by | Dec 1, 2020 | 0 comments

Photo from 2019

Forward Stride’s Hero

What is a hero? The one who saves the day!

She calls herself: “mucker, grain preparer, hay feeder, sweeper, waterer, groomer, cleaner, animal hoser, injury wrapper, laundry doer, mouse catcher, goat rodeo queen, rider, lunger, equine first aider, equine behavioral analyst, equine pharmacist, wrangler, dog catcher, traffic controller, and clinical coordinator for a doctoral student—without a clinic.” Sheila Stahl Butler is our hero of the day. There is “not enough time in the world,” she says. And yet she does it all!

In the midst of a fast-moving global pandemic, having a medical professional on your team is a big deal. When that medical professional can also muck stalls, prepare feed, and help maintain a facility of 35+ therapy horses (and donkeys!), all while continuing to see clients remotely, she becomes our hero of the day! Sheila has been integral to keeping Forward Stride operational, against many odds.

We first knew Sheila as a mom to three horse-enthused girls. Her daughters were taking lessons with instructor Patricia Nelson. When one of the physical therapists on staff moved on to another job, Pati convinced Sheila to join our Rehabilitation Services team. Sheila completed her certification and was mentored by Laurie Schick (the head of the program at the time). Then she began seeing clients on her own. When Laurie moved away, Sheila became the Director of Rehabilitation Services at Forward Stride.

the dashboard of a car under a dark red, smokey sky

Photo from 2019

Fast forward to March of this year, when COVID-19 arrived and Forward Stride had to temporarily close in-person programming. Sheila recounts how thankful she was that Governor Brown enacted emergency closure measures. “We were mindful of the needs of our community and we protected them. I am very proud that we were prepared and had equipment and supplies needed to keep the facility clean and running smoothly.”

Sheila explains Forward Stride’s response in more depth:

We had ‘what if’ protocols ready to go, which allowed us to be ahead of the curve and far more on top of things than any other facility I know. We based our protocols and plans on the science that was available at the time. Since March, we have continued to have conversations about protocols using the expertise of our Medical Advisory Council to access the most up-to-date research.

During the closure, the workload fell entirely on nine core staff members, including Sheila. One of the biggest protocol changes was a temporary overhaul of job duties: with the sudden lack of volunteers, everyone had to do everything. On top of this, the staff also needed to develop and implement safety protocols.

To lower the risk of spreading the virus, staff members were sorted into three teams of three. Each team acted as its own bubble and was totally separate from the other teams. Each team was “on shift” for three days, feeding and caring for the entire herd, as well as doing basic facility maintenance. Sheila teamed up with Kristin and Candi and had to learn on her feet how to run a barn. “It was exhausting. The learning curve was steep and I am grateful for my very, very patient team.”

a wildfire burns in the distance at night

Photo from March, 2020, before mask mandates were in effect. From left to right: Kristin, Candi, Lenna (horse), Roo (puppy), and Sheila. 


On the days that she wasn’t providing horse care (and eventually even on those days), Sheila began offering remote health services, called telemedicine, via secure video appointments. According to Sheila, telemedicine is here to stay:

It is a useful tool that was underutilized prior to the pandemic. Telemedicine saves time and resources and allows patients to get healthcare when they might not otherwise have access to a provider. Insurance companies are now covering telemedicine sessions, which opens up the opportunity for many patients to take advantage of this new option.

A word to the weary: Sheila understands “pandemic fatigue.” Everyone is tired of the constant stress and uncertainty, the safety measures, and the distancing from the ones we love. One sign of pandemic fatigue can be an intense rollercoaster of emotions. We might also begin to let down our guard, and become less vigilant about following safety measures. “Don’t,” says Sheila! “We are in this for the long haul, together.”

With programming slowly opening back up to the public, Sheila is seeing clients in person far more often now. She has stepped back from the majority of horse care duties so that her clients can remain her primary focus.

Many of our services are medically necessary, such as the therapy Sheila provides to her clients. We are grateful to operate in an open-air environment, which allows Forward Stride to remain open and provide services to our community in a safer way than indoor clinics and recreation facilities. Our team is constantly reviewing safety protocols and adjusting to the latest guidelines, maintaining caution and taking seriously our mission to enhance quality of life.

Looking to the future, Sheila, today’s hero, has many ideas. She wants to help us continue to add programming in order to meet the changing needs of the Portland Metro community. She would love to find a way to provide more services to those facing economic hardship due to the pandemic.

Underpinning all our dreams for the future is the hope that we can continue to keep our doors open throughout the long months ahead.

Be a Hero to Forward Stride and keep our barn doors open!