Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Equine center seeks new leader

Therapy program is stable but needs funding

Express Staff Writer

Leslie Benz, development director and board member for Sagebrush Equine Training Center for the Handicapped, is serving as the interim executive director of the program. Photo by Sabina Dana Plasse

The Sagebrush Equine Training Center for the Handicap is just shy of its 20th anniversary, which will take place in 2011. The nonprofit program based north of Hailey serves children and adults with physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioral challenges by providing a form of therapy and recreation through the use of horses.

In September, its executive director for almost 20 years, Kristy Pigeon, decided to retire.

"Being an executive director is very time consuming," Pigeon said. "You're a jack-of-all-trades. One minute you're cleaning stalls and the next minute you're helping with a serious disabled student."

Pigeon said it was time to move on. She was married only three years ago and her husband is retired, and she said she wanted to do other things that include working on her ranch in southern Idaho.

"I am pursuing wildlife restoration projects," she said. "I am still active with SETCH, helping in certain areas with horses and some grants."

Interim Executive Director Leslie Benz said the board has conducted a national search for an executive director and will begin an interview process with the 19 applicants it has received.

Pigeon owns the facility where the center is located on Let 'er Buck Road, off Buttercup Road near Hailey. She has been leasing the property to the center, but said she would like to sell it.

"It's a symbiotic relationship," she said. "In the long range, I would work with the program to buy me out, but the economic downturn has affected all nonprofits in a negative way. The program is not bringing in as much and the reserves are down."

Benz concurred with Pigeon about a lack of funds to buy the facility. The center has entered into a long-term lease with Pigeon to continue the program and its current location.

"We would like to buy a facility," Benz said. "We're exploring the idea of a capital campaign to find a permanent home."

Benz has been serving on the center's board of directors for four years. She started at the facility as a volunteer seven years ago after attending the Cowboy Ball fundraising event for more than 10 years. She is not being paid as interim executive director.

"It's amazing to work with adults and children in every situation we serve," Benz said. "Some students require six or seven volunteers at a time."

The program is free for students and the board does not want to charge for services.

"Seventy percent of our yearly income comes from one event—the Cowboy Ball," Benz said. "The rest is donations and grants."

One hundred and thirty riders participate in the program, which has 140 volunteers.

"For kids with autism, it's a Zen time for them to be on a horse," Benz said. "We offer the staff professional development opportunities, and they always want to learn more. There are so many ways to learn, and we want to continue to partner with local organizations."

Sabina Dana Plasse:

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