Spring Gala to support Allied Horsemanship therapy

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With a mission to empower people with disabilities as well as veterans, Allied Horsemanship utilizes on-horse and on-the-ground interaction with horses toward the goal of improving participants’ quality of life. Pictured is Eaamon riding Marissa. (Submitted photos)

Shannon (Adkins) Gher, the founder of Allied Horsemanship, is pictured during a nursing home visit with her horse, Arrow.

By Correne Martin

Established just two short years ago in rural Prairie du Chien, Allied Horsemanship provides equine-assisted activities to anyone with disabilities, age 5 and older, and veterans. Riding and non-riding lessons have served individuals with challenges such as autism, cerebral palsy, depression, down syndrome, stroke, brain injury, visual impairment, PTSD, wheelchair restraints and more at Allied Horsemanship’s outdoor arena, off Vineyard Road. A second arena, that’s indoors, opened between Mt. Zion and Boscobel in July 2018.

This weekend, Founder Shannon (Adkins) Gher’s ambition of having a prominent community event to celebrate the organization’s mission of empowering lives is happening. The Spring Gala is Saturday, March 9, at Huckleberry’s Restaurant. All are welcome.

Social hour will begin at 5 p.m., and a family dinner will be served at 6 p.m. Then, there will be a presentation about Allied Horsemanship, a live auction, bucket raffle, 50/50, photo booth, music and more. Gher said dinner tickets are selling fast, so area residents are encouraged to contact her at (608) 412-2692 as soon as possible to secure seats. 

“I’ll give the presentation of who we are, what we do, our volunteers and some stories of the people we’ve served,” stated Gher, a Prairie du Chien (2011) and UW-River Falls animal science-equine graduate. 

Afterward, Assemblyman Loren Oldenburg will be the special guest speaker for the evening. 

The Spring Gala is a kick-off event for the coming season of lessons starting at both arenas. 

Sessions for groups (up to three people) and individuals are planned at 43080 Gray Rd., Boscobel, as soon as March 18. Prairie du Chien lessons, at 35954 Cypress Ln., are anticipated to launch April 17, though all gatherings are weather permitting. 

Typical one-hour activities are organized by age, ability type and level of horse skills, Gher noted.  

“Cost depends on the family’s situation. We’re working on securing more sponsorships,” said Gher, a certified riding instructor through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International organization. 

All lessons include horse handling and knowledge, while those on the horse incorporate pre- and post-mount skills of basic riding, and non-riders can participate in grooming, obstacle course leading, and other ground work. 

“There are several different options of interaction,” she assured. 

Gher explained some of the benefits of Allied Horsemanship’s influence on those the company has served. She said its therapeutic activities can improve balance, coordination, flexibility, cognitive abilities, communication, self-awareness and sense of accomplishment. The specific teaching also aids in building trust with animals and other people. 

Allied Horsemanship is largely volunteer-run. Gher developed the entity out of her love for horses and desire to improve the quality of life for people with various abilities through interaction with horses. 

“My family (Pete and Dawn Adkins) farmed briefly when I was a child. But my love of horses really started when my oldest brother brought a horse home when I was 8,” she said, smiling. 

Gher shared, the motivating source for creating Allied Horsemanship was her sister-like friendship with the late Elizabeth (Dennis) Brownlee, of Boscobel. She said they both shared a passion for horses and agriculture through involvement in 4-H, FFA, experiences at the local Children’s Ranch, etc. When Elizabeth passed suddenly in January 2017, Gher instituted the organization in her friend’s honor. The Boscobel arena, dedicated to Elizabeth, is actually located on private land owned by the Dennis family.

Gher pulled together a nine-member, non-profit board of directors and, with some assistance from mentor Michelle McLain, of Thunder Rode Therapeutic Riding, in Decorah, Iowa, she’s making their dream flourish. 

In 2018, 51 lesson hours were provided one-on-one as well as for group participants. Gher said, so far, eight riders are returning this season.

Many volunteers come to Allied Horsemanship with horse experience; however, the corporation is unique in that it trains those who wish to devote their free time to helping disabled individuals and veterans. 

“We’re always looking for volunteers. Usually, we have one who leads the horse and one on either side; though, we do have more independent riders, so sometimes someone is just monitoring the rider,” Gher elaborated. “We can easily find ways to get everybody involved. We just ask that people call before they come out and watch, out of respect for the riders.”

Currently, Allied Horsemanship has 12 volunteers. In addition to work around the riding arenas, assistance can be given in the form of fundraising, facilities development and donation acquisition. 

Altogether, there are eight horses of various ages, sizes  and capabilities within the operation—five in PdC and three in Boscobel. Citizens interested in the six-week sessions should visit alliedhorse.org, or contact Gher at (608) 412-2692 for more details. An application and general intake process is required to enroll.

Allied Horsemanship is also available for therapeutic nursing home visits. Contact Gher for details.

To keep up with what’s happening in their arenas, supporters can also follow Allied Horsemanship on Facebook and Instagram. 

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