FROM MORGAN'S MOM
Our daughter, Morgan (age 5), is a huge animal lover. When we heard about LifeStriders, we hoped that it may be the place where Morgan could work on her social skills and strength while being with the horses. Morgan is on the autism spectrum, and has low muscle tone and delays in her communication skills. In the many months that we have been going to LifeStriders, we have seen a significant improvement in her strength, communication with the volunteers and staffers, and most importantly, her pride and happiness with her new found sport. The laughter that comes from Morgan when she's on the horse is priceless! We are so thankful for Morgan's continued experience at LifeStriders!
-- Morgan's mom
FROM KENDALL'S MOM
Kendall and Splash
Kendall (a 15 year old autistic child) LOVES horses. I don't think there is anything that makes her happier than to be touching, smelling and riding a horse. The connection these animals have with special needs kids is just amazing. Lifestriders has provided her with Year-Round therapeutic riding, a major goal recently accomplished thanks to the generosity and dedication of many. We are so thankful to have this healing opportunity. It does take a Village. Thank you Lifestriders!
- Kendall's Mom
RACHEL KEITH'S LIFESTRIDERS EXPERIENCE AS A VOLUNTEER
In the words of Beryl Markham, “A lovely horse is always an experience… It is an emotional experience of the kind that is spoiled by words.” My work with LifeStriders has forever impacted my life. Horses have always been a large part of my life. My uncle owns a large Clydesdale horse farm in Wisconsin. As a volunteer at LifeStriders, I have the opportunity to work with children and help them develop the same relationship I have with horses. It is absolutely amazing to watch the riders improve and develop each week. There truly is a sort of magic about working with horses. Sharon Ralls Lemon once said, “The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit, and fire.” LifeStriders has allowed me to re-experience the wonderful relationship between horse and rider, while helping disabled children have a brief escape from reality and experience the sense of freedom and strength woven in with the experience of riding a horse. LifeStriders helps its riders obtain a sense of freedom, power, and control. It is a nameless magic. My work with LifeStriders has been incredibly meaningful to me. I have had the opportunity to help our riders experience the freedom of riding and develop an everlasting relationship with horses. I would not change it for anything.
- Rachel Keith
FROM A VETERAN - MIKE NELSON
LifeStriders, in Delafield, has been beneficial to me in my efforts to overcome anxiety and depression. This program is sponsored and is free for Veterans. Natalie Hays, an instructor there, was instrumental in getting me started. LifeStriders offers working with horses in a highly structured environment with a priority on safety. Their methods helped me lessen my fear of horses while gaining my interest in getting close to these interesting animals. There is a real sense of accomplishment in learning to ride horses, as well as ground work with the horses. I would recommend this program to anyone!
- Mike Nelson
FROM MATTHEW'S MOTHER
Matthew is now 12. He started riding at LifeStriders in 2005 soon after it opened. Initially we were looking for an activity he could fully participate in despite his disabilities. Matthew uses a wheelchair. His muscle tone was so low he could barely sit upright never mind stand or take steps. He lived in his own little world with no communication, no perception of what was happening around him, little eye contact or emotion.
What LifeStriders has done and continues to do for Matthew has changed his life. On horseback his physical limitations are greatly reduced. Over the years he has achieved a degree of strength we didn’t think was possible. He can sit up straight, balance himself through sudden starts, stops and changes of direction. The motion of the horse enabled him to take his first tentative steps, now he easily walks, with assistance, the length of the arena. He is very aware of his surroundings and enjoys interacting with the volunteers – smiling, great eye contact and reaching out, especially if he can grab someone’s hat from their head! He makes clicking noises and laughs out loud during his lessons. In 2009 Matthew received the LifeStrider of the Year award, the greatest achievement of his life so far.
None of this would have been possible without the dedication of Rob and Veronica and the many volunteers. We have watched the expansion of LifeStriders over 6 years and they have truly made a difference to so many lives.
- Sarah Knowles - Matthew's Mom
FROM ELLIOT'S FATHER
Our family is always looking for new ways to help our five year old son Elliot "break out of his shell." He was diagnosed with autism when he was three, and we have tried every possible therapy possible, some of which have helped in small ways. We have always been interested in trying horse therapy, and Elliot has a love for horses, so we got on the lifestriders wait list. I admit, I am always a skeptic, but when we got a call that there was an opening for Elliot to ride, I was excited to try something new.
Let me tell you...from day one we noticed changes. Immediately when we got home that first evening, Elliot was looking at us! Actually LOOKING at us, and listening and WANTING to interact with us. Elliot is always quiet and reserved. The first lesson he was nervous and did not make any sound, nor pay attention to the instructors. Within weeks, he began listening to the instructors and started taking part in the games.
It has been nine months since our first session at lifestriders and we are amazed at the results we are seeing in Elliot. He has such a great time with the wonderful volunteers. He gets so excited when we tell him we are "going to horses today." He runs to put his shoes on. He has become more vocal at lessons and at home. I believe his confidence has gotten a boost from all the positive feedback he receives from all the workers at lifestriders who want to bring out the best in him and see him grow and succeed in life.
Lifestriders has helped our son in so many areas of our daily life. We now have a little boy who is communicating with us better, using more words correctly, wanting to interact with us and peers, listening to instructions, dealing better with day to day changes in the routine and has genuinely come out of himself a bit and is giving us glimpses of a bright future.
Thank you Rob, Veronica, Lori and ALL the wonderful volunteers who are making our sons life a joy. You are all an amazing blessing to this area!
Jim Langreder - Elliot's Father
FROM BRENNA'S PARENTS
Our family has left no stone unturned when it comes to helping our six year old daughter Brenna. This past March we were lucky enough to start riding therapy at LifeStriders. In the first 3 months, we have been amazed and shocked at the positive impact it has had on our daughter and our family. We, along with her therapists and teachers have noticed significant improvements in her academic skills, communication skills and most importantly with her anxiety.
Each week we have been impressed with the different exercises the therapists have put Brenna and her team through. We have spent years working on throwing and catching with Brenna, she got on a horse and can do both! LifeStriders has helped us as parents of a child with special needs make connections with other parents. Riding Cody has given Brenna (and our family) something to look forward to every weekend… the only change she would make is to give Cody a blanket with hearts and rainbows on it, and maybe a purple bow. We are truly thankful that LifeStriders exists to help families like ours.
FROM RYAN'S DAD
I had only one goal that first day. I wanted Ryan to get close to a horse. Not touch or ride but just close enough without screaming in fear. My son Ryan was born 3 ½ months early with Cerebral Palsy to his left side of his body. He was 2- 1/2 years old and our Physical Therapist recommended we try therapeutic horse riding to strengthen his torso and possibly help him start to walk. Ryan seemed scarred of everything at that age. Noises, parking lots, dogs, and trucks seemed to panic him. I doubted he would even get near a big horse much less get on it and ride.
I held him in my arms and approached the line of horses that Veronica was assigning to riders. Ryan started to panic and point in the other direction. Veronica said ”hand him to me and go inside the barn”. I looked around behind me and said “who me?” Ryan is going to freak without me. I handed him to her and as I walked away, she put him on that horse and he rode away without crying and without a scream. I stood inside the barn, looking out a small glass window as Ryan rode around. I had a knot in my throat. I was afraid he would see me and I would ruin it. I stood there the whole hour just amazed.
If you have a child with a disability, you know how I felt that day. I am so impressed with the professionalism of everyone at Lifestriders. It is such a warm, loving environment. Ryan has ridden for 3-1/2 years. He has his favorite horses and so many friends. He always looks forward to riding. It not only helped Ryan walk but gave him confidence that he “can do it.”
I can’t thank you enough Lifestriders.
- Ryan's Dad
DENNIS'S STORY (IN HIS OWN WORDS)
This is "typed" using voice activated software. While it allows me to do a lot more than typing with one finger, it makes incredible mistakes. I've tried to edit everything out but I may have missed something.
I don't know if anybody needs to be told that it is rewarding riding horses at LifeStriders. The enjoyment of riding and the efficacy of their therapy seems obvious to me. Eminently succeeding, the organization fulfills its advertised promise: it is fun and it is beneficial physically. Of note, though, is what might not be obvious to the casual onlooker of the activity of this organization. Participating with LifeStriders has been educational to me in areas not mentioned in their brochures or website.
The first thing of note are the professionals in the organization. Lori, Liz and Jesus are, to me, most interesting. While they are cheerful, greeting you with a smile and a friendly salutation when you arrive, at work their facial changes reflect the level of seriousness with which they view what they are doing. When their task does not include talking to the riders, it is quite apparent: they take their jobs very seriously. Good-natured friendliness does not morph into sloppy or untimely work: the riding therapy at LifeStriders is accomplished efficiently and in a timely manner, to a great extent because of these individuals.
The second thing of interest to me, a person who has never volunteered to do the dishes at home, is the numbers of volunteers that help LifeStriders accomplish what it sets out to do. To say that it would be impossible to do what is done without the volunteers is as true as it is nearly a trite cliché. Watching the ease with which the volunteers work with the horses is not only enjoyable but it is comforting. These horses are in the hands of individuals who know and love the beasts. Anybody leery about getting on a horse here need not be because their handlers are most proficient at keeping the horses calm and sedate and doing what they are supposed to do. These individuals care a lot about horses and they care a lot about human beings: they are a remarkable group of people.
The last influence on me is philosophical in nature. Having had a minor stroke four years ago at the age of 62 my days of doing physically active sports and hobbies was terminated: for the rest of my life I realize I will not take a honest step. Going to LifeStriders I am put in contact with youths that were born as handicapped as I, or worse. These individuals will never take a honest step during their entire lives. They, and their parents, reflect hope and anticipation in their faces as their turn to ride approaches. Unbeknownst to them, these youngsters silently teach me important lessons: 1) I have nothing to complain about; 2) one must keep on trying.
If LifeStriders is to continue to occupy a much-needed position in our society, it will be with the therapy and enjoyment it brings these youngsters and the hope it brings their parents.
- Dennis S. Double
Our son Ian is eight years old, and has Tuberous Sclerosis Complex. He is severely autistic, is very cognitively delayed, suffers from epilepsy and tumors in his body, and often struggles with behaviors like aggression, frustration, and self-harm. On the other hand, he's also an incredibly loving, active and sensitive boy with a deep love for family, the outdoors, and slapstick sense of humor.
When Ian started riding with LifeStriders, he was seven. At that time he was also nonverbal and had a very difficult time following instructions, imitating, or engaging in activities. Since then, in just one year, Ian has started talking and has improved in his ability to imitate and learn. He's is no longer nonverbal! What a change!
We believe that LifeStriders has been an important part of Ian's developments. One of Ian's first words was "Cody," the name of his horse at LifeStriders. We were standing in the stable waiting for lessons to start, and I said "Ian, are you excited to ride Cody?" Ian, without a pause, said "CO-DY!" then said it again and again as he jumped up and down and looked at his horse. I couldn't believe it! And a few months later, Ian wasn't just saying a word or two...he was saying all the commands while riding his horse--whoa, walk on, trot (his favorite!), and back up.
In just one year, Ian has gone from being terrified of the horses and hitting his instructors (and himself), to being a child who loves riding a horse, participates with the other children riding, speaks commands, and listens to his instructors. He has an activity he loves, and one that motivates him to accomplish some of the skills we weren't sure we'd ever develop--talking, imitating, and participating appropriately in activities with other children. I wish you could see the excitement on his face when we walk into the barn at LifeStriders, the joy of his smile when he says "TROT!" and bounces in the saddle, or the pride in his siblings' faces when they tell people "Ian can talk and ride a horse!"
I think LifeStriders provides Ian with an activity he loves, but also the motivation to learn important skills like language, cooperation, and imitation. We encourage these skills at home, and in other therapies, but nothing motivates Ian as well as horseback riding. With Ian's challenges, the chance to engage him and to help him generalize skills can be difficult. LifeStriders helps him pull together all the hard work of outside therapies and gives him a place to shine. He was starting to repeat words at home, but it wasn't until the day he said "Cody!" when we saw he could pick up on conversational words and repeat them. From that point, his abilities with language have expanded beyond anything we thought possible. LifeStriders is the place where we now know, if Ian is working on a new skill, he will be motivated to use and expand that skill. When each skill your child learns is precious, finding a key to access those skills is an incredible gift. For us, LifeStriders has been that gift.
LifeStriders has changed Ian's life, the lives of everyone in our family, and our hopes and dreams for Ian's future. We are so thankful for that.
FROM RUPERT ISAACSON AND ILIANE LORENZ OF THE HORSE BOY
From our first moment at LifeStriders we found ourselves embraced in a warm Wisconsin Welcome. It was our first time in the state and we were charmed by the beauty of the countryside and the hospitality of the people. Rob, Veronica and their team are running something very beautiful at LifeStriders. They showed us much that we did not know – our emphasis being on autism and neuro-psychiatric conditions, LifeStriders educated us on working with physical disabilities. For example seeing one young boy who was supposed to never be able to walk get off his horse and take confident steps back to his mount, was truly inspirational.
The quality of the horses as well as the staff was also exceptional and the physical environment – the park like surroundings and availability of trails - make this an ideal place for autism spectrum children (and those with other sensory conditions) to come and heal.
The dedicated staff and volunteers also showed great openness of mind when it came to learning new techniques and picked things up fast; always a sign of professionalism - curiosity over new techniques ensures that things stay live and fluid. Put simply, LifeStriders is clearly dedicated to retaining its place at the leading edge of therapeutic riding: so for families in need of these services it would be hard to do better.
We look forward to working with LifeStriders over the coming years and to watching their program grow. We look forward to future projects together.
I want to write you a letter to tell you what LifeStriders means to me. As you know I was the first student at LifeStriders. How we found each other is another story that would take a little longer to write. So I will focus on 3 key points. How LifeStriders has: helped me, challenged me and what it means to me.
LifeStriders has helped me by making me physically stronger. When I ride the horses sometimes I don’t even notice how much I am working my muscles. It does not feel like work all the time when I am doing it but it transforms itself into a work out while at the same time being fun.
When I first started LifeStriders, I was depressed and being a part of this organization has kept me occupied. I have met people that inspire and make me want to keep working. LifeStriders is a positive place, with positive people that encourage me to come out of my comfort zone.
People at Life Striders challenge me to try things that are physically and psychologically difficult. For an example when I have to ride a horse backwards. I, who have issues with coordination, sometimes have difficulty organizing my body to turn around on the horse. Doing this exercise makes my anxiety level more apparent. I have to rely on what I have learned and the support of the volunteers to work together on this exercise. I have to trust them. This is a big psychological challenge. Due to past experiences I don’t always trust people even though my disability puts me in day to day situations where I have to trust people. Participating in LifeStriders has helped me to develop a sense of who and when to trust.
LifeStriders has also taught me to be more “Calido”, humble and caring towards others. Sometimes I was so focused on my disability that I was not aware of other people’s challenges.
Being a part of LifeStriders, I realize that as a rider I have a responsibility to go beyond my own expectations for those others who might look up to me.
LifeStriders offer many things, hope, responsibility, inspiration, long lasting friendships and an opportunity to discover in yourself how far you can go.
NICOLE' S STORY IN HER OWN WORDS
"When I first came to LifeStriders I was having many troubles with school. After I started therapy and volunteering I made lots of new friends with the kids and other volunteers. I took therapy with Veronica and it helped a lot. She is the reason I am in school full time. She took me one step at a time and let me choose what I felt comfortable doing. The horses are also a big part of my healing. The horses are nice because it is relaxing to talk to them. LifeStriders is a good program because you can talk to anyone there and they all will listen. LifeStriders not only helps the riders out but it also helped me out too. LifeStriders changes many lives and it's so nice to be apart of that. I hope that one day I can find a job that helps people like this program does".
FROM ZEKE'S PARENTS
When I think of LifeStriders and the impact it has had on Zeke, one word comes to mind - Pride.
During our son's nearly five years, he has had much to be proud of. He has tolerated almost daily therapy from 18 months on with more smiles and belly laughs than we could reasonably hope for. He has shown great love and affection for his younger sisters every day, he works so hard to be their buddy. He has endured countless tests, evaluations, EEG's and doctors appointments with courage. He has taught his parents more about courage than we knew we had to learn.
However, in spite of having global developmental delays, Zeke understands that he is different. He knows that he can't yet do many of the things that other kids do, like talk, kick a ball, color, or ride bikes. He sees that sometimes he spends play dates in the background.
The moment that Zeke met Elite at LifeStriders and he sat on the horse he knew with complete certainty that here, at this special place, he was able. He was a child of growing abilities, not of limiting disabilities. He began to vocalize and dance when we told him it was the day to see horses. He stood taller and straighter as he entered the tack room. He grinned from ear to ear as he sat in the saddle. The first time he rode Magic, a larger horse, he was excited for the next 24 hours.
Zeke has gained trunk strength, improved his gait, and lengthened his attention span through riding. These accomplishments are great but not nearly as powerful as the pride he feels when he successfully completes a lesson and knows that he's done well.
Recently we redecorated Zeke's bedroom, and of all of the new pictures and accessories, his favorite item is a framed picture of him riding Elite at LifeStriders. He is proud of himself when he sees it.
FROM ONE OF THE KIDS IN THE AT RISK YOUTH PROGRAM
- who later became a volunteer and helped other children
Today when you as well as other people were talking to the guests, I heard a lot of wonderful stories about how LifeStriders has helped all those kids, and it still amazes me how miraculous some of those tales are. Well, I'm not sure if you know, but you and your horses as well as the wonderful people that ride them have touched your volunteers and helped them just as much. I feel like I have grown so much since I began coming to LifeStriders and it means so much to me to come back and work with all of the people that come there. LifeStriders gives me a place to vent to people when I've had a crappy day as well as people to comfort me when I feel down. I really don't know what I would do without LifeStriders. I don't know why I wrote this e-mail but I just felt like these things needed to be said.
FROM KATHRYN'S FAMILY
This was Kathryn 's first year with LifeStriders. Kathryn made great progress throughout the riding session on and off the horses. First and foremost, horse therapy has helped Kathryn physically. She gained the necessary core muscle strength Just from riding to be able to ride her hike without training wheels. This was a huge accomplishment for Kathryn. Not only did she gain the physical ability to ride the bike but her confidence increased exponentially’. Between the confidence gained from riding the horses, the body awareness and the increased physical strength Kathryn now has, she has been able to "graduate" from physical therapy at school.
Besides the physical part of horse therapy, Kathryn just enjoys riding the horses. She is always smiling as she leaves. When I would see her in her session, I was so proud of how she listened to her teachers and respected her friends and the horses. Kathryn loves her teachers, especially Mr. Jay. She always comments that "he is so funny". The relationships she has created with the teachers and her new friends definitely give Kathryn increased social awareness. We thank LifeStriders, for allowing our daughter to receive therapy- services. Our heart goes out to every volunteer who has given their time to support the needs of our daughter and of all the other individuals who are helped by LifeStriders.
FROM KELLIE'S PARENTS
I'd heard of the benefits of horse therapy for autistic children. County funding finally allowed us to finally have our daughter try it. Kellie's face lights up when we just mention the horses. She has improved her posture and strength on the horse and the flexibility needed to get on the horse and get off. She is much more calm around the horses. I 'm glad we've been given this opportunity. This experience has been wonderful.
FROM STEPHANIE'S PARENTS
We initially came to LifeStriders for social skills classes and then learned about the therapeutic riding services. Our daughter has been riding for about a year at LifeStriders and she truly enjoys the interaction with the horses and volunteers. She has a smile on her face from the time she arrives at LifeStriders until the time she leaves.
She finds most activities that require motor skills and balance difficult. She has been able to improve her motor skills and balance through riding horses at LifeStriders. It has been a rewarding experience for her both socially and physically.
FROM HANNAH'S PARENTS
Our daughter is developmentally delayed, had poor social skills and was having difficulty interacting with peers in school. Our daughter's self esteem has increased significantly since she has been participating in LifeStriders. The social skills class led to an improvement in her maturity and no behavioral or social problems at school this year. We wish the program was available year round
FROM HARRIS'S PARENTS
I wanted my son to be involved in a physical & social activity despite his speech delays and socialization challenges. The connection my son has with the horses is wonderful. The connection my son has with the horses supersedes the connection with most people. The horseback riding has given him an activity he loves and benefits from on many levels.