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Stepping Stone Farm, located in Genessee, WI, provides therapy infused horse riding.

Stepping Stone Farm trots riding therapy into Milwaukee

There are those who make the occasional monetary donation to give back to the community and those who give their life, time and ambition. Lia Sader, owner of Stepping Stones Farm, sacrifices even a personal salary to give at-risk youth and returning veterans the opportunity to heal with riding.

A certified therapist, Sader spent the last 13 years as a professional farrier. In 2005, she created Stepping Stone Farm, as a place to combine horse riding and care with individual therapy for youths and adults. The Farm, S53W29914 Holiday Rd., received non-profit status in early-2008.

As the farm's sole employee, she maintains care of the horses and stable as well as provides one on one riding, animal care and horsemanship lessons for clients on the farm.

"We get a certain number of referrals but a certain number of people, particularly veterans, really search me out on their own because they're interested in riding," Sader says.

Sader's work with veterans is part of an emerging "Veterans Program" created to service newly returning men and women as well as vets from previous wars.

"So far the demand has really been for riding, and so most of the individuals I've worked with are pretty able-bodied. But we're set to work with veterans of all capabilities," Sader says.

In the past, Stepping Stone Farm has worked with youth referrals from the Boys and Girls Club in Milwaukee, the Center for Teaching Entrepreneurship and is looking at a possible partnership with Milwaukee's House of Love.

Teens Riding out Trouble (TROT) is a program Sader runs to help middle school and high school kids find motivation, self-esteem and purpose through horse riding and care.

"I get a lot of parents who approach me with concerns about their kids. Sometimes when children start acting out, riding is a great way for them to receive therapy in more a volunteer context," Sader says.

The result? Sader believes the therapy's most lasting affect is the calm and ease rushing over individuals when they're on the farm.

"I have a group that comes from Waukesha West High School and their response was that they were so much more in touch with their feelings. Horses are not going to judge them for being different or not having the right clothes or coming from the wrong neighborhood. A few of my horses have obvious scars because they were donated and I think that really speaks to the kids. They see that these horses still have value and kids can really identify with that," Sader says.

Sader grew up in Milwaukee, and although not a country girl, she and a friend saved for trail rides every chance they could. As an adult, she's worked on several farms throughout northern Wisconsin and was boarding a horse at her current barn when it became available to rent. Looking for something more, she assumed the manager role of the facility.

"I do believe in the old "If not now, when? If not you, who?" saying. People are so quick to condemn and complain about youth and the inner city but kids only know how they're raised. They don't know there's a whole other world out there and things they can do and jobs they can get to open up opportunity for them," Sader says.

Upcoming events with Stepping Stone Farms include a benefit dinner at Meritage, 5921 W. Vliet St., on March 31 and a "Veteran's Open House" on April 26. Reservations for the benefit dinner can be made by calling Meritage at (414) 479-0620.


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