Exceptional Equestrians therapeutic programs help more than 100 families

DE PERE, Wi. (WBAY) - A De Pere nonprofit has spent decades helping others through therapy with horses. Its services can address physical, cognitive, and emotional needs their clients may have.

"It's awesome,” said Debbie Jones.

Jones loves seeing the impact Exceptional Equestrians has made on her five-year-old granddaughter Chloe, who participates in some of the services the group offers.

“Some of the skills they teach develop her problem solving skills, her alphabet, her language in general," said Jones. "I'm impressed that they would do so much for Chloe and other boys and girls."

The equine therapy nonprofit started in 1999. It offers hippotherapy, adaptive riding, and equine-assisted learning to children and adults.

"I may have started working out more with children with cerebral palsy and more physical challenges, we are now expanded into sensory issues as you might see with autism,” said Executive Director Lisa Kafka. “We're also working with depression and anxiety and trauma based issues."

The clientele has expanded, too.

"I began with a single horse and maybe four or five riders,” said Kafka. “We today see over 108 families per week."

Kafka believes their clientele spans multiple counties not just because of the specially trained horses, but because of their unique focus.

"We are providing a medical service,” said Kafka. “We have occupational therapy and physical therapy, those are our staff, and so we are looking at individual functional outcome."

But it’s a struggle to maintain funding with certified therapy staff and all the care the horses require.

"Fundraising and support from the community is huge, and without that we would not be able to function,” said Kafka.

Exceptional Equestrians Board of Directors member Nancy Jacobe has been involved with the organization for years. Though it can be difficult to find the money needed – Jacobe says the effort is worth it.

"These children, they just pull out your heart. I mean to see how happy they are when they're here, it's got to make every parent feel much, much better," said Jacobe.

"I see people stand up taller because they're proud of themselves,” said Kafka. “So to actually be able to see them be happy and share in that is part of what makes this job so great."

For the clients and their families – it means everything.

"I really can't tell you how much we appreciate it,” said Jones. “For Chloe and for all of us."

To learn more about Exceptional Equestrians, visit its website or Facebook page.