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We Can Ride

“Jack is my legs so that I can run!”

The horse was domesticated about 6,000 years ago in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. When proto-Ukranians and Kazakhs first eyed the wild horse and imagined its uses, they surely envisioned plows tearing apart soil and heroic feats in battle. Little could they have imagined the horse’s other great purpose – sports betting.

But the horse serves yet another role at We Can Ride. Founded in 1982 and now based in Medina, the nonprofit organization serves individuals with disabilities or special needs through equine assisted activities and therapy. Imagine you are a child who must use a wheelchair. Now, imagine your pure delight at taking the reins of a half-ton animal with breath that smells like peppermint. That is the goodness which We Can Ride creates.

“Our program started out as a small group of women who saw a need,” said Mary Mitten, executive director of We Can Ride. “We have now grown to 350 volunteers and 17 horses, and we assist 275 clients a year.

“When a person rides a horse, that horse’s forward to back, side to side, and up to down movements almost perfectly mimic a natural human walking gait. For those who have difficulty moving, that experience develops strength in areas they couldn’t have accessed otherwise. We’ve seen our clients walk up stairs, play with their grandparents, and even climb playground equipment with the new strength they’ve developed on horseback. We have even watched children who were told they would never walk take their first steps.

“Children also benefit from the emotional connections they foster at We Can Ride. They bond with our volunteers, the other clients in the program, and of course their horses themselves. Horses are intuitive animals, fast to pick up on body language and appreciative of how to treat a person with any disability. 

“Before we include a horse in our program, we first put them through a 90 day training period. This lets the horse get used to our facility, and lets us see how they react to new stimuli. It’s not a good idea to find out how a horse responds to a hydraulic lift while there’s a five-year-old on it.

“After so much training and assessment, we’re able to match our client with a horse that best suits their therapeutic needs. If our client has Down syndrome, for example, we can put them on a horse with a brisker gait to help them overcome low muscle tone. If they have cerebral palsy, we might select a horse with a slower gait that won’t cause their rider to tense up.

“We once welcomed a nine-year-old girl who had been diagnosed with autism. She was on at least three different medications for anxiety when she started. She loved her horse instantly, but she had to put work into learning how to ride him, and also develop social skills while asking for our volunteers’ help. She gained self-esteem and the ability to communicate her needs more effectively. Within two months she was able to stop taking medication for anxiety altogether. One day, while this girl was leaving our barn, she reached up to take her mother’s hand. It was the first time she had ever done so.

“We have one little boy with Down syndrome. He was four years old when he started with us, and although he was physically able to speak, he just hadn’t wanted to up until that point. Soon he started saying his horse’s name: ‘Chip.’ As he grew more and more confident in the saddle, he began speaking phrases like ‘Go Chip’ and ‘Walk on, Chip.’ That quickly evolved into even more complex speech, and today he’s able to tell his mother when he’s hungry, when he needs a nap, and when he wants love. Chip served as the boy’s gateway to communication.

“We have another little girl whose progressive condition had weakened her entire body. When we first met her, she was unable to do any physical activity for longer than ten minutes. Only weeks after starting, she had become strong enough to play with her friends and do all kinds of school activities that she had never done before. Her parents didn’t think they could keep making the four hour round trip from their hometown when she first started, but after seeing how dramatically she had developed? They never thought they could feel so much hope for their daughter. That was certainly worth any car ride.”

If you or a child you care for could benefit from time with a horse, then We Can Ride may be able to help you. And if you have no need for equine assisted activities, you can still support We Can Ride. They are always in need of volunteers to help with their program. We Can Ride also needs monetary gifts to help keep their horses healthy and happy. Please consider making a difference by supporting them with any size donation – it will truly help people ‘make big strides.’ (Editor’s note: Please blame Mary for this pun, not Eden Prairie Lifestyle.)

To learn more about We Can ride and how you can get involved, please visit or check out their active Facebook page at