Changing Gaits changes lives
Kaylin Peysar tentatively lifts her leg over the saddle before securing her feet in the stirrups.
Safely in position on the horse, she looks up, her face spreading into a big grin.
Four years earlier, the 20-year-old special education student from Mora High School was too afraid to approach horses, let alone ride them. But thanks to equine-assisted therapy treatment at Changing Gaits, Inc., Peysar—who goes by “Kay-Kay”—has built the confidence to do just that, and much more.
“The reward for me is seeing people recover,” said Changing Gaits Founder and Executive Director Guy Kaufman. “Seeing their smiling faces.”
Changing Gaits invites the public to a pig roast fundraiser on Saturday, Oct. 6, to help the nonprofit, faith-based organization continue changing lives. The event is 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the ranch, located at 27274 Monument Road in Brook Park, Minn. At $10 a plate, come out to enjoy face painting, trail rides, a silent auction and more.
In 2001, Kaufman opened the stable doors of Changing Gaits, combining his love for horses and his background in horse training with his passion for helping people. With the opening of Changing Gaits, Guy, a certified equine specialist, helped bring the field of equine-assisted therapy to Minnesota.
Changing Gaits recently went through a struggle to secure the property. Most of the work is done by volunteers, with the main source of income from the eight-man sober house on the property. The rest of the funding comes mostly from donations, which is why the organization is seeking the community’s support.
Kaufman said he doesn’t turn anyone away if they can’t afford the services, so Changing Gaits relies on donations to keep running.
The men in the sober house spend part of their time caring for the horses and participate in Equine-Assisted Addiction Services (EAAS), an emerging field in which horses are used as a tool for emotional growth and learning.
Open to people of all ages, Changing Gaits teaches and encourages positive attitudes, behavior modification and life skills by using a therapeutic approach through horses, not only for substance abuse, but also for those needing social interaction, or help improving anger management, communication, self-esteem, teamwork and more.
It’s a collaborative effort between a Licensed Alcohol & Drug Counselor (LADC) or a licensed counselor and an equine specialist who work together to design sessions that require the client to apply certain skills while participating in activities with the horse, primarily on the ground.
“The horse represents the issue that they struggle with,” Kaufman said. “The horse is big, powerful and strong and could be their addiction or low self-esteem or anger issues. We’re teaching them to be free from whatever they’re struggling with.”
Having been through the process of being healed from an addiction, Kaufman knows what it’s like on both sides of the saddle and he wants to help others break free as well.
He demonstrated with volunteer Bruce Lilleberg and the horse Dozer. Placing four poles flat on the ground in a square, Kaufman set a bowl full of grain that horses love in the center.
Kaufman gave Lilleberg, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, the task of keeping Dozer from entering the square.
“What does the horse represent for you?” Kaufman asked him. “Identify what you’re struggling with, what obstacles in your life keep you from being emotionally healthy and happy.”
For instance, the grain may represent a family value, while the horse represents depression—Lilleberg must overcome depression to preserve the value.
“The horse—or the addiction—is going to want to devour the family value,” Kaufman said. “But the rules are really simple. The horse can’t go inside the square and neither can the person, so they have to learn to control whatever the addiction or issue is.”
That’s just one of the more than 200 equine-assisted therapy exercises that provide metaphors to use when dealing with other challenging situations in life.
Kaufman said he dedicated his life to serving God through his work and adds a spiritual component to therapy for those interested. Sober house resident manager Justin Kruckman said Changing Gaits helped him recover when no other substance abuse treatment could.
“It saved my life,” he said. “I’ve been through 20 treatments for drinking and I’ve been trying to quit for nine years.”
After hearing about the organization last winter, he decided to try it, and the sober house ended up being the perfect fit.
“I needed a change of pace and I needed to find God,” Kruckman said. “It’s everything that I’d been missing. Guy’s wonderful. He’s been my mentor and friend.”
Terrie Brasch from Cambridge said her 7-year-old son Laiken has benefited from equine-assisted therapy.
Laiken has ADHD and a genetic illness called related metabolic syndrome that affects major organs. Brasch said he has anger issues because of the problems he deals with, but as soon as he started visiting Changing Gaits, it made a huge difference.
“My son has come a long way since he’s been going there,” she said. “It’s helped him calm down a lot, and he learns how to deal with stuff. He’s only 7 and he loves it there. It makes him feel important because he goes there to volunteer, too.”
Brasch said she wishes she had found out about the organization sooner and encourages people of all ages to check it out.
As for the special education students who come through the program, they learn to work on a team, build confidence, and learn to work for a reward.
“It helps teach the kids they have to work for something,” Mora High School special education paraprofessional Kim Olson said. “We’re a transition program, meaning we teach the kids how to go into real life. This experience is wonderful because they don’t just come and ride, they have to work for it.”
Before getting on her horse, Kay-Kay and her classmates shoveled hay into wheelbarrows to feed the horses. During the school year, they visit Changing Gaits once a week.
“I’m surprised more schools don’t do it. It makes a huge difference,” Olson said. “When I first started coming here four years ago, Kay-Kay wouldn’t get on a horse. And then she would only sit on it, and now she really loves it.”
Visit Changing Gaits at 27274 Monument Road in Brook Park, Minn., for the pig roast fundraiser, trail rides and more on Saturday, Oct. 6, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, call the office at 320-438-4001, call Guy Kaufman at 651-324-8299 or visit www.changinggaits.org.
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