of those touched by its grace.

Holiday Wish List

PROGRAMS

Help us make the holidays bright for our participants, horses, and staff.  Three Gaits’ holiday wish list includes things that will help us provide top level programming, care for, and treat our hard-working horses, and further our volunteers and therapists’ knowledge base through continuing education. 

Program Review

Three Gaits welcomed three new Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructors (CTRIs) this year, and a licensed Occupational Therapist to the team. New instructors Katy Hopkins, Marsue Obremski and Ashley Haggard joined veterans Jessica TeSlaa and Emily Gonzalez to teach 1,001 therapeutic riding lessons for riders in small groups. Group lessons allow for socialization, teamwork and even a little friendly competition!

Sixty-two riders, ranging from age 5 to 64, confirmed that interacting with horses, especially in goal-driven lessons, brings benefits for all ages including building strength, balance, self-confidence and overall ability for success in home, school, work and community.

Emily Gonzalez, Three Gaits program manager, explains:

“Our small group lessons bring riders of similar ages and abilities together to learn and practice horsemanship skills: understanding horse behavior, steering over and around obstacles, and posting a trot.” But it’s more than the therapeutic riding skills, she explains. “When students gather before class, they practice social skills with greetings and small talk. In class, riders take turns leading a pattern or demonstrating a skill, which builds self-confidence and pride. We also have some competition with games, teaching graceful winning behaviors.”  

Elizabeth Hess, OTR/L, joined Emily Gonzalez, COTA/L CTRI, on the Three Gaits Therapy Team to provide occupational therapy (OT) using the movement of a horse to clients who benefit from the one-on-one, intensive (and fun!) therapy activities. Clients commonly have weekly sessions over several months, and therapy continues as long as goals are attained. Some clients move on to therapeutic riding when their therapy goals have been met and they have gained enough strength, coordination and balance to maintain their gains in a group riding lesson. Previously called hippotherapy, Liz and her colleague have treated 10 clients in 91 sessions in the last half of the year.

Horses are a key part of the services and this year we added a unique addition to the herd: a mechanical “indoor” horse donated by a caring grandmother who wanted to assure that her grandchild could continue to participate in Three Gaits programming when riding a typical horse was no longer a safe option.

Named “Minnie Mercedes” by a rider, Minnie mimics the movement of a horse, and can be moved slowly and gently, or quickly and vigorously by the rider’s movement or assistance from volunteers rhythmically pushing up and down on the horse or an instructor riding tandem. Minnie lives in the office building and can be wheeled outside to enjoy warm Wisconsin days. Minnie riders get the live horse interaction when volunteers lead the horse of their choosing over to the office for treat time. See Minnie in action with a UW-Madison Doctoral who visited to learn more about our occupational therapy programs.

PROGRAMS

Families Say it Best

We learn so much about a rider through the words of their parents or caregivers. One parent, Amanda, shares some powerful words about her child/our student, Mable.

“We’re here because of Mable. She has always loved horses, so when we heard about Three Gaits, we wanted to learn more, especially as new residents in the area.”

Amanda reveals that not only is the program itself effective, but she is impressed with the attitude at Three Gaits. “There’s a level of care for everyone – the kiddos, the horses, everyone.”

She appreciates the opportunity to observe lessons and see in real time how Mable is growing and learning in the arena. “When she’s at school, I don’t get to see how she is in class, how she interacts with her teachers, but here I see her working with them and I am so thrilled to watch her level of engagement and attentiveness.”

The effects of riding are visible and long-lasting. “I see her self-confidence in her posture – she’s sitting tall and straight – and I hear her say out loud: Knox, walk on!”

But it doesn’t end after dismounting and treats. “When we’re home, Mable continues to initiate conversations about her lessons. She’s sharing her thoughts and emotions, which demonstrates that she’s making progress on her speech goals. She’ll happily talk about horses – asking ‘Will I get to ride Knox and Ariel again?’ and of course, I answer yes!”

Amanda graciously shares that Mable is brave, strong and kind. All things that Three Gaits knows make for a great horsewoman and human being.

Around the Farm

With 20 acres of property, five buildings, seven pastures and an outdoor arena, there’s always room for improvement on the farm! This year, using grant funds from the Bryant Foundation in Stoughton, we added a paved parking area for easy client access to the arena, and added more features to our outdoor sensory trail, including a lighted stop & go light, oversized tic-tac-toe board, a hanging tube xylophone, and obstacle courses.

Farm

As you drive by, please look at the new highway sign featuring the new logo. Funds for its creation come from the Stoughton Community Foundation, with design, production and installation from the Obremski family.

Less visible but equally important, our Farm Manager, Brian Brown, built new hay feeder boxes to keep the horses at their healthy weight and taught helpful volunteers how to replace and upgrade fencing in three pastures.

Even more behind (or perhaps underneath the scenes?) we added fiber internet to reliably and quickly connect to the outside world and connected to natural gas for efficient heating in the office.

Looking to the future and how to offer additional programming in a comfortable and efficient facility, the Board and staff members engaged in a master planning process to envision a future arrangement on our property that offers year-round comfort to riders and parents during lessons, maximizes horse health, and enables more programming. Look forward to detailed plans over the coming months.

Volunteers Make It All Happen!

Every year when we count the volunteer numbers, we are reminded of how critical our committed and enthusiastic volunteers are to our riders and horses. In 2023, there were 3863 instances in which volunteers joined us to sidewalk or lead in lessons, clean the barn and care for horses; plant, mow, paint, and repair on the farm: and file, and manage data and paper in the office.

Did you know that in each lesson, volunteers walk over a mile, leading a horse or coaching riders as they learn and practice skills? And that each lesson term requires about 5000 hours of volunteer time?

We couldn’t do it without our new and seasoned volunteers – individuals or groups.

This year, we were excited to welcome community members from all over the Dane County and expand the volunteer group with new exercise riders from the UW-Madison Hoofer Riding Club, new lesson volunteers who are studying occupational therapy or related fields, and social work interns.

As our programs and services continue to expand, we’ll have even more opportunities. Learn more and apply here: link (https://three-gaits.org/volunteer/)

Meet Rebecca Lubar, an All-Round Volunteer

Rebecca Lubar

Rebecca is studying occupational therapy and volunteers in therapy sessions, therapeutic riding, and exercise rides our horses to keep them challenged and in shape. “I had known about hippotherapy for a while, and I felt like doing something to give back to the community. The community at Three Gaits is my favorite thing. Everyone here cares about each other, the riders and the horses.”

Training Opportunities and Events:

As we gear up for the winter break between riding lessons (December 11, 2023 – February 19, 2024), Three Gaits is offering new training events for volunteers. In volunteer surveys and conversations, we learned that volunteers want to expand their skills in many areas. We’re happy to help!

For next year, we will focus on providing continuing education opportunities for volunteers to help them build the tools they need to continue to excel in lessons. Take a peek at the beginning of what we have planned:

 

Forty and Forward: A 40th Anniversary Re-Cap

Rebecca Lubar

This fall, Three Gaits celebrated 40 years of service. Two hundred seventy-five guests, including a co-founding mother, past and present riders, families, donors, volunteers, staff, and new friends gathered on the farm to share their own experiences witnessing the positive change that happens when a new, awed rider settles into the saddle to partner with the healing power of a horse.

People spoke of the first time a silent rider whispered “walk on” after weeks of lessons, smiled in anticipation of their lesson in the waiting area, or shared new abilities developed during therapeutic riding at home or school. There smiles and tears of happiness for all the riders and clients whose days and lives were improved by the experiences at Three Gaits.

We met our fundraising target, with net proceeds totaling just over $50,000. Because of this support, Three Gaits will invest in new horses, horse care, riding equipment, staff continuing education and facility maintenance.

We are grateful for our sponsors which include local businesses, clubs and individuals, as well as riders, volunteers and board members past and present for making the event a joyous celebration. Three Gaits co-founder, Gail Brown, of Oregon, WI., noted that:

“Three Gaits is about community: it exists for the participation of so many and it relies on the support of time, talent and treasure of so many.” (Link to supporter poster images).

If you’ve been a part of our past 40 years, thank you for helping us to get here. And please join us as we build our bright future in the next 40 years.

Riding in the Moment Grant

Offers Therapeutic Horse Activities for Adults with Dementia
Several times a year, an older couple calls or stops by the farm to offer a loved one with memory loss or dementia a moment with a horse. Often, these folks grew up on a farm and fondly remember a pony, or they rode, raised, or showed horses in their adult life. Now, the activity is gone but the memory remains.

That’s why Three Gaits and academic partner Beth Fields, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Occupational Therapy Program, Department of Kinesiology, and affiliate faculty member in the School of Nursing and Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at UW-Madison, are thrilled to provide a therapeutic horse experience to a diverse array of community members who have early-onset dementia or Alzheimer’s disease through a project funded by the Wisconsin Partnership Program at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. The $250,000 grant is from the Community Impact Grant Program.

Dr. Fields has worked with Riding in the Moment in Colorado and Fox Valley in Wisconsin and has seen the benefits.

“The goal is to provide an adaptive riding program that not only reduces the isolation and improves overall quality of life for participants, but also their family members and caregivers, too.”

According to Three Gaits Program Director Emily Gonzalez, classes will be based on standard therapeutic riding lessons, but because the goals of these participants are different from typical students, the class will offer activities that fit “the moment” to allow those with dementia to loosely direct their time at the farm.

“A participant may want to just brush a horse, partner in light barn chores, or simply enjoy a walk to visit each pasture in addition to, or even instead of, riding that day. We’ll be keenly focused on people’s moods, reactions, and engagement to assure these moments are fulfilling,” she explains.

A multi-disciplinary team of community members representing different ethnic and cultural groups, families, therapists, advanced-degree students and dementia specialists will share detailed development, implementation and outcomes measurement over the course of the grant, with final activities to spread the word about the benefits of this type of programming throughout the state.