Rising from the Ashes

Despite the devastating impact of multiple wildfires over the years, this therapeutic riding center persevered and continues to give back to the community.

Photos courtesy of Equi-Ed.

Therapeutic riding centers make a difference in the lives of many. Thanks to the tireless and passionate work of staff, volunteers, and horses, these centers are where equestrians with disabilities take first steps and speak first words. It’s where emotional connections are forged, and where limits are left in the arena dirt. 

To help shine a spotlight on the incredible work done by therapeutic riding centers, Hope in the Saddle, along with prize sponsors Nutrena® and Tractor Supply Co., host multiple contests throughout the year to recognize these organizations. The 2022 winner of the Tack Room Makeover contest was Equi-Ed, a therapeutic equestrian program in Santa Rosa, California. Katie Moore nominates Equi-Ed, who helps house Equi-Ed’s displaced by therapy horses during wildfires.

A painted Equi-Ed therapy horse displays an uplifting message while the community rallies in the wake of multiple wildfires.

Here’s what Moore had to say about the program: 

“On October 8, 2017, a massive wind-driven wildfire called the Tubbs Fire swept through Santa Rosa, California. In just a few short hours of horror and chaos, thousands of homes were destroyed. Some 23 people lost their lives. In the fire’s path was a much-loved therapeutic riding program called Equi-Ed, a fixture in the community since 1993.

An Unforgettable Night

On that horrible night, Equi-Ed somehow managed to get most of their program horses out through the wall of flames. They made it safety to my stables. Their entire ranch burned, destroying several homes on the property as well as fencing and pastures. Miraculously, their barn survived the fire. No small feat considering the flames scorched right up to the walls of an old wood barn. And a stroke of luck for the four equines they couldn’t get out in time— they survived unscathed despite all their fencing burning.

Coordinating all this was founder and director Maxine Freitas, who has led the program since its inception. Ms. Freitas coordinated the entire evacuation while she stood—in her pajamas—in the middle of a vineyard, watching her own home burn to the ground. She lost her retired horse that night to the flames as well—the fire moved so fast, she was unable to reach him in time. And yet this amazing woman stayed calm and focused on desperate calls and texts to try to get her beloved program horses to safety.

In the years since 2017, Equi-Ed’s program horses have come to my farm in more orderly evacuations an additional five times (2017, 2019, and three times in 2020). During the 2019 Kincade Fire, their home ranch was once again threatened. These lengthy disruptions in the program have been hard on this little organization, and it has impacted their ability to fundraise to support the therapeutic riding they offer. This is no glitzy, high-end non-profit. They work hard for every donor dollar that comes in, all the while providing a high level of care for their 10 horses.

A Long Month

After the 2017 Tubbs Fire, Equi-Ed was able to bring their horses home after a long month of evacuation. They went right back to offering the life-changing programs they provide for disabled children and adults. But as they settle back into their new normal, they realize there is a legion of heavily traumatized Sonoma County children who had fled for their lives as well. Equi-Ed responded by offering free therapeutic horse programs for children who lost their homes to the fire. These programs continued for months and made a big difference in the recovery of dozens
of children.

I am nominating Equi-Ed because they have been hit by wildfires and are persevering in the face of staggering losses. They contribute so much to their community and the people they serve. They have changed many lives for the better through their efforts, through thick and thin.” —Katie Moore

Read More: Cupid–The Only White in a Sea of Mud

Clockwise from top: The Tubbs Fire scorched Equi-Ed’s pastures; Children who lost their homes to wildfires participate in no-cost Equi-Ed programs; A program participant shares a special moment with an Equi-Ed therapy horse. Inset: Signs show support for Northern California communities affected by wildfire.

Equi-Ed

Equi-Ed has been enhancing lives through the therapeutic power of the horse in Sonoma and Napa (California) counties since 1993. They offer year-round programs in riding and horsemanship—each specially designed to enhance the therapeutic, social, and educational benefits that equine-assisted activities has to offer individuals. Learn more about Equi-Ed at equi-ed.org.

Equi-Ed was the winner of Hope in the Saddle’s 2022 Tack Room Makeover contest, for which they received a prize package from Nutrena® and Tractor Supply Co.!


Hope in the Saddle

This content is provided by Hope in the Saddle, a program dedicated to sharing some of the most meaningful and important stories to emerge from the equestrian world: stories of how our relationships with horses can help us overcome life’s toughest challenges. Read more stories of hope and healing through horses at hopeinthesaddle.com.

Hope in the Saddle would not be possible without the support of Nutrena Feed and Tractor Supply Co. Thank you for helping our horses feel their best so they can help us feel our best. 

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