Allied Horsemanship excited to benefit the area

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Seth Brandt, 5, of Prairie du Chien, recently enjoyed a session with Allied Horsemanship, in which he played games and got to know his horse a little bit better. (Submitted photos)

Shannon Gher is excited to bring Allied Horsemanship to the Prairie du Chien area.

By Rachel Mergen

 

“Allied Horsemanship strives to empower people and improve their quality of life by promoting horse and human interactions through equine assisted activities,” reads the mission statement for the new non-profit therapeutic equine program in Prairie du Chien, created by Shannon Gher in January 2017.

“One of my older brothers came home one day and said, ‘Mom, dad, I bought a horse.’ Everything started after that,” Gher said. She joined the Crawford County 4-H and taught herself to ride. 

For college, she attended UW-River Falls, receiving a bachelor’s degree in animal science with an equine emphasis. She participated in many riding programs and volunteered often while in school. 

Originally, Gher planned on going to veterinarian school, but realized, “I’d rather be spending my time teaching.” She saw the opportunity to create a program to benefit many in her home community and knew that was a better-suited future for her.

During college, she was given the opportunity to become a certified riding instructor. To be certified with Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International, she said, “You must be dedicated and truly want it.” Gher stated the program has many strict rules and is a long process. 

It took three years for Gher to become certified. The program required her to take a certain amount of training hours, courses and tests. She had to be able to perform everything she was going to teach and had to prove such skills in front of past-certified instructors. In addition, she taught a sample class.

Gher believed the three-year period helped her expand her knowledge and gain experience from working with others.

After Gher decided to start the program, she received guidance from Thunder Rode Therapeutic Horseback Riding, in Decorah, Iowa. She also received support from those she grew up with in Prairie du Chien.

The program is designed for anyone 5 years old or older, who faces a physical or behavioral issue. Some challenges Gher is prepared to help with include autism, cerebral palsy, downs syndrome, depression, traumatic brain injury, visual impairment, stroke and PTSD. Not all participants must ride a horse; some of the activities available can be completed on the ground.

Allied Horsemanship is not able to stop the development of a disease, but the contact with the horses and people can help ease the progression and create a better life. 

“The benefits are endless,” Gher exclaimed. “There is something about the outside of a horse that does something good for the inside of a person.” 

Some of the possible benefits from participating are the improvement of balance, coordination, cognitive abilities and flexibility. Furthermore, the results can include advancements in communication skills and self-awareness. The program also helps build trust with animals and individuals. 

For those who are wheelchair bound, the horses have an extraordinary ability to help move a person, according to Gher. A horse’s pelvic structure is similar to a human’s, so the horse can help the rider perform and experience motions similar to walking.

For veterans, Gher has noticed it helps calm and distract them, along with giving them a new challenge for an afternoon. A veteran-specific opportunity is currently being created. These sessions will include veterans helping veterans with the activities available.

The program also benefits the volunteers, who are a main component of keeping the program running. Gher has seen volunteers grow and become more involved in everything, especially things away from the Allied Horsemanship, like school. It gives the volunteers valuable experience for the future as well. 

“Riders will blossom and have their own personalities develop,” Gher stated. She remembered helping young, introverted, autistic children, who originally barely spoke. Soon, though, she noticed them start to perk up, sit straighter and become more aware. The children began conversing with her more and asking questions. 

Gher mentioned enjoying “the simple fun of seeing a rider accomplish something, seeing them smile.”

Many believe there is a great need for Allied Horsemanship in Crawford County. No similar programs have been available within an hour radius. The county also has a high rate of autism. Gher defines the area as her home base, and plans to contribute to the county for many years to come. 

To do so, fundraising projects are required. Gher has many ideas in mind, including food stands in the near future. Fundraisers and donations are what help the program continue to be a great strength for the community. 

The organization has many upcoming events planned, including two sessions during the 2017 season. The first will begin on July 13, and end on Aug. 17. The second will be from Aug. 31 to Oct. 5. All classes will take place Thursday nights at 7 p.m. Individual lessons are available.

Volunteer training will take place Aug. 2, from 5 to 8 p.m. An open house will occur Aug. 13, from 1 to 6 p.m. The event will be located at 35954 Cypress Lane, Prairie du Chien. 

In the future, Gher hopes to have three or four six-week sessions per year. She and the board of directors would like to gain a new location in the next five years, to go along with their current one. A new instructor is also in the process of becoming verified. Gher also hopes to soon be able to accept insurance. 

Allied Horsemanship plans to continue “empowering lives” in the community for many years to come. For more information, contact Shannon Gher at (608) 412-2692 or allied.h.inc@gmail.com.

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