Advancing Science and Practice for Persons Living with Dementia: Riding in the Moment Has Its Moment

“As a caregiver, I can speak to the fact that life is intense,” says Traci Edmondson.

Edmondson is the dementia care specialist for Calumet and Outagamie counties in Wisconsin. She also cared for her husband while he was living with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

“You are always on. You are always caregiving,” she says. “You don’t have a moment to think or process anything for yourself because it’s all about trying to organize and manage all the daily activities” for your loved one.

One activity provided “deep relaxation and pleasure” for Edmondson while she was caring for her husband: Riding in the Moment™. It’s an evidence-informed program where people living with dementia and their care partners ride or otherwise interact with horses.

“Someone else was taking care of my husband and he was participating in a joyful experience,” recalls Edmondson. “I had an opportunity to be present, to see his joy, but also have my own experience without the burden of caregiving.”

Riding in the Moment™ was developed by Hearts & Horses, a therapeutic riding center in Colorado. Their goal was to improve the quality of life of people living with dementia and their care partners.

University of Wisconsin–Madison Assistant Professor of Kinesiology Beth Fields, PhD, OTR/L, BCG learned about Riding in the Moment™ while she was in graduate school. She’s now bringing the program to Dane County.

“When I was out in Colorado, I volunteered for this program because a family member was living with dementia,” Fields explains. “I wanted to learn about non-pharmacological interventions that my family member could benefit from. When I came back to my home state of Wisconsin, I started reaching out to folks to see whether this type of program exists here.”

“Since the program’s inception in 2011, various research studies have found that the program is safe and acceptable, and positively influences the health and quality of life not only of the participants living with dementia, but their family and friends,” says Fields. “For example, participants living with dementia experience fewer behavioral and psychological symptoms when engaging with horses as compared to other common activities that folks with dementia engage with, such as music, arts, or gardening groups.”

Fields has researched the impact of Riding in the Moment™ on participants. She and her community-academic team developed implementation and curriculum manuals to help standardize and grow the program.

“The problem of not translating this research to community practice is that the growing number of folks living with dementia and their families don’t get to benefit,” says Fields.

Her partners in bringing Riding in the Moment™ to Dane County include Three Gaits, an accredited therapeutic riding center in Stoughton.

“Our mission is to provide equine assisted activities to people of all ages who are living with a disability,” says Jolie Hope, the executive director of Three Gaits. “We have worked with older adults before, but not with people living with dementia. We are mindful that each participant will have their own abilities, based not only on themselves, but where they’re at in their progress with dementia. We want to create an environment that provides them the opportunity to do what’s best for them on that day.”

When Three Gaits volunteer coordinator Ashley Haggard emailed volunteers asking for help launching the program this summer, she was surprised by the immediate response.

“I had a bunch of emails in my inbox of people sharing their stories about how dementia has impacted their lives and saying, ‘I really want to help with this program. This is super important to me’,” says Haggard. “We see that there’s a large need and lots of support.”

Fields and her team secured funding to offer Riding in the Moment™ at Three Gaits for three years, while evaluating its implementation and impact. The riding center is already thinking about how to sustain the program following the grant period.

Traci Edmonson, the dementia care specialist who participated in Riding in the Moment™ with her husband at a therapeutic riding center in Neenah, Wisconsin, supports growing the program to reach more people living with dementia.

“Up until two weeks before my husband passed, when we got ready to do Riding in the Moment™, he was excited,” she remembers. “He was no longer able to sit on the horse because of his balance. But just being able to be there and touch the horse and groom the horse made a difference in his life, for the rest of the day. For someone with dementia, a day is a long time. He would tell me, ‘That was the best day I ever had.’ And it was only two hours.”

–Diane Farsetta; photos from Hearts & Horses provided by Beth Fields


Interested in learning more about the program and how to participate in Dane County? Contact, visit, or call 608-877-9086.