The research to develop Red River Riders began as early as 1983 when Chris Baldwin, a 4-H Horseless Horse leader, began reading articles about therapeutic horseback riding. After 2 years of research and training, Red River Riders was born as a 4-H club with the help of a grant from the Scholl Foundation. The grant purchased safety equipment and insurance coverage for the first year.
Chris attended several seminars and clinics throughout Wisconsin, and Red River Riders became one of the first programs offered in Wisconsin. Officially organized in 1985, Red River Riders opened classes with one horse and three riders. Chris had been using Charlie, her own Appaloosa mare, for Horseless Horse instruction, and had been very confident in her ability to transfer Charlie’s patience and steadiness to therapeutic work. Charlie was a horse who instinctively responded to her rider’s needs. Charlie was very quiet, loved attention, was very personable, and had very smooth gaits.
With the help of several volunteers to aid during classes as side-walkers and leaders, classes began in the spring of 1986. Charlie proved to be a worthy therapist. She seemed to put everyone at ease, and loved doing her job. Classes were held in an 80′ x 80′ outdoor ring. A mounting block was constructed to allow the riders to reach the saddle on their own power, if at all possible.
Safety helmets were required whenever riders were working around the horse. This included grooming, tacking up, riding, and any other activities. We began using English Saddles with peacock stirrups or Devonshire boots, another form of safety stirrup. Each saddle was equipped with a hand-hold for rider security. Some riders also benefited from wearing a safety belt that volunteers could hold on to, providing more assistance to riders needing more help.
Classes last about one hour. During the hour, emphasis is put on correct position, improving posture and balance. Games are played and exercises are conducted during classes, too. We strive to increase or improve many factors for our participants. We utilize games and exercises that will improve muscle tone and strength, coordination, balance, posture, self-esteem, cooperation, learning, and more. We encourage interactions between riders, horses, and volunteers, making more people aware of the friendships that can develop at all levels. We foster respect and caring between all involved.
As time has passed, we currently serve 60 riders, with 8 horses. Our volunteer force has grown to 90+. Riders range in age from 3 years old to 74 years old. Our volunteers are teenage by majority, but we have a few young helpers who assist with games and exercises, and several volunteers are retirees. Almost every volunteer has introduced a friend to our program, and usually that person also becomes a volunteer. For some people, volunteering only fits into their schedule once a week, but others, especially our teen volunteers, manage to come to almost every class. They become very attached to an individual horse, and also foster strong friendships with favorite riders.
I have seen many wonderful interactions between riders and volunteers, and I have witnessed growth in maturity and caring in all. I feel the benefits of this program have greatly exceeded the original expectations I began with, and I am excited to see how we can improve each year to serve our community.
By Chris Baldwin, Executive Director & Instructor
Red River Riders