Riding Towards Independence-A Look Inside Partners for Progress Therapeutic Riding Facility

Partners for Progress, NFP is our second quarter charity partner as part of our Little Lake County Gives Back program,  a community outreach effort to connect not-for-profit organizations with our readers. For more information on the program, please contact Melissa at [email protected]Partners for Progress Theraputic Riding Center

There are few times in life, you can walk into a place and feel an immediate sense of warmth. When I visited Partners for Progress, a therapeutic riding facility located in Wauconda, that was exactly the way I felt. Upon entering, I was greeted by Executive Director, Diane, and the Director of Community Relations, Anne Margaret, and immediately knew that this would be an experience to share.

Partners for Progress was established in 2005  by Diane Helgeland.  After a family tragedy brought her to a horse farm in Lake Geneva, a chance meeting with a friend started her journey that led her to the facility in Wauconda, and the development of Partners for Progress here in Lake County. Diane grew up on up on a dairy farm and had her own experience with a family member with Downs Syndrome.  With a previous career in special education, she had the knowledge and expertise to develop the sort of program that she knew would be beneficial to the children who needed it most.

Partners for Progress Directors
Executive Director Diane Helgeland and Director of Community Relations Anne Margaret Huffman, showing off one of the prizes for the auction in August.

Currently, Partners for Progress, NFP is a 501(c)(3) organization that provides equine therapy to children with physical, mental and emotional challenges using quality trained horses. This organization sees each child that walks through the door as an individual, and they are given an evaluation to assure a quality placement in the program. The riders are assessed by an Occupational Therapist, a Physical Therapist, and a Speech and Language Therapist. Areas that are deficient are pinpointed in this evaluation, and goals are set with a follow-up scheduled.

This organization specializes in direct treatment, which allows a rider to have therapy with the use of a horse, and Therapeutic Riding, which helps students with goals, and challenges them to move forward with life skills. Many of the riders that walk in the door stay with Partners for Progress for a very long time, averaging about seven years of riding, although some stay even longer! The organization has dedicated families that participate. Riders are not only coming in for therapy, but some even participate in competitive horse shows. Parents become involved and invested in the organization as well, by helping out with show teams, taking a lead in fundraising, and planning special events.

Partners for Progress
© H. Williams | Little Lake County.com | 2015

Partners for Progress puts a lot of emphasis on building life skills. The riding center is clinically focused instead of recreationally focused. They want to help the riders build life skills, that in turn will help these students build job skills. They ride for one whole hour instead of the typical 1/2 hour riding slot. The riders ride inside and outside the facility. Although outside time is limited due to weather, bugs, and kids’ sensitivities, they try to get the kids outside as much as possible because it helps the riders with transition, an important life skill. Also, helping with transition is changing the rider from horse to horse. When riders are old enough, and become more experienced and ready, the instructors expect the students to read the chart to see who they are riding during their session.  The riders are also expected  to come in and assist in getting their own horse ready, including feeding them. This helps with responsibility, job training and executive functioning skills. The riders even wash their own horses  in the wash rack at times, assisting them with sensory integration. With all of these methods and more, Partners for Progress can boast a 79% goal achievement success rate, which means that this percentage of riders have demonstrated moderate or better progress toward their assigned goals. This amazing statistic comes from six years of documented outcome history.

Besides the amazing commitment and dedication by the riders at Partners for Progress, the horses at PFP are a huge asset to the facility. Serving over 225 riders, these horses work harder than one can ever dream. Last year alone, the horses gave over 20,000 hours of therapy! These amazing animals are not just any horses. Horses come to PFP to fill a particular spot/reason in the program. All horses are placed in a conditioning program when they arrive. The horses are treated extremely well, far surpassing the working “life” expectancy seen in some therapeutic riding centers. Most places see their horses lasting about three years helping riders, while horses at Partners for Progress are usually there an average of ten years or more! 

Partners for Progress
© H. Williams | Little Lake County.com | 2015

Not only does the facility take care of their horses, but the riders do too and develop a strong relationship with their horses. The horse and rider take care of each other emotionally.

Since their main focus at PFP is therapy for the rider, they are careful to select horses that can work well with their riders. Diane has specific horses for specific needs and always makes sure her horses and riders are carefully matched together for optimal therapeutic success.  Diane’s love for horses was evident as she led me on a tour, and was able to tell me a little bit about each horse’s personality.

Working together with the horses, volunteers are also a very large part in the success rate of the riders. PFP has 125 volunteers working a minimum of two hours a week to help Partners for Progress be one of the best therapeutic riding facilities. Interested parties can begin volunteering at PFP at the age of 12 and then go through a very important training. Volunteers can do a variety of jobs from assisting riders in the arena, caring for horses, helping with office/clerical work, training horses, and event planning. Besides volunteers, there are many paid employees as well, all working together to make the facility extremely successful and desirable for people searching for therapeutic riding options.

Partners for Progress
© H. Williams | Little Lake County.com | 2015

In order to keep the wonderful services of PFP running, fundraising is a huge part of the organization. Although they host a variety of fundraising events, some are open to the community and worth mentioning. One such fundraiser is the annual “Plop O’ Gold” event. The event is held in March and free of charge for admission, but hosts a chili cook-off and sells chili tasting spoons for a $10 donation. There are also raffles, refreshments, tours, local businesses and a parade of horses included in this event.

Here are their upcoming fundraising events:

  • Benefit Open Horse Show on July 11th and 12th. All proceeds from this go to benefit the show teams.
  • The annual  Denim and Diamonds “Hoe Down” dinner, dance and auction, will be held on August 22-23rd this year. This event is open to the public and has a very large turnout of 500-700 people each year. It is a great way for the facility to try to reach their $750,000 fundraising budget for the year. This event includes things like a buffet dinner, a silent auction, a live auction, and for the first time, a burger throwdown!
  • On September 13th, PFP’s Participant Horse Show and Family Fun Fest will be held from 8-4 where you can come and see the riders show off some of their skills.

Just recently, Little Lake County and Cacao Sweets and Treats partnered together for their philanthropic event “Cupcakes For a Cause” to also raise money for Partners for Progress.

Little Lake County writer Heather Williams handing Executive Director Diane Helgeland a check from our "Cupcakes for a Cause" event.
Little Lake County writer Heather Williams handing Executive Director Diane Helgeland a check from our “Cupcakes for a Cause” event.

Although Partners for Progress has been helping countless individuals for a long time, Director Diane Helgeland still wants to see more. Plans to develop a large chunk of property in the back of the facility are on her “to do” list. She would love to see a sensory trail and a few more pastures come to fruition. That will all come with time and money. The continued support from the PFP families, fundraisers and the community can one day make it happen. In the meantime, people who are a part of PFP have only great things to say about it. Nina Aliprandi, who has a daughter that has been attending the facility for a very long time, says that PFP has made all the difference in her daughter’s ability to walk. She expands on that even more, saying:

My daughter… who just began independent walking at fourteen years old, has been riding at P4Progress since she was two years old. This intervention has made all the difference in strengthening her core. Nothing can replicate the unique movement of a horse. The therapists here know how to position her and analyze her responses to maximize the input her body is receiving. The result is a much stronger body with greater balance. I am forever grateful for the skilled hands and gentle therapy horses at Partners for Progress.

Image from Partners for Progress on Facebook

Another mom, Michelle Thompson, gushes about PFP as well. She has a daughter who attends the facility for very different reasons than Nina’s daughter, but has found complete happiness with the facility as well. She tells us more by saying:

Our experience with Partners for Progress has been outstanding. All of the therapists and volunteers are so warm, supportive, and caring! My daughter feels like she is special there, and loves going weekly even after 4 years!

If you, or someone you know, could benefit from the services that Partners for Progress offers, please contact them directly. They have changed the lives of many, and Diane believes that this is her “forever” job. She loves what she does, and loves the fact that “every child is a puzzle, and I get to have the challenge of helping”. She knows it is all worth it “when you see the differences you make every day in their lives”.  Anne Margaret also finds daily happiness in the work she does. She finds joy in “seeing kids who have the need for hope and then the hope grows bigger and bigger with each accomplishment”.

Amazing facility, talented, giving people, notable progress. Forward moving with goals, forward moving with independence, forward moving with hope.


Partners for Progress
© H. Williams | Little Lake County.com | 2015

Partners for Progress
23525 W. Milton Road, Wauconda
(formerly known as the Fallen Oaks Equestrian Center)
847-226-1300 | [email protected]  | [email protected]
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About Heather 75 Articles
Heather is a busy mom of three who loves exploring Lake County with her kids. When she, her husband and kids are not embarking on new adventures, you will most likely find her cooking and posting some great family friendly recipes at Girl and Her Kitchen.

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