Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center expanding to Redmond

Four-year-old Magnus (last name withheld) rides a horse for hippotherapy as, from left, volunteer Mary Miller, occupational therapist Sarah Niwa and Shannon Shields assist at Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center in Woodinville on Tuesday. - Chad Coleman, Redmond Reporter
Four-year-old Magnus (last name withheld) rides a horse for hippotherapy as, from left, volunteer Mary Miller, occupational therapist Sarah Niwa and Shannon Shields assist at Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center in Woodinville on Tuesday.
— image credit: Chad Coleman, Redmond Reporter

Since 1976, Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center has been helping people with physical and cognitive disabilities get back on that horse and make their everyday lives easier.

And beginning January 2012, the Woodinville-based organization will expand its services to Dunmire Stables in Redmond at 18669 N.E. 106 St.

Little Bit currently serves more than 230 riders and once the two phases of construction are complete on the 17-plus acres of land in Redmond, Executive Director Kathy Alm said they will be able to double their capacity.

The first phase of construction — a welcome center and an existing, upgraded indoor arena — is already complete, which allows Little Bit to bring 12 classes with a total of 36 riders to Redmond.

"We're going to be limited because we only have one bathroom until we complete phase two," Alm said. "Our hope is to build phase two next year."Phase two will include an outdoor covered arena, a quarter-mile race track that can be used to exercise horses when they are not working and therapy rooms for in-room therapy (plans above). Alm said the latter would allow Little Bit to be a full-treatment facility.

Alm said the cost to complete both phases of construction is about $11 million and they have raised $8.7 million. The nonprofit is currently trying to raise $250,000 by the end of the year as part of a Murdock Foundation challenge grant. If they reach this goal, the Murdock Foundation will match that amount. Little Bit still has about $50,000 to raise.

According to its website, Little Bit began after Margaret Dunlap teamed up with riding instructor Debra Powell Adams at Woodinville Riding Club. The two women realized horseback riding stalled the process of Dunlap's multiple sclerosis (MS) and they decided to start a therapeutic horseback riding program.

Events and partnership manager Colleen Shelby said Little Bit began with five riders. Now, in addition to its current riders, the program has a wait list of more than 250. Shelby said it could take up to two years before these individuals can receive services because patients don't age out of their program. She said the age range they serve is from 2 and a half to 65 years old.


Shelby said Little Bit has two flagship programs: hippotherapy and adaptive riding.

In hippotherapy, the patient is on the horse, but they are not learning how to ride. Instead, they are receiving therapy from a medical professional — usually a physical, occupational or speech therapist.

Shelby said hippotherapy patients are usually younger children and the physical activities on the horse include playing catch and stretching as ways to strengthen and lengthen their muscles.

"Ultimately, the goal is to help the riders with physical activities such as crawling, sitting and even walking," Shelby said.

Adaptive riding is a riding skill-based class with PATH-certified (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) instructors. In addition to receiving the same physical benefits as hippotherapy patients, adaptive riding patients also gain a sense of responsibility for their horse and social skills from interacting with other riders, instructors and volunteers in their class.

"They're learning things such as cause and effect and how to wait their turn," Shelby said.

Kirkland resident Beth Angelo's son Eric (right), who has Down Syndrome, began at Little Bit about 10 years ago when he was 6. He began with hippotherapy for a few years.

"The change was wonderful to behold," Beth said. "He graduated to a therapeutic riding class and hasn't stopped since."

Now 16 and a junior in high school, Beth said her son, who had very low muscle tone when he was younger and didn't walk until he was 3, "went from not being able to sit up on the horse all those years ago to having a beautiful 'seat,'" which refers to a rider's posture on their horse. Beth added that Eric has participated in numerous horse shows and Little Bit summer camps and is one of two riders to represent Little Bit at the Emerald Downs race track during the past eight years.


Beth said Little Bit has helped Eric grow both physically and emotionally and she credits the people who keep the organization running — both the staff and volunteers.

"The bonds that Eric has made with the people and horses at Little Bit has been amazing," she said. "We are so thrilled that Little Bit is expanding so that more people with disabilities will have the same opportunity to experience the magic of being on horse that Eric has felt."

Shelby said Little Bit has more than 350 volunteers and they really make things happen — helping with tacking, grooming, feeding and preparing horses as well as lending a hand with events, around the grounds, cleaning, administrative duties and more.

"Our volunteers literally do so much," she said.

Kirkland resident Tanya Randall, a volunteer captain, has been with Little Bit for about 10 years and like Beth, said the people are what really make the experience.

"The most amazing and impressive people are here," Randall said. "Just wonderful, wonderful people. Giving people."

During her tenure, Randall has helped with events, training new volunteers and worked with the horses. She has also assisted during hippotherapy sessions and said she enjoys seeing all the progress riders make — even the smallest step. She said she may be one tiny cog in a wheel that requires 1,400 cogs to move, but it's worth it.

"It's just meaningful work," she said.

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