The Healers Wear Saddles
Horses Help Clients Hurdle Struggles
Ride On St. Louis uses equine-assisted services to help people with disabilities. Cofounder Marita Wassman explains.
Q. Please provide a brief history and the mission of Ride On St. Louis.
A. Ride On St. Louis promotes health and enriches lives through love, joy, and holistic healing. Our services incorporate the movement of the horse, the equine environment, and the horse-human interaction to improve the quality of life of clients. That could be a child building the strength to hold up his or her head at the dinner table, a teen gaining confidence to make friends at school, or a military veteran triumphing over feelings of isolation. Responding to our clients’ unmet needs remains our foremost concern.
My husband, Rick Wassman, and I cofounded Ride On St. Louis in 1998. It was the first equine-assisted services program in the south St. Louis region. Our first programs began on our three-acre property, and we immediately produced meaningful benefits for kids and adults with disabilities. One young adult was able to begin controlling his bladder, and another became able to get in and out of the car independently for the first time in her life. A girl got strong enough to keep a feeding tube in place with no infections.
Word spread, demand increased, and we couldn’t keep up with the growing program at our humble barn. In 2001, Ride On St. Louis was invited to move onto an estate farther south, and over eighteen years at our location in Kimmswick, Missouri, we grew into one of the Midwest’s leading centers. Floods forced us to temporarily relocate nearby while we seek a permanent home.
Q. Please cite examples of how your ministry touches and changes lives.
A. We look after the underserved, those who face struggles in their lives, and those who are often burdened by financial hardships. Many clients have mild to medically complex diagnoses and multiple disabilities. We provide assistance, healing, and growth to all age groups. Because each person comes to us with unique challenges, abilities, desires, goals, and experiences, we provide personalized experiences as we strive to help all people live their best.
We have witnessed countless transformations that have improved lives in profound ways—gaining the strength to get into and out of wheelchairs, cars, beds, and bathtubs; finding the ability to take first steps; building muscles to speak first words; stimulating the brain to support academic tasks; and so many other achievements.
Recently, we met Julie (a pseudonym). A reserved person at the crossroads of adolescence and adulthood, she had a difficult home life, experienced abuse from a partner, and had a tense relationship with her mother. She thought about suicide often and would intentionally harm herself as a way to cope. Her self-esteem was fading. At times, she said she felt hopeless. “I believed I was worthless,” she said. “I would get up in the morning, but I wasn’t motivated to do anything, I didn’t enjoy life. I would drill negative remarks into my head until all I believed were the awful things people had said to me. I believed I would be better off dead.” That was Julie’s daily reality.
She said she fought thoughts each day while in the shower of using her razor to end her life. She struggled to resist the urge to drive her car into a wall, down a ditch, or into oncoming traffic. When Julie began participating in our Barn Buddies program, she was also distancing herself from friends and family.
“I was swimming in negativity constantly, Julie said, “[but] I was afraid to talk about what I was going through. I was able to get through all of it because Ride On St. Louis had given me a purpose. I was given the opportunity to learn the basics of horse care, and with that, the opportunity to be a part of something more. I was inspired. Ride On St. Louis truly cares for everyone who walks in the door seeking help. I was at my lowest and they took the time to listen while they worked with me. I never would have thought that learning to care for horses could help with my struggles.”
Julie is making monumental improvements as she progresses in our Barn Buddies program, and she said she hasn’t thought about suicide or self-harm in over a year now. She’s in a better place with her friends and family, including her mother. She has interests and hobbies, and she just published a book of poems detailing her transformation from the lowest point in her life to the fullness she can now experience. Julie exemplifies why Ride On St. Louis exists!
Q. What is happening today at Ride On St. Louis?
A. Now is an exciting time for Ride On St. Louis! We are pursuing our own “forever home” with all the offerings, including pasture space, an indoor arena, teaching areas, and the physical accessibility we need to expand our service area and help the community. With added features at a new location, Ride On St. Louis will be able to grow program services. Our waiting list includes more than 100 children and adults who long for the opportunity to experience our programs. We want to serve everyone who seeks the healing qualities of equine-assisted services and to provide people with sustaining services to improve their quality of life, health, and happiness.
Q. How can people learn more or support your mission?
A. First and foremost, we humbly ask for your prayers. Lord, may Ride On St. Louis offer you thanks and praise for your countless blessings, and may those they serve be comforted in their struggles and find love, strength, and joy through you! Amen.
Our programs are supported by the kindness and generosity of people in the communities we serve. Sharing this article and talking to friends is a simple way to help spread our mission. And if your values, hopes, and heart resonates with our mission to serve, we ask you to consider giving a financial gift. Horses are expensive, and many people need healing. Gifts make a difference. Your gift of any amount means the world to us and supports our ability to help children and adults live a better life. We don’t take these gifts for granted, so thank you in advance for choosing Ride On St. Louis.
To learn more, become a follower on social media, and explore our website at rideonstl.org for news about everything we do to promote health and enrich lives. A
Ride On St. Louis in Brief
+ Ride On St. Louis is internationally recognized, a Better Business Bureau-Accredited Charity Seal Holder and recipient of the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar by Candid.
+ More than 2,500 families have benefited from its services.
+ It serves people with mild to medically complex diagnoses from ages two and older.
+ It is celebrating its silver anniversary this year.
+ In recent years, 100 percent of its families have been able to rely on its financial assistance to cover all of their fees.
+ It assists the equine-assisted services of local universities.
+ Many horses involved with the center were donated.
+ Annually, its horses need about 53,000 pounds of forage and feed.