Wednesday, November 23, 2011

From Sagebrush to Swiftsure

Equine-assisted therapy program to move south by spring

Express Staff Writer

One of the many students to take a turn on the horses at Sagebrush Equine Training Center for the Handicapped was a young girl from Camp Rainbow Gold, a summer retreat for kids with cancer. Courtesy photo

When spring makes its way out of winter, there is always something new revealed. For the staff and students at the Sagebrush Equine Training Center for the Handicapped north of Hailey, this spring will mean opening up the barn doors on a new facility south of Bellevue.

SETCH, for 20 years located on Buttercup Road adjacent to the bike path, will move to the Swiftsure Ranch, a 191-acre property bordered by the Big Wood River, state Highway 75 and Glendale Road.

The property was offered at auction earlier this month. The SETCH board rallied for the opportunity and won the bid through Hall and Hall of Ketchum for $1.9 million.

"This purchase would not have been possible without the unanimous support of the SETCH board of directors, who have collectively pledged in excess of $500,000 to kick off our capital campaign," said Ann Leonardo, president of the SETCH board.

Board Member Pam Goetz, an associate broker with Southeby's International Realty, helped navigate the transaction and donated her time, and Beartooth Capital's Carl Palmer served as an advisor to the investment.

The plan is to retire the current mortgage in the next 24 months and finance improvements, which will mean embarking on a capital campaign that will start with a packet mailed to all SETCH supporters, "so they can share in and contribute to our excitement," Leonardo said.

Cheryl Bennett, who recently was named executive director, said the reality is still sinking in.

"When we heard we won, we were all just walking around in a happy daze. It's truly a dream come true," she said.

SETCH will wait six more months to move due to a lease obligation with Kristy Pigeon, who founded the program and built the facility in Hailey made-to-order to accommodate a well-rounded therapeutic riding center.

Pigeon, who had served as SETCH's executive director before retiring last year said it was too soon to have a nostalgic response about it, "But it's what the board thinks is the best option and I wish them all the best."


Pigeon started it all with a mostly barren space of land leased from the state, and provided lessons to children and adults with physical, mental and cognitive disabilities there and at her home before launching a very elaborate financing plan that included at one point the purchase of a Boise bank.

"The major turning point was around our 10th anniversary when we were able to complete the heated indoor arena, and it allowed us to provide services to more people on a regular basis," she said. "I was overwhelmed at the number of schools that responded and how it grew from there."

The program offers riding to anyone with emotional or physical challenges that could benefit from the experience, all at no charge.

Research has shown that horses have a gait close to the human walk and can provide a stimulating physical therapy as well as reopen pathways in the brain with exercises led by instructors.

During its operation, SETCH has hosted kids from Camp Rainbow Gold summer camp for children with cancer as well as soldiers in recovery after wartime service as part of Sun Valley Adaptive Sports Higher Ground program and the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind, Bennett said.

SETCH shared the facility with a for-profit portion of the ranch, something Pigeon said she was especially proud of.

"I felt strongly that the interaction between the able-bodied riders with SETCH riders was very positive," she said. "Everyone there was working on a common goal."

Bennett said time will help figure out all the particulars.

"This property is the ideal permanent home for SETCH," Bennett said. "This new home allows us to provide additional opportunities for our riders who, in most cases, have never been outside of an arena on a horse. It gives us the ability to develop sensory trails that give the riders different sensory simulation that is not possible in an arena setting. We're still just getting over the excitement of it all, but we can see that we are in a place where we will be able to expand the opportunities in the future."

By the numbers:

Swiftsure has been on the market for a few years. Nestled among the trees, the property has been priced as high as nearly $8 million for its 191 wooded acres where moose and elk roam. When it came up for auction, the Sagebrush Equine Training Center got it for $1.9 million and will now have pasture for horses and 15 more stalls than it has program horses to fill them. Irrigated hay meadows will allow the center to grow its own horse feed. There is a ranch house, caretaker's home and horse facilities. The property has one mile of frontage along the Big Wood River.

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