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HorseSense asks for community support to continue offering therapeutic horseback riding

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Photo Credit: HorseSense

Hoping to help people get back on the horse in 2021, the Coon Valley nonprofit HorseSense launched a holiday campaign.

HorseSense connects youth and adults with cognitive, physical, and psychological disabilities with their therapy horses through riding lessons. The 2020 therapeutic riding season just wrapped up the week before Thanksgiving with low numbers for the nonprofit.

“We’re really grateful that we were able to do some lessons this year in light of the pandemic,” Executive Director Samantha Hall said.

Because of Coronavirus restrictions and CDC guidelines, HorseSense had to limit its riders to those who could independently ride with little assistance.

“It was really tough for us to not welcome everybody back up at the farm, but of course we want to make sure everyone is safe as we ride this thing out,” Hall said. “Although we were able to offer lessons for some of our able-bodied riders, those folks are really only 10 percent of our regular ridership. We’re thankful that we were able to provide some relief for those folks who really need it right now, but for the other 90 percent of people that we normally help, we just couldn’t do it safely.”

HorseSense lost more than $50,000 in programmatic income alone this year because of the pandemic. The local therapeutic horseback riding center is on track to lose as much as $80,000 from the impacts of COVID-19 if revenue projections go as expected.

To help continue offering these therapeutic services in 2021, HorseSense partnered with two community donors to offer a HorseSense Holiday Donation Match. All donations up to $10,000 will be matched.

“We still need the community’s support, and hopefully come spring, we’ll be able to open our doors again at full capacity,” Hall said.

It costs more than $7,500 to feed the eight therapy horses throughout the winter, and they also noticed success in their A Bale A Day campaign this fall to cover their feed costs. However, the holiday donation match campaign will help keep staff on payroll while maintaining the needs of the horses. They have three full-time staff members and seasonal contracted instructors.

“We operate on a very conservative budget, she said. “Because we’re in our offseason, we’re not able to offer lessons because of the weather. These donations make a huge difference, and they’ll help sustain our program so that we can continue to work hard to help those folks when spring rolls around.”

Even as they had to restrict programs, Hall saw an uptick in interest for what HorseSense has to offer.

“The mental health issues have just skyrocketed this year because of the pandemic and isolation and the anxiety that has come from the uncertainty of this situation,” she said. “We have actually received tons of inquiries of people wanting to come ride, so we’re trying to help as many people as we can.”

Even before COVID-19, HorseSense saw a 184 percent increase in ridership from 2017 to 2019. Hall said people find comfort and mindfulness when escaping to the farm to bond with a horse.

“It really does have a lasting impact on the lives of those riders,” she said. “We help riders as young as 4-years-old to as old as they’re able to ride with medical consent. We’ve got some 60-year-old military veterans that are struggling with depression and PTSD who come out, and they work out their mental health issues too just by working with the horse and building that relationship.”

HorseSense tailors the group and individual lessons to meet the needs of each individual.

“It depends on what the person is looking for and what would be most beneficial for them,” Hall said. “People come to us from all different places and experiences. Some of our riders are quite uncomfortable at first because it is a big, strong animal that they’ve never worked with, but they bond with the animal and become comfortable before we even get them in the saddle. The magic is really found in that relationship that’s established with the horse.”

Information about HorseSense, the Holiday $10K Donation Match, and volunteer opportunities can be found on the nonprofit’s website.

“I have been blown away by the generosity and kindness of our community and their willingness to support our program,” Hall said. “We have seen a lot of new people come forward to donate. Even just $10 makes a huge difference for a small operation like us, and the impacts of therapeutic riding are truly life-changing.”

Kaitlyn Riley’s passion for communications started on her family’s dairy farm in Gays Mills, Wis. Wanting to share agriculture’s story, she studied strategic communications and broadcast journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In college, she held officer positions with the Association of Women in Agriculture and Badger Dairy Club while volunteering as a news reporter for the college radio station. She also founded the university’s first agricultural radio talk show, AgChat. In her professional career, Kaitlyn has worked in radio, print and television news doing everything from covering local events to interviewing presidential candidates, and putting back on her barn boots to chat with farmers in the field. Today, Kaitlyn can be seen covering local stories that matter to you in the La Crosse area.

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