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One Heart Equestrian Therapy finds permanent home in Ames

Ames Tribune - 8/10/2018

Aug. 09--After 17 years of constantly changing locations, a longtime Story County-based nonprofit organization that offers equine-assisted therapy to individuals with physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities has finally found a permanent place in Ames.

Since its founding in 2001, One Heart Equestrian Therapy, a member of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) that offers therapeutic services for people with diagnoses ranging from autism to muscular dystrophy, has never had a permanent place to operate, and has always shared facilities with other stables and groups.

But now, the therapeutic riding organization will call the sprawling former Canterbrooke Equestrian Center in Ames home.

"The support we've had is humbling, with establishing and maintaining this program," said Kris Lager, co-founder and executive director of One Heart Equestrian Therapy. "And now, after building the herd, the programming and the staff, it's time for a permanent home. That's what this progress is."

One Heart put its first rider up in the spring of 2002 at the Story County Fairgrounds. What started as an idea stemming from Lager, a mother of a special needs child and a self-identified "horsey person," turned into transporting donated horses, saddles, helmets and other equipment necessary to serve clients to the fairgrounds three times a week for five years.

Over the years, the organization bounced between shared locations throughout Story County -- some that were a better fit than others. Stagecoach Stables in Ames, Strum Farm on the south edge of Roland, a temporary facility in Nevada, and most recently space in Colo have all served as makeshift hubs for One Heart's services for the last almost two decades.

But each facility brought with it its share of challenges for the organization and its nine current horses assisting with therapeutic services, from conflicting schedules for property use, lack of space, or facilities that did not meet the needs of One Heart.

Ultimately, it was decided that it was time for One Heart to find a permanent home. And in July, the organization made its first payment on its new location.

Located at 2710 West 190th St., just north of the city limits of Ames, the former Canterbrooke facility spans 10 acres. Featuring a large indoor arena with dust-free footing, an outdoor riding space, 30 stalls, tack areas, outdoor paddocks where the organization's horses will reside, a viewing room, gathering spaces, a client preparation area, a bathroom, and offices, the entire structure sitting on the land stands at just over 27,000 square feet.

All public areas meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements.

"It's a huge benefit to our program, just in that we have a facility that we always know is available to us," said Lori Weyhrich, a certified instructor with One Heart. "The coolest thing for me is it's going to allow us to expand our programming, which is just huge, to be able to do different thing and reach more people in need of services.

"That's just something we couldn't do before because we didn't have the facilities, or we didn't know how long we would have the facilities we had."

Currently, with shared facilities and limited scheduling flexibility, One Heart has been able to serve about 100 people a year from nine counties.

Previously, services could only be offered seasonally, because operations took place in shared facilities, often without a roof or walls, leaving scheduling at the whim of weather conditions. But weather constraints will no longer be an issue in Ames, where there is enough room for riders inside and outside.

Additionally, because the group now has a permanent place, the number of clients served will be able to increase, as will the services offered, including developing programming for veterans and hosting trainings and meetings for mentoring and professional development, according to project documents.

Right now, offerings include motion therapy (used by an occupational or physical therapist), developmental therapy (occupational-type therapies on horseback) and sport therapy (developing physical and cognitive abilities through learning horsemanship skills). Driving classes and a "mini power" program, which uses miniature horses for clients who have health issues that prevent them from riding or driving, are also offered.

"Everybody is beyond excited, just because at one point it was like, it's possible we wouldn't have a program anymore," said Lisa Jordan, of Ellsworth, whose two children have been participating in a mix of sport and motion therapy with One Heart for the last 17 years. "Before we even knew if we were going to be able to move to a permanent location, it was like what do we do now? Do we still have a program? Do we close the doors and say it's been a good ride?

"Just the fact that we have a facility now, a permanent location, we know exactly where things will be, things can go on and move forward as normal."

The new facility is also more centrally located, Weyhrich added, putting the organization within reach of partnerships with Iowa State University and a strong volunteer base, a crucial part of the nonprofit's model. One Heart uses up to 15 volunteers per class offered, and there have been between 250 and 300 volunteer shifts filled over the span of a year.

"It's a real before and after story," Lager said. "It's a continuation of some very deep-set roots here in Story County."

The former Canterbrooke Equestrian Center facility was specially priced at $800,000, due to support of One Heart, Lager said. With the help of fundraising and donations, the first $550,000 payment on the property was made this summer. Under a mutual contractual arrangement, the sellers will carry the additional balance through the remainder of 2018.

The second payment will also be funded through donations.

While One Heart's Board of Directors explored other options as well, such as having land donated and constructing a custom facility, purchasing land and modifying existing structures, or continuing to share facilities through a lease arrangement, it was decided that nothing could match the opportunity to move into the previous Canterbrooke facility.

"It's a unique opportunity that a property like this would become available, and the sellers had maintained it so beautifully," Lager said. "Our major focus has been to be located in the heart of our volunteer base. We are run by volunteers, we are powered by volunteers.

"And to be able to serve our community best, to have this opportunity come available in the heart of our volunteer base, really, really prompted us to set our sights on the fundraising efforts, which started in 2016."

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(c)2018 the Ames Tribune, Iowa

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