What makes Forward Stride different? As Winston Churchill said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” In the combination of a horse and a human you will find unbridled joy, insurmountable confidence, and an encouraging sense of motivation and control. The use of a horse as a treatment tool has brought such a unique element to my professional practice as a clinician. Using the horse as a treatment tool is an intrinsically holistic approach to rehabilitative services. All systems of the body (muscular, cognitive, neurological, emotional) are inherently engaged when using a horse as a treatment tool, whether on their back or working with them on the ground.

In the naturally occurring environment of the barn, everything that we do is functional. Our clients see their time spent here as “play” and not “work,” and never therapy. The rehabilitative experience is identified as active and not passive. The client is doing the work themselves rather than having the work done to them. The barn offers a wonderful, nonjudgmental environment with the opportunity for clients along with their family and caregivers to engage and interact with countless staff, volunteers, animals and activities. Forward Stride feels like one big happy family, championing the abilities of each individual and together celebrating every step of success along the way.

As I have worked in the barn setting of Forward Stride, I have watched the emotional connection between client, horse, staff, family and caregivers help clients reach goals they never expected. Many of our clients cannot control their body, immune systems, communication, or emotions. When working with a horse, they gain a great deal of confidence as they manage such a large animal and accomplish something not everyone can. This is a place where they have a sense of control and know that they have had a part in influencing the outcome.

The outdoor, natural environment of Forward Stride is quite a change from the traditional clinic space or hospital setting. This provides great opportunity for our clients to engage in environmental elements that they are typically deprived of. They enjoy the ability to get “dirty” as they are playing and working, spending time out in the sunshine, dirt, grass, and mud. Deep breathing and relaxation are encouraged here; no antiseptic smell anywhere. We are surrounded by beautiful scenery and wildlife and take full advantage of it.

Beyond rehabilitative services, Forward Stride provides opportunities for all friends and family members to be involved. Many of the family members and friends of our rehabilitative clients are involved at Forward Stride through other programs such as volunteering, riding, or interactive vaulting. There is a place for everyone here, no matter your age, ability, or background. Forward Stride benefits a broad spectrum of age, diagnosis and population. Everyone is welcome; everyone has a place. That’s what makes us different.