Meet the Staff

All of our Riding instructors are certified by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International, and our Vaulting instructors are certified by the Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA). Our therapists are licensed in their specialties and certified by the American Hippotherapy Association (AHA), the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA), PATH Intl., or possess the necessary expertise as required by their field.

Executive Team


Executive Director, Riding & Vaulting Instructor
As a Founder of Forward Stride, Amber has been with Forward Stride since the beginning and has taken on more and more management responsibilities throughout the years. Amber has institutional knowledge through years spent working with our equine herd, staff, clients, and volunteers as Head Instructor, Program Director, and Associate…

Programs Director, Riding & Vaulting Instructor
Amanda takes her job as Programs Director seriously and is our expert for ensuring all our programs meet the highest standards. She also has a focus with outreach and development ensuring our programs are sustainable and full. Amanda holds more than eight years of experience as a volunteer manager and…

Program Leadership Team


Director of Rehabilitation Services, Physical Therapist
As the Director of Rehabilitation Services, Sheila is in charge of all administrative duties required for Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, and Speech and Language Pathology. Sheila has more than 3 decades in her field and has been with Forward Stride for over 5 years. Along with her Physical Therapy degree…

Equine Manager, Riding Program Coordinator, Riding & Vaulting Instructor
Mackenzie has been involved with Forward Stride since 2004. Her time here started with riding lessons, cleaning stalls, and helping with horse care. From there she joined the competitive vaulting program. During the Summer of 2008 Mackenzie won the National Championship in the Women’s Trot Division with the Flying Star…

Mental Health Therapist, Clinical Supervisor
Jessica is one of our mental health therapists in the Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP) program at Forward Stride and is licensed as a clinical psychologist. Jessica received her PsyD from George Fox University and is certified as a Mental Health Specialist through the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA). Her…

Vaulting Program Coordinator, Grant Writer
Marci is our very talented Vaulting Program Coordinator. She has been involved with competitive vaulting for over 20 years and is a National Champion at the Silver level. After four years of judging, she decided coaching is what really feeds her soul. She is thrilled to bring Equestrian Vaulting to…

Facilities Coordinator & Interim Volunteer Coordinator
Bio coming soon!

Program Assistants


Barn Coordinator, Rehabilitation Services Administrative Assistant, Horse Handler
Anna has been a part of Forward Stride since 2010. She started riding and volunteering when a friend from school encouraged her to take lessons. From Anna’s first time out at the barn, she was hooked- spending all of her free time riding horses, leading in classes, and helping with…

Assistant Volunteer Coordinator, Horse Handler
Maiah has enjoyed being a part of the Forward Stride community for many years, starting out in the Riding Program in high school. After getting a degree in Zoology, she came back to join the Forward Stride team helping with administrative tasks and assisting with the volunteer program. While she…

Equestrian Sports Team


Communications & Marketing Coordinator, Riding Instructor
Emily is a PATH Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor fulfilling her dream of living in the Pacific Northwest after moving here from Lexington, Kentucky. For as long as Emily can remember she has been horseback-- starting with riding Rocky Mountain Horses at her grandparents' farm as a young child then venturing into…

Marketing Content Creator, Riding Instructor, Equine Specialist
For over a decade, Michelle has been a part of Forward Stride as a volunteer, rider, and now our Marketing Content Creator, PATH Certified Instructor and Equine Specialist. Michelle has over six years in marketing including content creation and implementation, photography, videography, and website design. Through the healing powers of…

Riding Instructor, Equine Specialist
Mary Ann is one of our PATH Certified Riding Instructors with over 10 years of experience. Mary Ann is one instructor of many who started as a volunteer. Through her time volunteering she found a strong passion to teach. Mary Ann enjoys watching her students grow in their self-confidence and…

Riding Instructor, Equine Specialist
Shannon brings over 14 years of horse experience to Forward Stride. Having obtained her bachelor's degree in psychology and certification as an Equine Specialist in PATH and EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association), Shannon loves being able to combine her love of human psychology and horse psychology in her…

Riding Instructor, Equine Specialist
Micah began as a volunteer with Forward Stride in 2009 before joining as a staff member in 2016.  She created the Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP) program and worked as the first ever EFP Program Manager for Forward Stride.  She helped create the Stable Ground: Women's Trauma Recovery Group, the Life…

Riding Instructor
Nicole has been volunteering with Forward Stride for over 10 years and teaching since 2011. Nicole enjoys sharing her life long love for horses and the lessons she has learned in pursuit of the art of riding. Nicole’s three favorite things include her horse, beagle, and cats. She also enjoys…

Riding Instructor
Pati Nelson is our problem solving, love and logic instructor. With a Master's degree in special education,  and 17 years of teaching experience, Pati excels at teaching life long valuable lessons to her students. Pati’s top three favorite things include her family, animals, and the Rocky Mountains.

Riding Instructor
Eve is a PATH Intl. certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor and a longtime member of our community. Eve truly loves being in the world of horses and seeing the differences they can make in the lives of people. Eve brings a light and relaxed vibe to her classes and can find…

Clinical Services Team


Physical Therapist
Gretchen started out volunteering at Forward Stride, offering her Physical Therapy skills as a bonus to the treating therapists. She quickly fell in love with the environment at Forward Stride and became passionate about equine assisted therapy as she saw incredible changes in clients. When Gretchen was offered a position…

Physical Therapist
Camille Robinson graduated with a Doctorate of Physical Therapy from Pacific University, OR. She has been a therapist for over 16 years specializing in pediatric and geriatric rehabilitation in various settings including hippotherapy, outpatient, home health and in the schools. She concurrently works for the Willamette ESD serving school age…

Occupational Therapist
Valery, one of our Occupational Therapists (OT), has 26 years of experience in OT as well as nine years practicing OT utilizing the assistance of the horse. With her B.S. in OT, certification in Sensory Integration and Praxis Test, Valery is thankful her two passions (OT and horses) came together…

Occupational Therapist
Bio coming soon!

Horse Handler
Always willing to pitch in when help is needed, David has been around Forward Stride since its inception. He was first introduced to the program when his sisters would come to riding lessons with Kris on weekends. Not long after that he found himself helping with odd jobs around the…

Horse Handler
Bio coming soon!

Equine Specialist
Here at Forward Stride, Connie works as an Equine Specialist. She had been certified through EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association) since 2013 and is working toward completing her PATH Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning certification. Connie has owned horses her entire life. She holds an MS…

Equine Specialist
Charlotte is thrilled to join the Forward Stride team as an Equine Specialist after being a volunteer leader for two years. She is a graduate student at Pacific University studying to be a counselor, and she hopes to work with horses and other animals in a therapeutic capacity throughout her…

Administrative Team


Accounts Coordinator, Equine Specialist
Bio coming soon!

Development Manager, Horse Handler
Heather has always had a passion for working with horses and helping others. She is no stranger to Forward Stride, having volunteered on Saturday mornings for six years before being hired on as staff in 2017. She brings a sense of gratitude to each day and enjoys continually learning from…

Executive Director, Riding & Vaulting Instructor

Amber Varner

As a Founder of Forward Stride, Amber has been with Forward Stride since the beginning and has taken on more and more management responsibilities throughout the years. Amber has institutional knowledge through years spent working with our equine herd, staff, clients, and volunteers as Head Instructor, Program Director, and Associate Executive Director. Now as the Executive Director, Amber works towards executing the Board’s vision of a vibrant, innovative, and sustainable future for Forward Stride.

Amber has over 19 years experience working for Forward Stride and a lifetime love for horses. Everyday, Amber comes to work and feels a surge of happiness. She considers herself fortunate to get to do something she is so passionate about.

Amber’s three favorite things include her family, traveling, and her pets which include her horse, two dogs, two cats, two fish, two shrimp, and one snail.

Programs Director, Riding & Vaulting Instructor

Amanda Garrison

Amanda takes her job as Programs Director seriously and is our expert for ensuring all our programs meet the highest standards. She also has a focus with outreach and development ensuring our programs are sustainable and full.

Amanda holds more than eight years of experience as a volunteer manager and coordinator. As a PATH International Certified Instructor, Amanda has a passion for nonprofit work, equality for all, and the healing power of horses.

Amanda’s three favorite things include her husband, her horse Dusty, and our lovely state of Oregon!

Director of Rehabilitation Services, Physical Therapist

Sheila Stahl Butler

As the Director of Rehabilitation Services, Sheila is in charge of all administrative duties required for Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, and Speech and Language Pathology. Sheila has more than 3 decades in her field and has been with Forward Stride for over 5 years.

Along with her Physical Therapy degree and license, Sheila is also a PATH registered PT, AHA Level 1 & 2. She has had her license and practiced Physical Therapy in 6 states and has taken continuing education courses internationally.

Her top three favorite things include her husband and 3 daughters, her clients, and traveling.

Equine Manager, Riding Program Coordinator, Riding & Vaulting Instructor

Mackenzie Johnson

Mackenzie has been involved with Forward Stride since 2004. Her time here started with riding lessons, cleaning stalls, and helping with horse care. From there she joined the competitive vaulting program. During the Summer of 2008 Mackenzie won the National Championship in the Women’s Trot Division with the Flying Star Vaulters.

Attending West Linn High School, Mackenzie was very active on her high school equestrian team.  With her horse, Rhapsodee In Bleu (Dee), she competed in both English and Western individual events as well as team events; drill, IHOR, and her favorite event, team penning. After spending four years in Corvallis at Oregon State University studying Animal Science with the option in Animal Management, Mackenzie is back at Forward Stride. Since returning she has become a PATH certified riding instructor, a lunger for the competitive vaulting team, the Riding Program Coordinator, and our Equine Manager

Mackenzie’s favorite things are Disneyland, her horse, and her dog Ryder.

Mental Health Therapist, Clinical Supervisor

Jessica Conwell

Jessica is one of our mental health therapists in the Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP) program at Forward Stride and is licensed as a clinical psychologist. Jessica received her PsyD from George Fox University and is certified as a Mental Health Specialist through the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA). Her specialties include treating eating disorders and substance use disorders.
Jessica started out at Forward Stride as a volunteer in the fall of 2016. She has work experience through a residential psychiatric facility, community mental health, crisis line, residential chemical dependency treatment and through her private practice.
Besides horses, Jessica’s three favorite things include her dogs, coffee, and her husband.

Vaulting Program Coordinator, Grant Writer

Marci Siegel

Marci is our very talented Vaulting Program Coordinator. She has been involved with competitive vaulting for over 20 years and is a National Champion at the Silver level.
After four years of judging, she decided coaching is what really feeds her soul. She is thrilled to bring Equestrian Vaulting to Forward Stride!
Her three favorite things are vaulting, the ocean and paddle boarding.

Facilities Coordinator & Interim Volunteer Coordinator

Kennedy Brooks

Bio coming soon!

Barn Coordinator, Rehabilitation Services Administrative Assistant, Horse Handler

Anna Finn

Anna has been a part of Forward Stride since 2010. She started riding and volunteering when a friend from school encouraged her to take lessons. From Anna’s first time out at the barn, she was hooked- spending all of her free time riding horses, leading in classes, and helping with horsecare.

Forward Stride gave Anna the opportunity to try new things. During her middle and high school years, Anna was a member of Pony Club, as well as a competitor on her high school equestrian team. With Anna’s love for jumping growing, she became interested in eventing. Her family soon added her horse Freckles to the family, who is still a part of our herd.

In 2017, Anna joined the staff as a horse handler. She was very excited to be able to mix her passion for horses and helping people through this opportunity.

Anna’s three favorite things are horses (especially Freckles!), her two dogs Cocoa and Oreo, and traveling!

Assistant Volunteer Coordinator, Horse Handler

Maiah Zentz

Maiah has enjoyed being a part of the Forward Stride community for many years, starting out in the Riding Program in high school. After getting a degree in Zoology, she came back to join the Forward Stride team helping with administrative tasks and assisting with the volunteer program. While she loves all animals, horses hold a special place in her heart and she loves getting to be involved in all aspects of Forward Stride as the Scheduling Coordinator. Maiah loves working with horses, volunteers, and clients, and keeping things organized!
Maiah’s three favorite things are music, her family, and pets!

Communications & Marketing Coordinator, Riding Instructor

Emily Dent

Emily is a PATH Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor fulfilling her dream of living in the Pacific Northwest after moving here from Lexington, Kentucky. For as long as Emily can remember she has been horseback– starting with riding Rocky Mountain Horses at her grandparents’ farm as a young child then venturing into the exciting world of barrel racing and contesting as a teenager. Emily’s best friend is her 19 year old quarter horse named Kip, who she has had for over 11 years! With a Bachelors’ degree in Writing, Rhetoric, and Communications and a minor in Digital Arts and Media, Emily loves finding new and creative ways to teach riding skills to each of her students. Along with instructing, Emily is excited to put her creative communications and marketing skills to use as part of the Forward Stride Marketing and Development team!
Emily’s favorite things are her horse Kip, hiking with friends, and coffee in the morning.

Marketing Content Creator, Riding Instructor, Equine Specialist

Michelle Whiteaker

For over a decade, Michelle has been a part of Forward Stride as a volunteer, rider, and now our Marketing Content Creator, PATH Certified Instructor and Equine Specialist. Michelle has over six years in marketing including content creation and implementation, photography, videography, and website design.

Through the healing powers of the horse, Michelle has first-hand experience overcoming an anxiety disorder. She brings this life lesson, and the horse knowledge she has gained through the years, to promote self-love and confidence in her riding students so they can excel in every part of their life.

Michelle’s three favorite things are her family, traveling and yoga!  

Riding Instructor, Equine Specialist

Mary Ann Kappa

Mary Ann is one of our PATH Certified Riding Instructors with over 10 years of experience. Mary Ann is one instructor of many who started as a volunteer. Through her time volunteering she found a strong passion to teach.

Mary Ann enjoys watching her students grow in their self-confidence and abilities. She feels blessed to be able to be around horses and teach others the riding skills that she has gained over the years.

Mary Ann’s three favorite things include her family, horseback riding, and beach trips with family and friends.

Riding Instructor, Equine Specialist

Shannon Tabbal

Shannon brings over 14 years of horse experience to Forward Stride. Having obtained her bachelor’s degree in psychology and certification as an Equine Specialist in PATH and EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association), Shannon loves being able to combine her love of human psychology and horse psychology in her work. While working alongside therapists to treat a wide range of mental health diagnoses, Shannon is especially passionate about autism.

After her first riding lesson, Shannon never looked back. As a horse wrangler and instructor at horse camp every summer for the last 10 years, her passion continues to grow.

Shannon’s favorite things include horseback riding, laughing with family and friends, her dog, and playing trumpet.

Riding Instructor, Equine Specialist

Micah Vaughn

Micah began as a volunteer with Forward Stride in 2009 before joining as a staff member in 2016.  She created the Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP) program and worked as the first ever EFP Program Manager for Forward Stride.  She helped create the Stable Ground: Women’s Trauma Recovery Group, the Life in the Herd: Teen Therapy Group, and the Working in Tandem: Mentoring Program.  She currently works as a Skills Trainer, Equine Specialist, Therapeutic Riding Instructor, and secondary supervisor for clinical interns.

Micah has a bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience from Carleton College and a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling.  She is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), a PATH certified Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning (ESMHL), and a PATH Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor (CTRI).

Micah is passionate about horses and may or may not still own a copy of every Black Stallion book.

Riding Instructor

Nicole D’Auray

Nicole has been volunteering with Forward Stride for over 10 years and teaching since 2011. Nicole enjoys sharing her life long love for horses and the lessons she has learned in pursuit of the art of riding.

Nicole’s three favorite things include her horse, beagle, and cats. She also enjoys spending time in the Columbia River Gorge and at the Oregon Coast.

Riding Instructor

Patricia Nelson

Pati Nelson is our problem solving, love and logic instructor. With a Master’s degree in special education,  and 17 years of teaching experience, Pati excels at teaching life long valuable lessons to her students.
Pati’s top three favorite things include her family, animals, and the Rocky Mountains.

Riding Instructor

Eve Irish

Eve is a PATH Intl. certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor and a longtime member of our community.

Eve truly loves being in the world of horses and seeing the differences they can make in the lives of people. Eve brings a light and relaxed vibe to her classes and can find the humorous side of any dilemma.

Eve’s three favorite things include being in America but being Welsh at heart, her husband who takes her as she is, and her horse, Mars.

Physical Therapist

Gretchen Dumestre

Gretchen started out volunteering at Forward Stride, offering her Physical Therapy skills as a bonus to the treating therapists. She quickly fell in love with the environment at Forward Stride and became passionate about equine assisted therapy as she saw incredible changes in clients. When Gretchen was offered a position on staff, she completed the Level I AHA course and said “yes”!  She has worked primarily in pediatric rehabilitation and Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education. She is a member of the American and Oregon Physical Therapy Associations (APTA/OPTA) and AHA. Besides an MS in Physical Therapy from Pacific University, Gretchen also has a BS in Engineering-Physics from Pacific Lutheran University and spent 8 years in the electronics industry.

Although Gretchen is a native Oregonian, she definitely prefers sunshine. Her three favorite things are hiking, going on vacation with her family and friends and drinking espresso coffee.

Physical Therapist

Camille Robinson

Camille Robinson graduated with a Doctorate of Physical Therapy from Pacific University, OR. She has been a therapist for over 16 years specializing in pediatric and geriatric rehabilitation in various settings including hippotherapy, outpatient, home health and in the schools. She concurrently works for the Willamette ESD serving school age children (5-21 yrs). She is a member of the American Hippotherapy Association (AHA) and has completed the AHA Level I certification. She is an APTA Certified Clinical Instructor and serves as an appointed representative for her region on the Regional and Statewide services for students with orthopedic impairments (RSOI) professional learning team. Camille is excited to return to incorporating equine movement into her physical therapy practice and joining the Forward Stride family. In her free-time, she enjoys spending time with family/friends, caring for and riding horses, boating, baking, traveling and reading.

Occupational Therapist

Valery Sampson

Valery, one of our Occupational Therapists (OT), has 26 years of experience in OT as well as nine years practicing OT utilizing the assistance of the horse. With her B.S. in OT, certification in Sensory Integration and Praxis Test, Valery is thankful her two passions (OT and horses) came together to make a difference.

Valery’s three favorite things include her family, horses, and gardening.

Occupational Therapist

Rebecca Mahood-Lieb

Bio coming soon!

Horse Handler

David Crisp

Always willing to pitch in when help is needed, David has been around Forward Stride since its inception. He was first introduced to the program when his sisters would come to riding lessons with Kris on weekends. Not long after that he found himself helping with odd jobs around the property, cleaning water troughs and fixing fences.

He was hired on in 2014 and has been a horse handler and helping hand since then. Presently, he is the only male member of staff. This doesn’t bother him. His three favorite things are archery, working with animals, and traveling and experiencing the outdoors.

Horse Handler

Melissa Perkins

Bio coming soon!

Equine Specialist

Connie Saul

Here at Forward Stride, Connie works as an Equine Specialist. She had been certified through EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association) since 2013 and is working toward completing her PATH Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning certification. Connie has owned horses her entire life. She holds an MS in Animal Science (nutrition) and an MA in Teaching. During the day she is a high school science teacher. In her spare time, Connie enjoys caring for her animals (horses, registered black Angus cattle, and Boer goats), helping others, and experiencing the natural world.

Equine Specialist

Charlotte Heesacker

Charlotte is thrilled to join the Forward Stride team as an Equine Specialist after being a volunteer leader for two years. She is a graduate student at Pacific University studying to be a counselor, and she hopes to work with horses and other animals in a therapeutic capacity throughout her career.

Charlotte completed her PATH Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning in the summer of 2021 and has a lifetime of experience working with and showing horses. Her entire life she has believed in the healing power of animals and is thrilled to put that belief to work with the horses she loves.

Her three favorite things are the ocean, traveling, and of course horses!

Accounts Coordinator, Equine Specialist

Julie Baugh

Bio coming soon!

Development Manager, Horse Handler

Heather Sutherland

Heather has always had a passion for working with horses and helping others. She is no stranger to Forward Stride, having volunteered on Saturday mornings for six years before being hired on as staff in 2017. She brings a sense of gratitude to each day and enjoys continually learning from her fellow humans and horses.

She works to make sure Forward Stride has a firm foundation from which to grow by leading the development and communications teams, managing donations, and facilitating funding opportunities. She loves sharing our work with the public and connecting donors to a cause that is making a unique and meaningful impact in the community!
Heather’s three favorite things are spending time at the barn, traveling to new places, and her family & friends.