Give Back: Partners for Progress, NFP Therapeutic Riding Center

Give Back

The Little Lake County Gives Back program is a community outreach effort to connect not-for-profit organizations with our readers.

Partners for Progress NFP

Before I set out to visit Partners for Progress, I thought Equine–or Hippotherapy–was basically like the comfort dogs that visit hospitals and disaster sites. I expected to see horses interacting with people for the benefit of having a non-judgmental living animal to comfort them. I had no idea how it really worked or how successful it was at changing people’s lives. One hour later,  I am still in awe at all that Partners for Progress does and the successes they have seen.

Partners for Progress
image property of Partners For Progress

Partners for Progress {PFP} is a therapeutic riding center, meaning it is not recreational. Participants aren’t just taking riding lessons but are also receiving traditional therapy–physical, occupational, speech, or mental health–using a horse as a tool. Horses have the same gait as humans, so while riders are on a horse, they experience the same sensory processes as if they were walking. For individuals with low muscle tone or who don’t walk, this experience allows therapists to engage the brain parts that aren’t normally used. Most patients see significant improvement after just a few sessions. Even children as young as 11 months old who are non-walkers can gain muscle tone through the therapies provided.

Partners for Progress sees 200 riders through their doors weekly, ranging in age from 11 months to 60+ years. They treat nearly everyone who contacts them, with the majority being affected with Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Currently, almost 50 percent of their riders are on the autism spectrum.  If someone has an order for therapy, they are evaluated by PFP therapists and placed in a group for individual treatment that is best for them. Each rider is also matched with a horse based upon their needs and the horse’s temperament. While therapy is provided by licensed therapists who volunteer their time to PFP, each rider is also matched with a riding instructor so they get the knowledge and benefit of both a clinician and someone who is skilled with the horse.

Equine Therapy in Lake County, Partners for progress

Having an indoor arena facility means that PFP can hold classes on the hour and the half-hour to have multiple classes running at once. It has also provided a much-needed community to special-needs families. The common room looks out into the arena so parents can watch their children. More importantly, it provides a forum for parents to meet, socialize and bond with someone who understands their unique family needs. Siblings, who may need to tag along, also have room to move, play and make friends.

What makes PFP stand out among other clinical riding programs is that they don’t turn anyone away. If someone cannot afford the cost of services, they offer scholarships and their signature Power Hour Program. The Power Hour allows for group therapy for people who want and would benefit from direct therapy but can’t afford it. Partners for Progress places the groups together based on life skills, ages, and therapy goals. The groups participate in therapy together, adding a social component to the experience.

Every component of PFP’s program is set to help teach the riders life skills as well as help them reach their therapy goals. Riders are expected to participate in every aspect of the lesson, from getting their saddles and gear to helping feed and clean the horses. As soon as a rider is old enough and capable enough, they give back to the program through volunteering hours or working in the riding center. You can see the passion in everyone as you walk through the facility and witness them all pitching in. This all contributes to PFP’s  79 percent success rate for goal achievement.

Partners for Progress Therapeutic Riding

Anyone who has ridden or been around horses knows that they are special animals, but these horses are beyond special. Every horse at Partners for Progress is chosen for a reason; PFP does not accept sick, retired, or rescued horses. All of the horses are specifically chosen for their size and gait. The horses must be able to be consistent at all gaits, and the horses train for 12 months before they can work with the riders. PFP currently has 19 horses, two donkeys, and two mini-horses that are used for therapy. These horses put in over 20,000 therapy hours, not counting their training hours.

In addition to therapy services, PFP also provides sports riding, hosts a Special Olympics riding team, and has had an NSBA show team for six years. This year, after petitioning with other groups for five years, the All American Quarter Horse Congress will have its first-ever special-needs riders.  PFP plans to have riders there.

PFP AWards

Partner for Progress was started in 2005 by Diane Helgeland and has been located at the Wauconda facility since 2011. While they are currently leasing the facility, the hope is to one day buy it and make a permanent home.  This will allow them to expand their services as well as opportunities for their riders. As you can imagine, the cost for care of the horses and the therapies well exceeds what they charge. For example, someone who fundraises can participate in a Power Hour class for $48 ($60 if not fundraising), which only covers one-third of the cost for the lessons. PFP must raise over $500,000 a year to cover all of the costs.


Connect with Partners For Progress
23525 W. Milton Road, Wauconda, Illinois 60084
(formerly known as the Fallen Oaks Equestrian Center)
847-226-1300 | [email protected]  | [email protected]
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Give Back: Partners for Progress, NFP Therapeutic Riding Center
About Melissa Haak 626 Articles
Melissa is mom to 4. She used to dream of traveling the world, now she dreams of a clean kitchen. She can be found on most social media sites as @PBinmyHair because with this much hair and four kids, you're bound to find something in it.

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