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Winter 2023-2024 Update

In This Issue:

  • Program Updates about 2024 Participant Registration and Completed Phase 2 Construction
  • Tracey Blake Writes and Performs Original Song Feeling Free with Video by Dan Chinander
  • Booker, the New RVR Therapy Horse and Horse Sponsorship Opportunities
  • Round-Up Gala and Volunteer Training Updates and Save the Dates

Message from Cheryl Holt, Executive Director

Hello All,

I am so proud of our organization, and everyone involved – our supporters, board of directors, staff, volunteers, participants, and our horses!  We have had a most exciting 2023!

We keep our mission in the forefront of all we do.  Our mission is to create a supportive community where people with special needs connect with horses and experience life-changing benefits.  We continue to honor our mission by providing programming involving wonderful horses, both for riding and carriage driving.

We offered lessons to ~150 participants this year, the MOST EVER for RVR, utilizing ~200 volunteers, 10 PATH Intl. certified instructors and 28 horses!   All of these riders were able to feel the freedom of riding and driving.  But there were still ~35 people left on our wait list!  There is much demand for this type of programming, and we are the only PATH Intl. program in Ramsey and Washington counties.   RVR also offers therapeutic carriage driving as an alternative to riding. RVR is the only PATH Intl. program in our 4-state region with this service.

We served people with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, developmental delay, genetic disorders, and many other diagnoses.  Our age range for participants was 4 years old to over 65 years old!

We partnered with RVR instructor and physical therapist Sally DelGiudice to offer Hippotherapy this summer at the Afton site.

We also had a May Township/north metro riding site in 2023, offering riding to 8 participants.

We partnered with several schools this year, serving the greatest number of students. 66 riders participated from three different schools: Waldorf School, Cottage Grove Middle School and Liberty Ridge Elementary School.  

A special congratulations and thanks to Scott Clover as he was awarded the 2023 PATH Intl. Region 6 Equine Caretaker of the Year!  

Xcel Energy employees helped RVR out this year with a workday in early September to help us get ready for our Open House celebration for the completion of Phase 2.  We got a lot accomplished including painting, fertilizing, weeding, mulching plus cleaning the tack and tack building.  

Our RVR Open House was held on September 10th.  The weather was great, we had riding and carriage driving demos, our RVR Board of Directors provided information about our past, present, and future.  About 100 people attended and it was wonderful to introduce RVR to new people.

We continue to build on our dream and provide the means for our participants to feel the freedom of riding and driving! We have completed our Phase 2 build, providing the heated finished viewing room with windows into the arena, indoor bathrooms/storm shelters, an office and small classroom, plus the natural gas and paved driveway and parking lot.  And the important mounting annex that has allowed us to open all the indoor arena for lessons! 

Here are some quotes from our participants and volunteers about the new building:

  • “The new building is incredible. It allows lessons to take place in many types of weather conditions. It is comfortable and spacious. It provides a gathering space for families, staff, volunteers, and riders to visit with one another. This creates a supportive community.”
  • “Offers a place for indoor lessons. Encourages gathering/social interactions. Gives hope on what can be accomplished when people care for others and make efforts to contribute to the community in a positive way. Offers shelter to hold lessons indoors when needed.”

Demonstrating our mission is working, here are some comments directly from our 2023 participants’ families:

  • “When we began our journey at RVR, my daughter was struggling with mental health. Once she started riding, her entire demeanor changed, and she had hope and joy once again. It changed her life for the better from the beginning. Having the RVR experience to look forward to each week helped her through difficult times and assisted her with remembering coping skills. Her anger and sadness have decreased and she is a lot less anxious. RVR changed her life and that extended into our entire family because when she’s happier, we are too. RVR was the answer to our prayers.”
  • “Words cannot express our gratefulness for the RVR program. My daughter's favorite part of her week is coming to her class. She gets so excited to tell me what she is working on. She is building confidence and independence through the skills she practices at RVR. This year she is trying more challenging tasks at school, rather than assuming she can't do something. Also, the horses keep her alert and focused. She loves the humorous nature that the horses surprise her with each week. She loved it when one of the larger horses would look back at her each week and decide to tip-toe so gently with her. She and each horse seem to build a symbiotic relationship and take care of one another.  My daughter feels safe and attached to the teachers, volunteers, and riders in the program. We truly think of RVR as "family." We are incredibly thankful for every aspect of this amazing program."

I know 2024 will be another exciting year and we are already starting preparations!  Sending all of you best wishes for health, happiness and love for the New Year!  

Warm regards,  


Round-Up Gala

On Saturday, November 18, 2023, 167 friends of RVR gathered together at the DoubleTree by Hilton Saint Paul East in celebration of our riders and drivers!  The evening began with a social hour with blues/R&B/soul music by Tom Burnevik's TomTyme, our silent auction, fun games and a video featuring several of our riders sharing their "I Ride Because..." stories . Following dinner our MC Jim Detmar sang an entertaining song with cameos by Miss Pickles and Arvid (virtually).  RVR Executive Director, Cheryl Holt shared inspiring stories of our riders and exciting program updates.  The live auction was spirited and entertaining.  A beautiful video produced by Dan Chinander featured the original song "Feeling Free" by Tracey Blake.  RVR's riders highlighted in the video, the heart-touching lyrics and uplifting music inspired $67,143 to be donated by our very generous RVR families and friends in support of our mission.

The silent, premier, and live auctions raised $13,011 thanks to the generosity of individuals and local businesses - see the full list of event supporters! We are grateful to Stagetime ProductionsAV For You, and ClickBid for the audio/visual/auction assistance.

The 2024 Round-Up Gala will be on Saturday, November 23rd.  Please save the date!


Meet RVR Therapy Horse, Booker and
Learn About Our New Sponsor-A-Horse Opportunity!

Booker joined the RVR herd in September 2023. He is a 16-year old draft cross (Dales pony x Percheron x Thoroughbred).  Booker has over 10 years experience riding and driving so he started helping with lessons during Fall Session.

Booker lives up to the description of the Dales pony breed: "With tremendous stamina, an iron constitution, high courage and great intelligence, combined with a calm temperament, the Dales pony is an excellent riding, driving, and working pony."

For more information about Dales ponies.

For more information about Percherons.

For more information about Thoroughbreds.

RVR also owns Arvid, a 22-year-old Norwegian Fjord horse who has been a riding and driving lesson partner with RVR since 2013. For more information about Norwegian Fjord horses.

Booker and Arvid's expenses for hay, feed, veterinary care and farrier services cost about $5,000 each per year.

Twenty-six other horses have also participated in our lessons in 2023: Annie, Bandit, Berit, Blue, Cherry, Cody, Dancer, Frost, Grady, Hero, Kokomo, Leo (Afton), Leo (May Township), Lightning, Luna, Miss Pickles, Mister, Moo, Nick, Rahji, Romeo, Shi-Dee, Shiner, Sky, Tanner, and Winston. These volunteer horses and their dedicated owners help reduce River Valley Riders' horse-related expenses, with annual costs averaging $500 per horse.

To help with these expenses, we ask for your help supporting our new Sponsor-A-Horse program. Sustainable monthly giving is the type of support that helps throughout the year to keep our horses well-fed, happy and healthy! Donors will receive a photo of their sponsored therapy horse.

Please note: Sponsorships are not exclusive, meaning that more than one donor can sponsor a horse at a time. All funds received will be used solely to support our herd of wonderful horses. We truly appreciate all your support!


2024 Program Update

We are looking forward to a wonderful 2024 program season.  Lessons are planned to begin on April 15th through October 31st, 2024, 26 weeks of riding.  All programming will be at our Afton lesson site.  We will again divide the program into 3 sessions.  Spring (8 weeks); Summer (10 weeks); Fall (8 weeks).  Our lesson fees for 2024 will be as follows:  Group lessons $60.00 per 45-minute lesson; Private lessons $85.00 per 60-minute lesson; and Carriage Driving lessons $70.00 per 45-minute lesson.

We have some changes to the registration process, so please read on to be fully informed. 

River Valley Riders’ 2024 registration started with an early registration option for those who were in the 2023 program.  They have until January 12, 2024, to get the registration form, registration fee and deposit mailed to RVR.  

Then, in February we will have open registration to fill any spots remaining and to get people on the wait list.  This registration process will be on a first come, first served basis, returning the forms to RVR through the US Postal service. We plan to email the registration forms out, as well as post the form on our website, on February 5, 2024.  Please print, complete, and mail it to River Valley Riders, 8362 Tamarack Village, Suite 119-440, Woodbury, MN  55125.  Note: This is a mail box in the UPS store, so not an office with RVR staff.  

These registrations will need to include the nonrefundable administrative fee per participant.  This year that cost is $50.00. This payment must accompany the registration form, or the registration will not be considered for the program.

Helmets are required for all riders and drivers. We have a pool of helmets that will be shared by participants.  Riders and drivers will not have a specific helmet individually assigned to them.  If this is not acceptable to you, please purchase a personal helmet to use for the program.  Helmets are required to be ASTM-SEI approved and no more than 5 years old.  NO BIKE HELMETS.


2024 Volunteer Training
Saturday, April 6th

  • Morning Zoom meeting and afternoon hands-on training is mandatory for all new volunteers.

  • The afternoon hands-on training is mandatory for returning volunteers who were trained May-October 2023.

  • Returning volunteers are welcome to join us for the afternoon hands-on training as a refresher.

Our season-starting training day on Saturday, April 6th, 2024, will be a great introduction to the fun and responsibility of RVR volunteering. 

For brand new volunteers, the day will begin in your home with a Zoom session from 9:00am to 10:30am. We will be reviewing the 2024 Volunteer Handbook and sharing information about the most common diagnoses/disabilities of our participants and how to best support them to achieve their goals. 

The afternoon in-person training will start at 1:00pm at our Afton lesson site (2007 Neal Avenue South) for hands-on experience with our horses, ending at 4:30pm.  This afternoon session is mandatory for new volunteers and returning volunteers who were trained May-October 2023. 

Lessons will start at our Afton lesson site the week of April 15th.

Returning volunteers are encouraged to attend the afternoon training session as a continuing education opportunity, especially those who would like to be evaluated as horse leaders.

Please mark your calendars with these important dates!  More information will be sent in February/March.  Hope to see you in the Spring!


Attention Horse Owners

RVR is looking for additional volunteer horses on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings. We need people who are willing to share their calm and quiet horse(s) with RVR. This includes trailering them to and from our Afton site on the evening you choose to volunteer. 

If you have a horse that you think could work for the program (or know of a horse), please email us or call 651-439-2558 and leave a message. This call could give more riders the opportunity to participate and receive the benefits of therapeutic riding!


We are grateful for everyone who supports the RVR Family with your generosity and service!  It's not too late to help our participants and horses!  Donate online or mail your gift to: River Valley Riders, 8362 Tamarack Village, Suite 119-440, Woodbury, MN 55125. 


River Valley Riders
8362 Tamarack Village, Suite 119-440  Woodbury, Minnesota  55125
www.rivervalleyriders.org | 651-439-2558 | info@rivervalleyriders.org

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River Valley Riders (EIN# 41-1949447) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with support from individuals, foundations and corporations.  Your financial donation directly benefits the children and families served by River Valley Riders.  All donations are tax-deductible as allowed by law.  Financial statements will be provided upon request.

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