Please scroll to the bold text for measurements and assessment findings.
After two years of development through a dynamic pilot program, we are pleased to fully integrate a new comprehensive program that is making a big impact on participants. The Barn Buddies program joins six other distinct Ride On St. Louis support offerings, and distinguishes itself as the first vocational program. Barn Buddies presents a unique unmounted equine-assisted activities skills program that provides in-depth equine education, hands-on application and accountability for people with disabilities, health-related obstacles or hardships. The program focuses on addressing, relating and achieving personal goals relevant to skill development, accident/injury recovery and coping, while learning vocational skills inherent to the equine industry. Typical clientele include those who have or have had professional job experience and are struggling to return to that job or meet current job demands due to hardship or health complications, and those who are developing or regaining vocational skills.
The program includes study and performance in husbandry, handling, grooming, sanitation management, first aid, record keeping, inventory and interpersonal skills. The program is tailored to each individual’s needs, abilities and goals. Barn Buddies receive intensive programming beginning on a one-to-one ratio of staff to student. Students attend anywhere from one to five times per week at two to four hour intervals. As the student progresses her skills (typically over the course of a one to two year period) they may begin to demonstrate skills and critical thinking inherent to independently operating around and providing basic care to the working horses of Ride On St. Louis. Students continue to build their skills, gain confidence and understanding of the equine world and have opportunities to continue to expand their knowledge, abilities and responsibilities upon completion and demonstration of competency. In 2019, the program provided 730 hours to three adults ranging from 22 to 44 years old with diagnoses (some co-occurring) of a brain tumor, cancer, depression, stroke, suicide-risk and traumatic brain injury.
The skilled vocational training that our Barn Buddies receive goes beyond “the barn.” Barn Buddies learn, improve and develop skills and abilities through the program that they can then put into practice in other activities, relationships and circumstances. These skills have been proven useful in Barn Buddies personal recovery and growth, and lend themselves in meeting challenges and performing activities of daily life. Deana was diagnosed with a meningioma, a tumor that forms on membranes that covers the brain and spinal cord just inside the skull. The tumor was roughly the size of a golf ball and wrapped around the arteries and veins in Deana’s head. Deana underwent surgery to remove a portion of the tumor, and later suffered a series of strokes. The harm caused by the tumor and strokes resulted in severe damage to the left side of Deana’s brain and left her right foot disabled. Prior to this diagnosis nearly seven years ago, Deana worked as a registered nurse. Her complications left her unable to perform as she struggles with her memory, speech, recalling words, aphasia, and ability to focus, in addition to walking with a cane.
Deana has participated in other vocational rehabilitation programs and various forms of therapy with little success; it wasn’t until she got involved as a Barn Buddy that she starting making major improvements. Lifting, shoveling and scrubbing, measuring hay and grain amounts, reading and writing notes, communicating and working with others, being aware of your surroundings when working around horses, assessing equine wellness, and being responsible for completing a series of professional horse care tasks on time are skills and activities that offer her much more than confidence, self-esteem and exercise. Deana no longer walks with a cane. She reports improvements in her communication, thinking, self-efficacy, relaxation, motivation, fitness, and social/family function. This has improved her own personal life and made everyday activities much easier to perform. Additionally, her advances have given her the assurance and proficiency needed to provide care for her geriatric mother-in-law who has moved in with Deana and her family due to medical and health-related hardships. Deana is now her caregiver and once again uses her nursing degree to provide in-home care; she credits Ride On St. Louis’s Barn Buddies program with giving her the ability to take on this role despite her own health situation.
Barn Buddies assessments examine 30 separate health and wellness aspects over six categories: mood, behavior, physical wellness, social skills, vocational proficiency, and cognition. Clients participate in ability appropriate and goal specific curriculum designed around the equine environment to advance quality of life and augment performance of life’s daily activities. 100% of clients scored higher in summative assessments, and 100% of total clients improved overall in each separate category, quantifying Barn Buddies positive impact on overall wellness. Total clients showed an 83% average improvement across the six categories. The assessments recorded the most significant measured change in behavior and mood, as clients reported improvements in: fostering better relationships with family, friends and co-workers; sleeping; maintaining interest in activities and work; decreasing thoughts and actions of self-harm and or suicide; having more energy; feeling less distracted/unproductive, tense, nervous, agitated/angry; and feeling an increase in general happiness. Clients also reported physical improvements in: mobility, balance, endurance, range of motion, and muscle strength; and a decrease in pain, soreness or muscle tingling. Vocational skills including time management, problem solving, learning new skills, and displaying positive and professional attitudes and actions in the work environment also improved. Barn Buddies recorded cognitive outcomes in increased memory, task completion, executive functioning, following directions, and ability to focus. Lastly, testing demonstrated clients’ achievements in social outcomes including: increased communication, eye contact, and control of emotions/actions when receiving construction criticism.
The Barn Buddies program is entirely underwritten by donors, grants, fundraising and work-study opportunities making it no-cost for our program participants. Program cost to Ride On St. Louis is approximately $136 per hour. “Our goal has always been to make substantial and sustaining quality of life changes for everyone at Ride On St. Louis, despite the cost,” says Director and Founder Marita Wassman. “We work very hard to make a difference. Our center is in transition towards a permanent, flood-free location where will be able to help many more people that God sends our way, through Barn Buddies and our other targeted programming. If you are thinking about making a gift to Ride On St. Louis this Christmas, please know that your support is critical for making these positive changes in someone’s life and helping us get to a place where together, we can spread more love, joy and healing.”
Some Barn Buddy clients have requested to remain anonymous. Due to this request, some photos in this article may depict volunteers and/or other aspects of the organization.