Ken Beaton: Taking one step at a time |

Ken Beaton: Taking one step at a time

Ken Beaton
Michael, a veteran, rides Rugar June 26 at the Sierra Therapeutic Equestrian Program, STEP, arena in Washoe Valley. Michael is assisted by volunteers, Lexi, on the left, and Lynn, on the right.

How do you eat an elephant? Answer, one bite at a time. How do you assist a veteran struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, or other service related issues? Travel to Washoe Valley once a week and take a little STEP, Sierra Therapeutic Equestrian Program, at a time.

STEP is located in the middle of the verdant Washoe Valley at Konnie and Terry McGruder’s home and equestrian center. The McGruders have expanded their focus to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Reno. Beginning June 5 and the next three Fridays, Eric drove the same four vets from the VA to Washoe Valley and exited I-580 at Bellevue Road. Those Friday mornings became the time to take a STEP or two.

On June 5, Ed, a legally blind Native American vet, was guided by a sighted person up to Rugar, a chestnut colored therapy horse. The first three Fridays all Ed wanted to do was to groom Rugar. From the first time Ed began to groom Rugar, the magic began between man and horse. Ed never grew tired of grooming Rugar. The next three visits Rugar immediately recognized Ed’s voice, his individual smell and the touch of the brush when Ed groomed him.

On June 26 Ed took several steps, “I want to ride Rugar,” with a smile beaming from ear to ear. To get Ed ready to safely ride, Konnie McGruder placed a riding helmet on Ed’s head and adjusted the strap before securing his helmet. One person led Rugar to the middle of the area to the mounting block, composed of three steps making it easier for a rider to mount a horse. Konnie led Ed to the left side of the mounting block. Several volunteers assisted Ed getting his right leg over Rugar to be “back in the saddle” again after 55 years. Rugar walked while Konnie held the lead rope. Ed sat proudly in the saddle with an ear-to-ear smile as he softly said, “I did it!” Yes, Ed did it, while making a deeper bond with Rugar.

This commentary would not be complete without a paragraph about Flash. Two Thursdays a month Konnie hauls Flash, a male miniature horse, in a trailer to the VA hospital in Reno. Flash has a gift of walking up to a vet in a wheelchair and place his head in the vet’s lap, making a spiritual connection with the vet. The sun shines a little brighter when Flash visits those vets.

Sierra Therapeutic Equestrian Program, STEP, has been a 501(c) 3, nonprofit since 1997. STEP’s mission is to assist individuals with physical, mental, emotional or educational special needs from 3 to 103 years of age by providing therapeutic riding services.

The McGruders would like STEP to continue providing therapeutic riding services. Would you please consider donating your time, talent or treasure? For example, five years ago the Kiwanis Club of Sierra Nevada donated its time and talent. It installed a paver walkway for individuals in wheelchairs or walkers to move with ease from the parking lot to the area to mount a horse for their therapeutic ride.

Konnie and Terry McGruder’s STEP is affiliated with the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International, the benchmark for therapeutic riding. Their contact information is 775-530-7073; email is or at

Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.