Therapeutic riding center plans progressing

It has been two years since the Houston County based 501(c)(3) nonprofit known as Touching Moments Animal Assisted Activities announced its plan to implement a therapeutic riding program within the community. Plans to open the center and launch a pilot program are on target for the spring of 2014.

Within this time frame, the organization has received two United Way Venture Grants providing funding to purchase the items needed for lessons and for the materials needed to build a safe mounting ramp that will allow the riders easy access to the lesson horse.

“There has been a tremendous amount of community support,” Shelley Ellingson, the program founder stated. “We have already compiled a volunteer pool interested in participating, and Rod Vetch of Vetsch Construction is donating his team’s labor for the construction of the mounting ramp. This act of kindness is just one example of the support we have received for our efforts.”

Vetsch Construction will also be assisting with the construction of the barn and the riding arena where lessons will be held at Windy Ridge Ranch in rural Hokah.

“There has been a lot of planning involved to ensure a safe, quality program,” Ellingson said. “All aspects need to be considered: from the facility’s layout, to volunteer training, to horse evaluations. And client safety is at the top of the list. This isn’t a project that is thrown together overnight.”

The organization is in the process of becoming a Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH) certified center with the goal of eventually becoming a premier accredited center. To ensure a successful program within the PATH Intl. guidelines, procedures and policies must be in place, and the group has been working diligently over the past year to make sure the requirements are met.

Members of the group will be attending the PATH Intl. Region 6 Conference held in Rice Lake, Wis., in March to expand their knowledge on topics related to a successful start up of a therapeutic riding program along with other various seminars to ensure continued growth and sustainability. “We want our program to be successful and to flourish.” Ellingson said.

Luckily, for the group, one member is already very experienced in this field, and her expertise has been very beneficial with planning. “Chris Gruendeman, a PATH certified riding instructor and recreational therapist, came to us with a wealth of knowledge,” Ellingson said. “Chris has years of experience in Hippotherapy and has served as a volunteer for Horse Sense for Special Riders for several years. She is a real asset to the program, and we feel very fortunate to include her in our group.”

Contacts with several foundations and organizations to recruit clients and volunteers have occurred with much interest. “We already offer pet therapy services to ABLE Inc. and Riverfront Inc., so the riding program will be an extension of what is available for recreational and therapeutic activities,” Ellingson said. In addition, Ellingson has been in conversation with the Houston County Extension Office regarding 4-H member recruitment. “For members with equine related projects and activities, this is a great opportunity to perform community service by volunteering.”

There are several volunteer opportunities within the program, including the roles of side-walkers and leads, horse care and grooming duties and barn maintenance. Specific training requirements apply to all roles, and the program’s training plan includes extensive training in the areas of emergency preparedness and response. “Rider safety is foremost so several training topics is included in the volunteer orientation sessions,” Ellingson said.

The group will be accepting applications for riding instructors as well. Additional training and certification is required for volunteers who wish to advance to riding instructor level. PATH Intl. certified instructors must complete a written exam and be able to demonstrate both equestrian ability and the ability to teach a safe lesson for individuals with disabilities. Certification demonstrates a commitment to the highest level of professionalism in equine-assisted activities and therapies.

In addition, group members have been in contact with the La Crosse Counties Veteran’s Service Office outreach program with plans to organize a riding program servicing veterans with injuries or illness caused as a result of military service. The program will offer veterans an alternative rehabilitation program that consists of therapy that focuses on the close bond between horse and rider. This portion of the program will be addressing veterans who have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

“Not only will veterans be offered to participate as a rider, but as a volunteer as well,” Ellingson said.

To learn more about Touching Moments Therapeutic Riding Program, please visit or contact Shelley Ellingson at 507-894-2201 [email protected]

Touching Moments Animal Assisted Activities is a partner program with the La Crescent Area Healthy Community Partnership .