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Program combines passion for horses, helping others

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Walk On Therapeutic Riding rider Makiah Jamison is shown at the Pierce County Fair on hose Tator with some Walk On volunteers. (Submitted photo)2 / 3
Ken Giske (left) and Jayne Bradford are shown at Walk On Therapeutic Riding where Giske is Executive Director. Bradford runs the Horses for Heroes program. Gretta Stark / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 3

Jayne Bradford's husband served as a marine, and retired from law enforcement. Her son served in the U.S. Air Force, her nephew in the U.S. Navy.

"I have some pretty close personal acquaintance with people dealing with PTSD, and experiences related to service-induced trauma," she said. "The more I studied PTSD, the more apparent it became that you can't separate the physical aspect from the emotional aspect of PTSD."

So, already a certified instructor in equine (horse) assisted therapy, she worked with Walk on Therapeutic Riding Programs, Inc. to form a Horses for Heroes Program.

She said working with horses can help bring the physical and emotional treatment together.

Horses, she said, are especially helpful in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder recovery.

"I call them a thousand-pound mirror," Bradford said. "They're just wonderful tools to develop trust as well as learn or relearn some good relationship skills."

At no cost, military veterans, as well as people who have served in law enforcement, and emergency responders, can take a six-week series of individual or family program sessions.

Sessions start with clients meeting with a therapist, identifying things to work with, spending some time with a horse, and then meeting with the therapist again.

So far, Bradford said, the program has gone well.

"We've had some really good results," she said.

The best part of working with the program for Bradford: "It works."

"Obviously, I have a love and a passion for horses and believe strongly that they can bring a very positive impact into people's lives," she said. "And the fact that I get to help people and do that with horses is like the dream job come true."

The Horses for Heroes program is free of charge and available to veterans, service members, those who've served in law enforcement, and emergency responders.

Walk On has added a new program this year, an eight-week horsemanship class, through which people can learn "group work" with horses, such as grooming, saddling and leading. At the end of the eight weeks, students will be ready to start riding lessons or volunteering at Walk On.

Walk On Therapeutic Riding is a nonprofit organization started in 2001 and serves people with disabilities. Walk On helps people ride in a safe, fun manner. Classes are held in an indoor arena, with a mounting ramp for riders to get onto horses.

Each rider in the therapeutic riding program works with three volunteers: One to lead the horse, and one to walk on each side of the horse.

Executive Director Ken Giske is a PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International) certified registered instructor, as is Bradford. Giske has 37 years experience working with people with disabilities, and has more than 25 years experience working with horses.

He said one of the best parts of working with Walk On for him is seeing the connection between riders and horses.

"It gives us a feeling of the importance of why we do what we do," Giske said.

Walk On Therapeutic Riding is set up in Giske's barn at 1468 County Road J, River Falls. He said running Walk On has had a big impact on his family.

A three-year grant from the Austin Family Foundation, received last year, allowed Giske to work full time on Walk On.

Because the organization is all volunteer-run, Giske said, Walk On is always looking for volunteers. Volunteers do not need to have previous experience with horses.

People interested in volunteering or learning more about any of Walk On Therapeutic Riding programs can visit www.walkontherapeutichorsemanship.org.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

(715) 426-1048
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