Horse riding therapy changes lives for veterans and people with disabilities in the South Bay

MORGAN HILL, Calif. (KGO) -- Landa Keirstead believes that horses are a way to save lives for those in need in Morgan Hill, Calif. and the greater Bay Area.

She moved around a lot as a child of a military father, but developed a love for horses early on.

This is where her idea for the One Step Closer therapeutic riding center was born.

"Our adaptive riding program started in 2006," Landa said. "Our program serves children and adults with disabilities and U.S. Veterans. We serve over 20 riders a week and have served over 1,000 veterans on-site since we started the veterans program five years ago."

The program began with one rider and one horse and grew into what it is today with a dozen horses and dozens of volunteers.

As a Path International Premiere riding location, One Step Closer is held to the highest standards of other top therapy riding camps across the country.

Riders with disabilities from ages four on up and veterans from the South Bay Area, including San Jose, Menlo Park and Palo Alto all find benefit from the unique training that One Step Closer has to offer.

"Many of these riders would be turned down in an able-bodied riding facility," Landa said. "We open the doors for them to come here where it's safe and our horses are trained and we teach them how to ride."

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The classes consist of many different things than just riding.

As the riders take part in the lesson, they are given cognitive tasks that help them grow as riders, students and people.

"It's made a huge difference," Wendy Driesen said. "My son is 7 and has fragile X syndrome and also has autism. Doing the adaptive lessons has really improved his focus in learning. He's talking more and it has really helped with language and speech development. It's been great."

One Step Closer has even been known to even produce life-changing results.

"To have a veteran come up to you and say that if it wasn't for this program, he wouldn't be alive today, is pretty amazing thing to hear," Mark Keirstead said. "Our greater goal here is to help people be more successful in life, whether that's children in school or veterans. We get to do it in a really fun way."

More than 50 volunteers help Landa and her husband, Mark Keirstead, continue this therapy for people in the community.

The Keirstead's say that they are a huge part of the success of the program.

For the volunteers, they say the success comes from seeing the difference made in the riders.

"Over the years, I get to see the kind of transformation from when they first started riding and what they can do now," Carol Murray said. "It's amazing."

Carol Murray has been volunteering for seven years.

She comes back because she says it's the right thing to do.

"I think that we can never do too much for other people," Murray said. "I think that when we have the opportunity to help others and we're in position to do that, we should."

Driesen is one of the thousands of parents to benefit from these ideals.

Without the program, she's not sure what her son would do.

"I'm glad that something like this exists," Driesen said. "I think that it's great for kids to have this opportunity. I would miss it if we didn't get to do it. I know my son would miss it, he looks forward to it every week. It's amazing what horses can do for people."

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The Keirstead's created the program when they became "empty-nesters".

While they realize they can't continue to run the program forever, they hope the work they are doing will continue with others down the road to help build a better community and world.

"I feel and strongly believe that it's important to build a better Bay Area through One Step closer because I feel like in this world right now, there seems to be a lot of taking and not a lot of sharing of our skills and talents," Landa said." I love sharing my love of horses with this community and they give me so much back. At this point in my life, I want to do something to help this community and be more purposeful."

To learn more about One Step Closer or to sign-up for a class, visit their website here.
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