Growing Up Forward Stride

Forward Stride is not at a loss for incredible stories. If you have been reading our daily stories on social media, or even just seen the emails we have been sending out, you may have picked up on this fact. We see learning, growth, and healing happening every day. What you may not know is that our staff has some pretty amazing stories as well. This week, we are featuring six young adults on staff who started out as kids in our Riding and Volunteer programs.

Before the organization Forward Stride was founded in 2003, Kristin and Michelle began riding with Amber (founder of Forward Stride and current Executive Director). Just a few years later in 2005, Mackenzie joined. Each came to lessons for a similar reason: “I’ve always had a love of animals,” says Kristin. “My mom and I both had a love for horses,” remembers Michelle. “I wanted to learn how to ride and be involved in a volunteer program,” writes Mackenzie. All fondly remember taking lessons at the little barn in Wilsonville, riding horses such as Shahar and Tucker, and forging friendships that would last for years to come.

During this time, in the summer of 2004, David started hanging out at the barn. Playing chauffeur to his sisters got him out to the barn every week, and before long instructor Kris had him cleaning water troughs while he waited for his sisters to finish their class.

Several years, and a couple of barns, later, Anna and Heather joined the Forward Stride community (in the summers of 2010 and 2011, respectively). Both started in the Volunteer Program, but their reasons for coming to the barn were vastly different. Heather had loved horses from a very young age and was seeking a way to spend more time around them after taking a break from riding. Anna, however, was dragged to the barn by a friend despite being unsure she even liked horses, let alone riding. All it took was her volunteer training for her to get hooked, and from then on, she tried to spend as much time at the barn as possible!

Each had fond memories to share from their time at the barn as youth!

Kristin: I have many memories, but I specifically remember being the horse handler for a client whose mom had to carry him to his pony each week because he could not walk on his own. After a few weeks he was able to walk with a walker, up the ramp to his pony. After some time, he showed up to his session walking all on his own! I will never forget the huge smile he had on his face with his chest out proud.

Mackenzie: One of my best memories was the feeling of belonging to a group of people that weren’t my family or a school group. The barn was the first place I got to experience this. My barn friends were important to me and the community here continues to be a large part of my life.

Michelle: My favorite memory was when I was around 13 years old and was driving the tractor with another volunteer around the same age. We were laughing and being silly kids at the time when we accidentally ran the tractor into the barn! I remember being terrified, especially of Amber’s reaction. Looking back this memory makes me laugh and reminds me of the carefree childhood that Amber and the barn provided for me. As well as one of many learning lessons! (Needless to say, we don’t allow youth to drive the tractor any more!)

David: First; there was that time I think I recall trying to dump Kenzie out of a wheelbarrow into the manure pile back in Wilsonville… she might remember or it might have been someone else, that is pretty far back. And second; the year Bisty started finding his voice.

Anna: I have so many favorite memories over the years from my evaluation ride on Macaroni, to spending all day in the summers hanging out around the barn with friends, to getting ready for OHSET and Pony Club shows on freezing cold winter nights, to jumping over the cross country jumps I never thought I would make it over.

Heather: My favorite memory at Forward Stride is leading Bucky in a particular Rehabilitation Services session with Alan, the speech and language pathologist at the time. The client was a little boy who started therapy essentially non-verbal. Throughout the months that I got to be with him, I watched him open up, smile, and start saying “Go!” to Bucky in a more and more confident voice. I loved working with Bucky the one-eyed wonder pony, and I loved seeing a child with so much potential start to tap into what he was capable of.

After high school, all of them left for college in one form or other. Mackenzie went to Oregon State, Kristin to Linn Benton, both studying animal science. David studied Russian and Spanish at Portland Community College. Anna attended George Fox. Michelle and Heather both attended Portland State, though at slightly different times; Michelle studied Marketing and Heather studied Psychology.

Something made each of them come back to the barn after they had concluded their studies, however. From being the place where they found their passion, to finding a sense of belonging in the community, something made each of these young adults return.

  • For Michelle, Forward Stride “has always been a place where I can be myself, make mistakes and grow from them. Forward Stride was a key driver for my determination to find a job I love. Luckily finding a job I love meant a position at Forward Stride as an Instructor, Equine Specialist, and Marketing Coordinator.”
  • For Kristin, it was the founding of Forward Stride which helped her to “discover my other passion: helping people. I will never forget the beginning of my career at Forward Stride as a horse handler, where I witnessed clients bond with their horses and gain confidence just as I have.”
  • Mackenzie writes “I stayed for the connection to community and the personal growth I have experienced. Over the years I have been involved in every program in one way or another. From volunteering in Shriner’s classes, competing nationally with our Vaulting program, and learning about horsemanship with Amber to now coordinating our herd of 35 equines, lunging for our thriving Vaulting program and teaching weekly lessons to kids and adults of all ages and skill levels.”
  • Anna says, “The obvious reason why I continued coming back to Forward Stride was this is where Freckles (my horse) is. But the not so obvious reason is that Forward Stride helped me find a passion in horses I never knew I had and keeps fueling that passion with every new lesson I learn and experience I have. The Forward Stride community- horses included- have taught me about friendship and compassion, perseverance and patience, strength and bravery, and so much more.”
  • For Heather, “the community at the barn was unlike any I had ever been a part of. I found camaraderie and friendship, took risks and had adventures in a safe setting, and all the time I knew that no matter what, I had a place here.”
  • David writes: “The collective selflessness of the community that has built itself around what we are doing has this healing life of its own. Just being near to it, and people who care about each other, is something I think everyone is looking for. Recognizing the way it has changed my life, or the future I would have had without Kris making me clean water troughs that day, makes returning those selfless acts the easiest choice. And that is the beating heart of Forward Stride. I would challenge anyone who thought otherwise. So even through all my own life’s difficulties, jobs that have come and gone, moving far and near – that is why I stay.”
Pictured left to right: Heather, Development Coordinator; Anna, Horse Handler; Mackenzie, Equine Coordinator, Vaulting Program Coordinator & Instructor; Kristin, Volunteer Coordinator; David, Horse Handler; Michelle, Marketing Content Creator, Instructor & Equine Specialist.

Ever since 2003 when we were incorporated as a non-profit, Forward Stride has thrived thanks to the support of a strong community of donors. Contributions have made every program we offer possible, and have helped us to be sustainable through several moves. We encourage you to join in this tradition and make a donation today.