Quality of Life Spotlight: ​Changing Gaits, Inc.

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on May 20, 2022 # Quality of Life

Changing GaitsGuy Kaufman’s life changed the day he met Shadow. At the time, Kaufman was a recovering alcoholic working to rebuild his life after his marriage ended. The deep bond Kaufman formed with the Arabian quarter horse inspired him to start Changing Gaits, an 80-acre working horse ranch in rural Minnesota focused on equine therapy.

“Horses can have an incredible impact on us. They help us with self-esteem, self-empowerment, self-awareness, self-control, and most importantly, horses give us happiness,” says Kaufman, who used all this investment and retirement savings to purchase the ranch. “Shadow taught me so much about myself, and I wanted to share that opportunity with others.”

Located an hour and a half north of the Twin Cities, Changing Gaits opened in 2004 with faith-based programs focused on supporting a sober living community and working with troubled Minnesota teens. Several years ago, Kaufman began offering equine therapy to individuals with special needs, but the program wasn’t well equipped to help people with mobility challenges.

“I started the program to give back to those in need,” says Kaufman. “Our horses help people heal and change their lives. It is amazing what horses can do for us, and I wanted to make that experience available to those living with a disability.”

In 2021, Changing Gaits received a $24,785 Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Quality of Life grant for the “Moving Forward Equine Therapy Program” to support the purchase of much-need transfer and riding safety equipment.

lift for horses

The funds enabled Kaufman to purchase and install a Sure Hands Lift to transfer a rider onto a horse securely. He also bought a Freedom Rider Therapeutic Saddle, two Freedom Rider Body Protectors and an Independence Saddle with adjustable and removable headrest, backrest, forearm supports, hand grips, safety irons and a safety release system.

In addition, grant support enabled the purchase of a Hippolib, an educational saddle for people with disabilities, and a riding bolster, riding harness and gait belt. Once the equipment was received, Kaufman began to train five of the ranch’s more than 40 horses to work with the lift and the new saddles, which can be noisier than traditional saddles. Changing Gaits was also recently gifted a blind quarter horse named Mushu. Once trained, the five-year-old horse will offer riders the opportunity to do equine therapy with a special needs horse.

“We have spent over 50 hours training Image and Maggie Mau, our two lead therapy horses, as well as three additional backup horses. Countless additional hours have been spent training volunteers to support our riders,” says Kaufman. “We have two side walkers at all times alongside the horse who monitor client safety. They watch for sitting correctly in the saddle, balance, signs of fatigue, facial recognition for stress and keeping the client relaxed.”

In July, a rider with special needs received the ranch’s first therapy ride using the new equipment. It was her first time riding a horse, and it took 45 minutes to gain the rider’s trust and get her in the saddle. That rider has returned six times, and it now takes only 15 minutes for her to mount the horse.

The parent of a rider living with paralysis noted, “That initial experience at Changing Gaits changed my daughter’s whole outlook in life . . . we could not be more pleased to hear their program for people with disabilities is expanding [with the new equipment].”

For Kaufman, there is no greater joy than the smile on a person’s face the first time they ride a horse.

“There is a saying we have at Changing Gaits: we can only keep what we have by giving it away,” says Kaufman. “It is incredible to see the hope that lights up on a rider’s face. It makes your day, and it is by far the best thing we do.”

program at changing gaitsThis year, Changing Gaits clocked 38 riding hours for people living with paralysis before the cold Minnesota winter weather ended the riding season. To date, the program has served 16 clients living with paralysis and indirectly impacted 41 family members and caregivers. Many riders reported improved balance, muscle strength and posture. Others noted a better quality of life, improved self-confidence and range of motion and less fatigue. The grant funds also provide scholarships for individuals living with paralysis with limited resources. At some point, Kaufman hopes to offer all therapy lessons at no fee.

“You go through a gate to see what is on the other side,” says Kaufman, noting the organization’s name as a play on a physical gate and the gait of an animal’s pace. “We are all on different pages, and we need to meet people where they are at. I can’t thank the Reeve Foundation enough for the opportunity to be able to do this in a far safer and easier way that gives more people the chance to participate.”

Many area residents have learned about the program through Changing Gaits’ collaboration with seven local nonprofits and through TV and radio stories that highlight the ranch’s services. Kaufman plans to continue to meet with organizations that may have connections to people living with paralysis who could benefit from equine therapy.

“I’m so excited to have an adaptive program now, which wouldn’t be possible without the Reeve Foundation support,” says Kaufman. “I think there should be ten more Changing Gaits around to give even more people access to equine therapy. We would love to double or triple our program in the coming years, and I am extremely grateful to the Reeve Foundation.”

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.