From Barn Manager to Associate Executive Director and other titles in between, Amber Varner has worn several hats. But when the position of Executive Director needed to be filled, Amber was presented with a hat she had never worn before. Stepping up to the task, Amber has proven that she was the “obvious choice for leadership” all along.


If you came to our fabulous Giddyup Gala in March 2018, then you witnessed Amber being officially announced as Executive Director. Now we are excited to give you a more personal introduction to Forward Stride’s leader, founder, and biggest advocate.

Meet Your New Executive Director!

How long have you been riding? “I have been riding horses since before I could walk. First my mom, and then my aunt, had horses that I got to ride until I was gifted my first horse, Ginger, on my 11th birthday. With Ginger, I did a lot of trail riding with my friends in Missoula, MT. We also did western equitation, gaming, and drill team with our 4H Club. After a short break from horses in high school, I discovered the dressage discipline while living as an au pair in Austria. When I returned home, I attended Oregon State University and started taking English dressage and jumping lessons at the university facility, eventually becoming a certified instructor there, and living onsite as a herd manager. My family purchased a property at this time that, literally, came with two horses. I fell in love with the younger of the two, and brought him to school with me to further his training. Taxi Vador was an off-track Quarter Horse. He became a great teacher for me and we furthered my love of Dressage and Jumping together; eventually we moved to Portland after graduation to train with Peter Decosemo.”


What is your history with Forward Stride? “In the Fall of 1997, I was hired by a fledgling nonprofit, Agape Institute, as a barn manager and trainer. I remained with Agape Institute until it was dissolved in order to create Forward Stride in 2003. For a time, both Agape Institute and Forward Stride were volunteer-only organizations and I made my living in other ways. I worked for a couple of years as a Veterinary Assistant for a mobile veterinarian, Ron Friedman. This experience was instrumental in shaping my horse care philosophies and equine health knowledge. I also started my own training and lesson business, Henneck Training Stables, where I focused on starting young horses slowly and correctly, and riding lessons for all ages. In 2006, Henneck Training Stables and Forward Stride decided to meld so we could have an inclusive riding program. I became the Head Instructor and Equine Coordinator and have never looked back.”


What is your vision for Forward Stride? “As we continue to grow and mature in our forever home, my hope is that Forward Stride will become known as the place that makes a true, lasting difference in people’s lives through our therapies and lessons. We can teach people the value of unconditional acceptance while learning how to grow, learn and heal. We are a community of horse lovers who love humans.”

Amber’s experience and knowledge has already had an impact on Forward Stride and its devoted community. Since Amber took over as Interim Executive Director in October of 2017, Forward Stride has stabilized an unwieldy budget, set the stage for sustainable program growth, and seen a significant uptick in engagement from within and outside our community.Many longtime members of our community are excited to see Amber take on this position.

Amber possesses a unique combination of talents, traits, and gifts, that clearly designates that she is our obvious choice for leadership. She has created a community of unparalleled inclusivity, with an umbrella of warmth and humor that makes Forward Stride such a safe, comforting and enjoyable place to simply be.

Janet Stedman

I truly admire Amber, and will never be able to thank her enough for the time and patience she has devoted to my riding and progression into horse ownership and the show world. She has been my guidance throughout 10 years of riding, and has helped me move past obstacles and uncertainty in both my life and in the equestrian world because of her devotion to teaching, her students, and Forward Stride’s mission.

Caitlin Kazmierczak

I have ridden with Amber at Forward Stride for over a year. I have found her to be the best dressage coach I have ever had, EVER! She cares about the welfare of both me and my horse. She shares my triumphs and helps them happen. When I have bad days she helps me compensate. I cannot think of anyone better to take the reins of Forward Stride!

Roberta Flinn

Forward Stride has experienced turnover in leadership but now we have a leader who is firmly rooted in the organization’s history and community. With a community member at the head, everyone who loves Forward Stride can be sure that its leader is committed to the mission and to the people. Forward Stride is striding forward stronger than ever!