Last updated: June 30, 2020
If you want to talk one-of-a-kind amongst We Can Ride’s horses, Amigo’s Gray Hawk checks off a lot of boxes.
Griffin, as we all know him, has been at We Can Ride since 2018. Since then, he’s earned a fan-following that includes staff, volunteers and clients. His uniqueness begins with his breeding. Griffin is our only Rocky Mountain Horse, a breed that originated in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky. Bred for driving, multi-purpose riding, and even as a light draft horse, the Rocky Mountain is known for his ambling four beat gait that replaces the traditional two beat trot. This gait is highly desirable for disabled riders because with one foot always on the ground, the motion is exceedingly smooth.
Griffin’s varied life experiences make him our herd’s one-and-only in several ways. He is the only horse who served as an endurance and mounted search and rescue horse but he has also been a trusty trail and camping horse, a much-loved lesson horse, a parade favorite in both suburbs and downtown St. Paul and an experienced western pleasure horse who loved – and still does – to play games.
Griffin also was trained in dressage and eventing, as well as bareback/bridleless riding. He is most definitely the most well-rounded guy in the group! While Griffin’s coloring may have faded to a whiter coat with flecks of gray and red, as a youngster he was a beautiful dappled gray.
Anyone who has had the pleasure of riding, leading or just goofing off with Griffin has enjoyed a special gift. Realizing how much he has given to others his whole life, the most amazing thing is, when Griffin looks into your eyes, he’s just completely in the moment with you.
Pretty good qualities for a treasure of a therapy horse!
But hear it from one of our riders, Lauren, who was profiles by Nutrena’s Feed it Forward Program: https://www.feeditforward.org/stories/we-can-ride-lauren-and-griffin/
Last updated: May 31, 2020
We Can Ride’s herd is made up of horses of many colors. We’ve got bays, blacks, whites, grays, duns and a chestnut, but the most colorful of all is our favorite cookie, Oreo.
Oreo is a brown, white and black paint pony whose most noticeable characteristic is his blue eye.
He is a striking fellow to be sure, but Oreo matches his appearance with a delightful personality. He was born in 2001 and spent his life before We Can Ride as a happy trail pony who loved long rides and playing games. He was shown in local 4-H shows and was a favorite family pet.
Why is Oreo considered a pony? It’s all about height. A horse’s height is measured from the bottom of their feet to the top of their withers in 4-inch units called “hands”. Any horse under 14.2 hands is considered a pony. Oreo checks in at 13.3 hands or 53.2 inches tall.
Ponies are, for their size, generally stronger than horses. This makes them ideal for pulling and carrying heavy loads. In addition to being hardier and handling extreme weather better, ponies are considered by many to be more intelligent than larger horses. Oreo is a prime example of a clever pony. Besides working extraordinarily well with young clients, he enjoys tackling obstacle courses and other activities that challenge his thinking.
A trusted member of the We Can Ride family since 2018, Oreo loves hanging out with his buddies, Max, Kota, Edwin and Splash (seen above). This picture gives you an idea of “pony size.” Oreo may be one of the smallest of the herd, but all who know him agree, he is the best cookie around.
Last updated: May 18, 2020
Looking at the world from a horse’s perspective may help reduce your anxiety
During these days of quarantines and uncertainty, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. For families of those with disabilities or special needs, the burden can be even greater. The importance of programming such as We Can Ride’s is illuminated especially now, when we can’t serve our clients. We know our work helps our clients’ physical and mental health. We also know that their caregivers and loved-ones benefit from being with the horses each week.
The challenge of staying positive in trying circumstances can test the best of us. It’s only human to worry about what will come, stress about what we can’t control, and struggle with new day-to-day realities. People can suggest that you “look at the bright side” or “focus on the positive” but when your endurance level is low, that is not easy to do.
That’s when you can look to our horses for help. You may not be able to be around them now but our ponies have lots of valuable lessons and examples to inspire you and give you peace of mind. Check out why thinking like a horse can really make you feel better:
Maintain a simplistic view of life. In reality, as a prey animal, the main thing a horse worries about is becoming somebody else’s meal. This is a theme that drives their internal engines – they instinctively check in with their surroundings and their herd mates to discern if all is well in their world.
You’d think this would make horses nervous wrecks, but that isn’t the case. Most often, horses desire and find calm by observing their environments and then relaxing into a harmonious state of balance. In the wild, the band’s stallion keeps an eye out for predators, the mares maintain discipline and the herd happily goes about their daily business of eating, sleeping and playing.
We can find this comforting balance, too. When we determine that the predators are not banging on our doors, we can focus on simpler, gentle things. Next time you feel your anxiety building, imagine our herd, out in the pasture, munching contentedly in the sun. It’s bound to lower your blood pressure.
Laugh and play a little. Everyone knows a bit of play and a good belly laugh are good for the soul. Horses know this too and will engage in play throughout the day. Geldings are especially prone to playing. You may see them nip at each other’s faces; this is actually an invitation to play. Or you may see them rear up facing each other; this too can be just a bit of play. Perhaps they are dreaming of being mighty stallions.
Join them and find a way to bring a laugh to every day.
Chill out like Mort. Take a walk past any pasture filled with horses and you may think they are oblivious to the world. They’re not. Horses are in constant communication and relationship. The slightest twitch of an ear, or swish of a tail can speak volumes about the state of mind of each individual. Every now and then a short scuffle might break out as the herd members jostle for social position, but the speed at which they get back to a harmonious spirit is astounding. Besides food and water, two of the most important things to horses are peace and space. They maneuver among themselves to give respectful distance in order to maintain tranquility. You can find this soothing place, too. Allow for breaks in proximity. Get outside to decompress and widen your environment. Inside, create a space in your home – perhaps decorated with soothing images and infused with essential oil aromas — where you can take a moment to breathe.
Live in the moment. You won’t find a horse brooding over past failures or mind-hopping to the future about what bad things might await. They simply aren’t wired that way. While we tend to jump back in forth in our minds between all sorts of scenarios and possibilities, we can change our focus to live in the moment, too.
When you spend time with a 1,000 pound animal you have to be present, especially for safety’s sake. You need to be aware of his movements and mood, and sensitive to all his signals. There’s no time to think about that grocery run or to-do list! The attention required in that moment causes the rest of the world to disappear.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) offers helpful advice to live in the moment, including:
- Focus on your breathing. Take a few minutes to enjoy deep, slow breaths.
- Play with meditation by chasing all thoughts from your mind for brief periods during the day.
- Exercise, stretch, and mobilize your body. This will help release stress-reducing hormones like endorphins and serotonin.
Remember to be kind to yourself. It’s normal to worry about the situation, give yourself permission to live without self-judgement.
As we navigate through this unprecedented time, remember that the We Can Ride horses are well-cared for and happy, but they’ll be even happier still when they see you walk in the barn. Until then, stay safe and think like a horse!
More resources for families:
Last updated: May 8, 2020
When you are out amidst the paddocks at We Can Ride, one horse stands out. Edwin, our youngest fellow, is our only chestnut. When the sun catches his coat in just the right way, he shines like a newly minted penny.
The two other things that set our lanky boy apart are his age – he’s the youngest of the herd at 12, and the white brand on his hip. This brand identifies his pedigree line as a registered American Quarter Horse.
Touted as the world’s most popular and versatile breed, Quarter Horses were developed in the 1600s by crossing ponies from the Chickasaw Indian tribe and English plow horses that had been brought over by the colonists. The Chickasaw ponies were speedy, fiery descendants of the Spanish Barb horses that had come to Florida by way of the explorers.
This cross-breeding, refined by adding in Thoroughbred blood from England, developed a well-muscled and hardy horse who could carry their owners throughout the week and race hard on the weekends. The breed’s name comes from the length of the tracks – one quarter of a mile.
Edwin personifies the best of the breed. He is tall and lanky with a sweet, goofy personality. He is quite intelligent and he loves learning new tasks. Edwin is ideal for bigger riders and those who might be a bit nervous. He is kind, quiet and relaxed.
Edwin was ridden both English and Western pleasure. His gaits are representative of a western show horse. He has the loveliest slow trot and easy-going canter, which makes him a joy to ride and watch.
Edwin is always up for a head scratch and conversation. So next time you visit We Can Ride, look for the gleaming red horse with the friendly expression that one volunteer has nicknamed “Captain America.” You can’t miss him!
Last updated: April 28, 2020
Meet Max – Our Very Own Gentle Giant
In the world of equine therapy, a horse’s personality and attitude play a huge part in their effectiveness as a partner. Not only does he need to remain calm in all riding situations, the horse needs to be comfortable with a variety of unique challenges. He needs to stand still while mounting at a motorized lift, stay relaxed in the presence of toys, therapeutic tools and even bubbles, and he must have a friendly, easy-going nature when working with clients and volunteers.
Our gentleman, Maximus, is the perfect example of all of these characteristics. Max was foaled in Iowa on March 25, 1999, with the name of Brandy’s Bradley. He is a registered American Spotted Draft Horse, which means he has draft horse blood combined with pinto coloring.
Max’s coloring can be deceiving. He is all black, like his sire, a Percheron stallion, so it is difficult to see the spotted sorrel coloring overlay. However, in the summer, you can see some light spots along his body.
Max was brought to Minnesota, where he became a trusted trail and fox hunting horse. While Spotted Drafts are built more for power than athletic performance, Max was a very popular horse to gallop through the fields and woods. He handled jumps and obstacles with ease and was known for his sensible and sweet personality.
Max joined We Can Ride in 2018. He has become the leader of his small herd and a barn favorite with volunteers, staff and clients alike. If you want to help Max or any of our other horses, Check out our Donate page. Any and all help is appreciated!
Last updated: October 1, 2019
Not every horse has what it takes to be an equine therapy partner. Our horses are uniquely suited to help in our important therapeutic programs. They must have a willing and calm personality and the ability to respond to each client’s individual needs.
Every horse typically works year round in 8-10 hourly sessions per week. At first glance, the therapy doesn’t look too difficult. Often, it is time spent being groomed, handled and ridden at a walk. The horses are also called upon to carry inexperienced riders who have varying physical disabilities.
Yet each session brings a unique set of challenges. The horses must respond patiently no matter the circumstance. They must serve consistently and reliably, alongside multiple handlers, therapists and instructors with varying degrees of equine experience.
Most importantly, they need to stay focused and tranquil, behaving in a way that bolsters a client’s confidence and keeps them relaxed.
Luckily, we are continually offered dozens of horses as possible new members to our herd. Some horses are donated, some we lease from the owner at no charge but before they can join us we use a carefully designed criteria to evaluate each individual.
In general, we are looking for horses aged 8-22. We don’t target a particular breed – our current herd boasts more than 10 different varieties!
While we don’t limit our selections based upon a horse’s history, we do want to know what kind of a job the horse had in the five years prior to our meeting them. Our herd members include formerly successful show horses, race horses, and even highly trained dressage horses.
To begin with, all horses must meet these basic standards:
- The horse must be functionally sound at the walk, trot and canter.
- The horse must be generally in good health without major health problems in the past.
- The horse’s vaccinations must be up-to-date.
Once these boxes are checked, we explore the social and emotional aspects of the animals.
The horses need to be quiet and naturally friendly. They must be easily caught in the paddock and led into the barn. The leading aspect is especially important, as they will be used in many sessions where side walkers and leaders help facilitate therapy.
Potential We Can Ride horses must be comfortable working with lots of people. Although it may seem surprising, some horses become stressed by too many handlers.
One of the most important characteristics is a low flight response. Horses’ survival throughout evolution was dependent upon the fight or flight responses built into their DNA. As a flight animal, they are easily triggered by unusual noises and sights.
Our horses must have a lower flight response to stay composed with our clients and volunteers at all times.
Some other questions we ask:
- Do they display overall good ground manners? Do they demonstrate a good attitude being groomed and tacked?
- How do they respond to people? Are they social, patient, engaged and forgiving?
- Are they careful on their feet? These horses need to be aware of where they are in relation to all the humans they work with.
- Does the horse get bothered by tight leg grips, swinging arms or clapping hands? How do they respond to unbalanced riders?
- Do they mind having toys and other objects in the arena when they are working?
- Do they have good balance at all the gaits and when working in circles?
Once a horse passes the initial evaluation, we introduce him to our We Can Ride herd. This is a very important process. We have three distinct groups with different personality traits. It is essential that the current horses accept their new addition and that he or she is comfortable in their surroundings with their new herd-mates.
As they settle in, we give them a 90 day trial. We observe how they handle the We Can Ride routines and we work extensively to help them become comfortable with the new activities they will experience.
Our schooling team of experienced staff and volunteer riders spend hours riding and handling each horse to get a precise picture of how happy and content they are as they settle in.
At the end of that 3 months, the horse will either graduate into the program or go back to its former home.
We are truly fortunate to have such wonderful horses cheerfully helping hundreds of clients each year.
Last updated: June 27, 2019
The We Can Ride horse is a very exceptional creature. He needs the strength and balance of an athlete, the patience of a dear friend and the tranquility of an understanding spirit
When we find a horse like that we know we have discovered an extraordinary gem. And some of our horses so embody the highest gifts of an equine therapy partner that we know they were destined to come to us.
So it is with Derby. At 30 years old – the rough equivalent of an 85-year-old human – Derby is the oldest of our herd. He has lived a long life of service and companionship to a handful of lucky humans.
Our old man is a Missouri Fox Trotter, a breed developed in the 1800s. Farmers in Missouri needed a dependable work horse, well built and hardy. They cross-bred an array of breeds, including Arabians, Morgans, Standardbreds and Tennessee Walking Horses.
Derby is an exceedingly kind and gentle fellow. We knew Derby would be a great fit His prior owner of 15 years sold us on Derby when she told us her experience with him. She needed a trusted, easy-going trail horse and Derby was the perfect choice. He settled into her farm and became her adored travel companion. She took him on overnight trips, long day rides and adventures on trails throughout Minnesota. Derby was content wherever he was, always the calm leader and the favorite of horses and humans.
Derby’s gait is one that is ideal for unbalanced riders who may have disabilities. The smooth, silky rhythm is less bumpy and easier to ride.
Today Derby enjoys sunny days in his paddock with his pal, Jasper. He especially looks forward to special groundwork sessions with clients who are unable to ride but still need the healing touch of a gentle equine soul.
Countless clients and volunteers have been touched by Derby’s sweet disposition. When he comes to greet you, with his large, bright brown eyes and slightly sideways ears, he wraps you in the most wonderful smile of greeting you will ever receive from a horse.
We salute Master Derby as a timeless friend who is an absolute equine therapy treasure.
Last updated: June 27, 2019
“We Can Ride is hiring for a Barn Assistant position starting in August. This is a part time (10-15 hour weekly) position responsible for assisting in health, care, supervising volunteer feeders, and overall horse herd health for all equine assisted activities at We Can Ride. Candidates must have experience in horse health and handling as well as supervisory experience. Please email resumes and inquiries to email@example.com. Please feel free to share with your ‘horsey’ friends!”