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Modern Times! Virtual Program Revitalizes At-Risk and Caregivers

People with disabilities who have limited mobility or cannot avoid close contact with others, have trouble understanding information, communicating, or practicing preventive measures are at higher risks of infection during the world crisis. Due to this probability, many care facilities are adopting strict quarantine rules to protect the vulnerable populations they serve.

While preventative quarantine may decrease exposure, experts estimate the health damage induced by loneliness and isolation raises the risk of early death by 26 percent, and equate the damage to smoking 15 cigarettes a day[1]! Staggering information!

Furthermore, adults with disabilities are almost 2.5 times as likely to feel socially isolated than adults who do not have these health obstacles[2]. Can you imagine? Data collected by one of our grantors the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation indicates, “Social isolation has had the number one negative impact on the lives of people living with disabilities relative to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

As a direct response to COVID-19 and to address the issue of isolation, Ride On St. Louis developed an uplifting virtual equine-assisted pilot program in collaboration with long-standing partner organization Pony Bird. Pony Bird is a non-profit organization that provides 24-hour residential care to individuals who are non-ambulatory and have medically complex mental and physical disabilities (e.g. cerebral palsy, quadriplegia, encephalopathy, scoliosis, global neurological disorders, speech/communication impairment, and multiple co-occurring diagnoses). Residents of Pony Bird have been under strict quarantine since March 2020. Pony Bird staff get a round of applause for their outstanding efforts to protect residents. One effect though is staying inside the facility. That means no outings, no family events, and no outside social or recreational activities. Nicole Kyle, who is the Program Manager for Pony Bird says, “The individuals are not able to go out into the community like they did before. These virtual sessions with Ride On St. Louis give the experience of being out in the community while at home, keeping their health and safety a priority.

"They are still all laughing and talking about [the] session. You really are making a difference in their lives right now, thank you!"

Ride On St. Louis is enhancing connectedness for both people who have disabilities and their caregivers! Ride On St. Louis’s virtual program combats the day’s doldrums, chases away adverse health risks associated with loneliness/isolation, and brings back social life by providing opportunity for communication, self-discovery, and revitalization of the mind and body.

Ride On St. Louis’s program utilizes live “face-to-face” video that connects Ride On St. Louis staff and horses to residents and caregivers at Pony Bird while keeping all participants safe; for 22 years quality and safety has always been our priority.

The program incorporates many sensory components. Fall participants have had experiences of bathing a horse, grooming a horse, and trimming hooves; activities involving equine gaits, diet, and feeding; and equine anatomy. Program staff at Ride On St. Louis craft and deliver special sensory-themed kits to complement each virtual session. Participants enjoy the sensory benefits from exploring soapy bubbles, squishy sponges, soft files (with farrier Lacey), splashing water, bristly brushes, noisy and fragrant horse food, and even their own pair of “clip-clop socks”—socks with wood blocks, that are worn on the hands or feet to mimic the sound of hooves on pavement.

We anticipate expanding the program in 2021 to smash levels of isolation and loneliness, designing more “fun and games,” and generating new ideas to increase happiness, hopefulness, motivation, self-awareness, relaxation, and exercise that often increase functionality in meeting daily needs (e.g. eating, bathing, dressing, toileting, or transferring). Improvements in caregiver morale and attitude (to feel valued and appreciated for what they do and enhance connectedness), is also an essential factor of our goals and outcomes.

Because of our commitment to serve the most vulnerable regardless of their financial abilities, all services to Pony Bird are offered at no-cost. These programs are entirely supported by individuals, foundation grants written by our staff, fund-raising efforts, and donors like you. This is why your support of Ride On St. Louis this Christmas season of giving is vital.

Our fall 2020 pilot program was funded largely by Ride On St. Louis Crusader’s Circle members.

Crusaders pick their own investment level starting at $20 a month, and make an incredible impact over the course of their membership. Monthly gifts enable us to invest in specific areas of our work and expand our programs because we know we have the ongoing, sustainable support of the Crusader’s Circle community. Visit or check “monthly giving” when you make any donation. Your support of any amount matters to Ride On St. Louis!

[1] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data


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