Each week we honor an organization that is doing good work in the horse world. Today we speak with Kristin Loewenthal of Giant Steps Therapeutic Equestrian Center.
This week’s Standing Ovation honoree:
Located in Petaluma, California, Giant Steps Therapeutic Equestrian Center has taken big strides toward providing life-changing therapy for a wide-range of disabilities in San Francisco’s North Bay Area.
This 12-minute video describes Giant Steps through the eyes of a parent, as well as how our program is clinically proven to be effective and accredited to help riders of all ages:
Kristin Loewenthal, Board Chair for Giant Steps, kindly took the time to answer a few of our questions about the organization.
How did Giant Steps come to be?
Giant Steps was founded in 1998 with 10 riders and 19 volunteers. Our founders bred Tennessee Walkers, and with great vision, opened the doors to the program on their own ranch. Years later the organization operates independently at a commercial horse park in Petaluma. Today we have over 125 riders and 200 volunteers. We have a very committed Board of Directors and staff who know that what we do works, and that there is an element of magic in there as well.
Tell me about the Giant Steps riders — who are they, and what do they gain from Giant Step’s programming?
Our riders range in age from 8 to 63 and come to us with a wide range of disabilities. Some have taken their first steps because of our program. Some have spoken their first words. Most of them are just like normal kids with a big love for horses and a love of riding. Therapeutic riding helps improve motor skills, it helps to increase strength, it helps to improve confidence, and the list can go on and on. Our kids experience successes they never thought possible, and their smiles of achievement will melt the coldest heart.
The following videos show examples of how Giant Steps has positively impacted the lives both young and old. The first is the story of a very determined young girl, Megan, and her journey to becoming the young girl her family had hoped for as she deals with her autism with the strength given by her love for horses at Giant Steps.
This is the story of Andrew and though he faces obstacles in his life at such a young age, he overcomes life’s challenges with the help of his 1,000 pound therapist.
Veterans living with post traumatic stress disorder ride at Giant Steps in its Heroes on Horses program.
What is it about horses that seems to connect with people in a therapeutic way?
If you’ve ever spent time around a horse, whether able bodied or not, you know how therapeutic these animals can be. Log on to Facebook or Instagram any given day and scroll through the plethora of “he’s magic”’s, “he understands me”’s and recall the age old adage — the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man. Horses sense something in us, and they tend to act a a mirror. They are very sensitive and very willing — it’s true that it seems so unlikely to put a child in a wheelchair on the back of a 1,000-lb animal, but something happens and when you watch it it makes more sense than anything else.
You are an entirely volunteer-run organization. What is it about Giant Steps that makes volunteers want to be involved?
I think our volunteers find it just as therapeutic as our riders do. It’s an amazing opportunity to be able to give back to the community in a really unique and effective way. Some of our volunteers are in it for the horses, some of them are in it strictly for the kids. There is something for everyone at our barn, and everyone is welcomed. We do have a small paid staff, and I attribute it a lot to them as well. They are a truly stupendous group who work hard and go above an beyond the call of duty regularly — I believe they just set a good example, and people want to be around them.
How can we help support Giant Steps?
We receive no state or federal funding and rely on the generosity of individuals and corporations to keep our programs running. We operate on a sliding scale and offer scholarships to our riders based on financial need. We have several high profile fundraisers which include a golf tournament in the spring, a horse show and Gala in the summer, and always an additional fall event. We encourage you to attend and/or volunteer and/or donate. Our doors are always open and we love what we do!
Thanks for sharing, Kristin! We applaud Giant Steps for the great work they do and encourage Horse Nation readers to visit the Giant Steps website to learn more about its programming as well as ways in which you can help the organization continue serving its community. You can also follow Giant Steps on Facebook for all the latest news and updates.
Many thanks thanks to Ovation Riding for their support of both Horse Nation and individuals and organizations that are doing good work in the horse world. If you know someone who deserves a Standing Ovation, we would love to recognize them in a future post. Email the name of the person or organization along with a message about the good work they do to [email protected]. Photos/videos are always welcome, and include a link to their website if applicable.