Why We Give: Equine-assisted therapy organization We Can Ride adapts during pandemic

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As the coronavirus pandemic continues, nonprofit organizations are adapting to the times by changing the way they reach people who need help the most.

For one Twin Cities program, that means bringing the farm to the front lines.

We Can Ride offers equine-assisted therapy to people with special needs and disabilities. When Gov. Tim Walz's "stay at home" order went into place in March, the barn in Maple Plain closed its doors to clients and volunteers.

But staff are finding unique ways to connect with the community, including bringing two of the program's therapy horses to an assisted-living facility in Edina. Two of its residents volunteered for We Can Ride for nearly 20 years.

"We're just so happy to be able to help out in any way because we really miss it," said executive director Mary Mitten.

The program is also experimenting with virtual sessions and have gone live on the program's Facebook page to give people a look at what's happening while the barn is closed.

"That's a lot of fun," Mitten said. "They get to see the horses and what they're doing throughout the day."

Clients are anxious to get back into the barn for sessions, said Jennifer Andrews, whose daughter JoJo has been riding at We Can Ride for more than a year.

During a recent virtual session held over Zoom, JoJo got to see her therapy horse Jasper for the first time in two months.

"She talks about him a lot," Jennifer Andrews said. "We certainly have been missing it; that's for sure."

JoJo, who is diangosed with Prader-Willi syndrome, benefits most from riding the horses to build core strength. While Andrews said she is grateful for the online interaction, nothing can replace being in person.

"There's nothing I can do to replace that at home, honestly," she said. "The next session for us would start up in June, so we're anxious to see if that can happen and how that can happen."

Visit We Can Ride's website to learn how you can help during this time.