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Posted by Nancy P. - RVR volunteer on
Some of my happiest times have been with Willie. He’s quite the horseman, quite the wonderful young man, whether he could tell you with words or probably not. We spend every Tuesday, May through October at River Valley Riders in Afton.
Posted by the McLaughlin Family on
Our daughter has been involved with RVR for 18 years and when asked by someone what she does in her free time, the first thing she mentions is horseback riding. She is involved with a few other groups that serve individuals with special needs and over the years each of these organizations have made somewhat of a big deal about doing surveys, answering questionnaires regarding "what is your child getting out of his or her association with OUR group?" They want to know what short-term goals we have set for her and have they been met. How about long-term goals for her and have they been met? Give us specific suggestions as to how we can better serve your child (many times our suggestions are ignored) and how has our group enriched your family's quality of life? Our daughter is a perfect example of being involved with a loving, caring group of people simply because she has fun. What's wrong with that as a single motivation? Yes, she has developed independence, overcome early shyness and fears of trying something new; but that pales when compared to just plain having fun and laughing. She considers several of the volunteers at RVR personal friends. When she arrives for her session or when she sees them at another venue she gets enormous pleasure out of being greeted with an enthusiastic "Hi!" It's simple but awfully effective. When she leaves in the evening for her session the last thing I say to her is "Kiss your horse!" She responds with "Oh, geez" which translated means I've said something dumb, but it's a little tradition that we share and tends to set the tone for a fun evening. We wouldn't trade any of it for anything!
Posted by Peggy D. - RVR volunteer on
Volunteering for RVR has been a privilege of mine for over 10 years. My heart is filled with joy & awe each week as I watch our riders blossom over the duration of their sessions. We have riders who have started out non-verbal on week one and have ended up singing the entire lesson by end of their series of classes. Other riders often start out very timid, holding on for “dear life” at the thought of mounting such a huge and powerful animal. By the end of the class series, they are running their “side walker” volunteers' legs off. The spirit and love that permeates each and every gathering of RVR is something I wish everyone on this planet could experience. RVR makes this world a better place for both the people & animals who participate in the program.
Posted by the Milligan Family on
Our daughter has been riding with RVR since 2000. She has changed from hardly being able to sit up on her horse to now sitting upright with minimal assistance from her side walkers. She has melted the hearts of everyone that has ever worked with her. RVR has not only been a blessing for her but for our family as well. RVR has the best volunteers - accepting everyone for who they are, for seeing their potential and not their limitations.
Posted by Sandy W. - RVR volunteer on
Horses are truly special beings. They have the capacity to heal in so many ways. This year will be my 11th year volunteering with RVR. It is my favorite thing to do! RVR is a wonderful organization. Never have I encountered so many amazing people - the riders, the families, the instructors, the board members and all the other volunteers. Over the years I have seen so many almost miraculous transformations with our riders, not only physically but emotionally. This program is truly a blessing to all who participate.
Posted by the Hanson Family on
Our 7 year old daughter says, "I love River Valley Riders. It is so fun to visit the horses and each one is gentle! I feel happy and calm when I am riding. I get to learn new things each week. I wish I could go to River Valley lessons every day!"
As I parent, I see that when she is working with a horse, she puts great effort into slowing down and thinking about her actions. The instructors and volunteers are supportive, kind and knowledgeable. They create an inviting space for her to practice coordination, balance and impulse control. The ratio of support allows her to feel safe while on the horse. She consistently has positive experiences with River Valley Riders. Through this program she is internally motivated to do her best as she practices each skill. The skills she learns in class often carry over into daily life. We are thankful for this unique and incredible program!
Posted by Chad, Susan and Clare on
Our Clare Bear entered this world on April 21, 2014. Her delivery was traumatic, and she lost oxygen to the brain. Clare was six pounds of perfection and we were excited to begin our journey as a family of 3! It would take 2½ years for us to know that on that very same day we had entered the world of Cerebral Palsy (CP).

Clare was struggling to hit developmental milestones like roll, sit, crawl, talk and walk. Everyone would offer words of encouragement and tell us “she’s just doing things at her own pace”, but we knew it was something more. With all the hurdles Clare was experiencing, we began our research. When Clare was 2½ it was confirmed by an MRI that there was brain damage in Clare’s cerebellum, and we received our CP diagnosis.

CP affects muscle tone, movement and motor skills. It hinders the body's ability to move in a coordinated and purposeful way. It can affect other body functions that involve motor skills and muscles such as breathing, eating, talking, bladder and bowel control. CP is often caused by brain damage that occurs before or during a baby's birth. Brain damage can also lead to other issues with vision, hearing, and cognitive delays. CP is a non-progressive disorder that in most cases can be effectively managed with therapy and continued care.

As first-time parents, we went into this chapter without knowing the world of special needs. It’s the biggest challenge we’ve had to face, but with the greatest amount of joy. Everything we’ve experienced has come in steps. Every step makes us a little stronger so that the next hurdle will be a little more bearable.

Today, Clare struggles with global developmental delays, unilateral hearing loss, hypotonia, and is non-verbal. Along with so many other CP warriors, our Clare Bear works hard toward developmental milestones like running, writing, engagement and talking. As Clare gets older her journey gets tougher because her developmental delays and restricted communication are having a greater impact on her quality of life. Clare is in Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapy multiple times a week and has participated with River Valley Riders. In the upcoming months she will receive her 3rd umbilical cord stem cell transplant.

As parents, we are supposed to teach our children how to one day live independently and be self-sufficient in this world. While there is uncertainty that this will be in Clare’s future, we will never give up fighting for this.

National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day is meant to bring awareness to the 764,000+ people that have CP in the US. Clare might have a tougher road than others, but you would never know by the happiness and positivity she shows. She amazes us every day with her will to fight for the quality of life that every child deserves.

In celebration of National Cerebral Palsy Awareness, Shamrocks Irish Nook in St. Paul highlighted Clare’s story and donated $2 to River Valley Riders for every "Country Clare Burger-of the-Month" sold during the month of March 2020!

THANK YOU to Shamrocks Irish Nook, Clare and her family!
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