After nearly four decades in Minnetonka, a therapeutic horseback riding program is settling into new stables this month at a Medina park.
“It’s really bittersweet; it’s the end of an era,” said Mary Mitten, executive director of We Can Ride, the oldest and largest program of its kind in Minnesota. “[But] we have a really great opportunity being in the park system.”
We Can Ride serves about 250 people with disabilities or special needs — from autism or learning disabilities to multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy.
Since it started in 1982, the nonprofit had operated on wooded Minnetonka acreage it shared with the Hennepin County Home School, a center for juveniles in trouble with the law.
But Hennepin County officials recently announced they want to build a $58 million state-of-the-art medical examiner’s office on open land there. The county also plans to restore wetlands where We Can Ride’s barn and offices were located.
There likely weren’t going to be many places to move 12 horses, but Mitten landed a site 20 miles away complete with a barn and pastures: the Baker Park Reserve, in the Three Rivers Park District.
The district operated a barn and stables for its mounted patrol before selling the horses a few years ago to Duluth police.
“It turned out to be a good match,” Three Rivers Superintendent Boe Carlson said.
Now horses have returned to the property, which has riding trails and a heated indoor arena that allows We Can Ride’s five instructors to host year-round events.
Instructors offer therapeutic riding, hippotherapy, equine-facilitated psychotherapy and equine-assisted learning. While there is some research on the benefits of equine therapy, none of them is covered by insurance. But Mitten said she’s seen many success stories of people having mental or physical improvements through equine therapy.
At one point, We Can Ride had five sites throughout the Twin Cities. Now it just has two sites — the other is in Marine on St. Croix — but Mitten said she hopes the nonprofit can expand again to serve more of the metro area as the popularity of therapeutic riding continues to grow.
The nonprofit is trying to raise $350,000 (https://www.crowdrise.com/we-can-ride-we-can-move) to cover the cost of relocation and to build an outdoor arena at the new site, which will host an open house Aug. 25.
Earlier this month, staff members were busy unpacking boxes, building wooden stables and adding fences to the land, which is next to a park district public safety building off County Road 24 in Medina — an outer-ring suburb known for its horse farms.
“It’s horse country,” said Mitten, sporting horse-shaped earrings. “Before we were in a parklike setting and now we’re in a park.”