• Erik's Ranch & Retreats Erik's Ranch & Retreats


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Mission Statement

Erik’s Ranch & Retreats provides safe and unequaled living, working, social and recreational environments for young adults with autism, using its guiding principles of lifelong learning, individual community building, and bidirectional integration through voluntourism. We’re committed to giving these individuals a rewarding life on their own terms, experiencing dignity, compassion and the joy of continuing possibility.


Today there are three ways to help support Erik’s Ranch & Retreats:

  • Erik’s Minnesota Adventures (a voluntourist opportunity)
  • Therapeutic Riding Lessons (a riding volunteer opportunity)
  • Help us spread the word!

Erik's Minnesota Adventures

Erik's Minnesota Adventures is an innovative program for young adults with autism. As tour guides, they lead volunteers on tours, providing an opportunity for them to share their unique talents and expertise in specific areas within the arts, history, sports, environment - whatever their passion.

Each tour in the Twin Cities metro invites six to 30 volunteers to participate in adventures, such as accompanying a skilled equestrian to the racetrack for a private session with a jockey or learning about St. Paul's architecture from a young man with a photographic memory.

What does it mean to be a volunteer?

At Habitat for Humanity, it means building a house. Individuals donate time and money to build a home for someone in need of shelter and stability.

At Erik’s Minnesota Adventures, it means building a person . Companies, groups or individuals volunteer to be guests on a guided tour. The guides are young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who are passionate about the subject matter. Volunteer guests on that tour ultimately give our tour guides a place in society. As a volunteer guest, you listen, learn and interact with the tour guide.

How the program works

  • Log onto http :/ / www . eriksranch . org / livehere / minnesota / takeatour / portfolio . html

  • Select from a variety of fun and interesting tours, which typically last 2.5 to 3 hours - morning, afternoon or early evening.

  • Complete the registration, and make a donation, if you choose.

  • Erik’s Ranch & Retreats’ limousine picks up your team at your door and returns them after the tour. Or we will meet you at our headquarters and transport you by limousine to the destination.

  • Enjoy a fascinating adventure, while providing worthwhile community service.


Creating effective teams can be a challenge to many organizations; however, it is essential to the success of any corporation. Working together and understanding diversity and differences is critical to a more harmonious work environment. Participation in Erik’s Minnesota Adventures offers groups the opportunity to do just that.

  • As a group, work together to select the tour of interest.

  • Plan ahead, brainstorm questions and information your group would like to learn from the tour guide.

  • During the tour, the interaction among the group and tour guide provides a team building exercise in itself.

Even if your team doesn’t have the time to work as a group planning ahead, the sheer experience of interacting with colleagues, while participating in this unique community service endeavor is beneficial. Working collectively to provide an innovative opportunity for individuals who have few such opportunities is character- and team-building at its finest.

Therapeutic Riding

Therapeutic Riding addresses several key symptoms affiliated with autism and other special needs:

Communication and social skills

Lowered sensory skills

Motor skills

Response to verbal cues and external stimuli

Riders with autism and other special needs learn to communicate verbally and physically with their horse. They learn to focus on something besides themselves which is very important for these individuals. The movement of the horse is great for improving circulation, muscle control and coordination, but most importantly is the connection that forms quickly between the horse and individual, which helps to build a trusting relationship that encourages communication and interaction.

How It Works

  • Volunteers divide into teams of two.
  • These two volunteers will take alternating shifts from 9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. on Saturdays, 10:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. on Sundays, or 3:00 p.m. - 7:00p.m. on Thursdays.
  • The pair of volunteers will be responsible for the same horse each session. It will be their job to make sure the horse is cared for and ready to be ridden each morning and put away each afternoon/evening.
  • The pair will be placed with the same students each session. They will be side walking, leading, teaching, etc. Consistency is mandatory for these students. The same volunteers need to be supporting the same students for every lesson in order to gain the best outcomes.


Volunteers will begin with an orientation day mid-February. They will learn the basics of horsemanship, teaching special needs riders and their responsibilities. The orientation is delivered in two parts: Manual review and practical application.

For the first three lessons and 15 hours (or more,) volunteers will observe and provide help such as playing catch with/interacting with the students, practice of side walking/leading in addition to assisting with tack and best practices at the barn. leading.

Volunteers will follow a progression of responsibilities, moving to additional tasks when the preliminaries are mastered. For example: an individual will learn how to tack up a horse until they graduate to the "tack checker", when they have gained the competencypetent enough to groom and tack up a horse by themselves and help others with it.

After the introductory lessons, volunteers will become side walkers or leaders. They have a different set of skills to learn and therefore will have to observe 15 hours of lessons and then pass a small test to show that they have achieved competency in the skills.

Once volunteers have participated with Erik’s Equine center for multiple riding sessions and have accumulated 100+ hours of volunteer time, they will become a teacher’s assistant, and, if ready, will be allowed to assist in the student’s lesson and occasionally teach some lessons themselves (with supervision.)

This volunteer experience is a great way to learn, laugh and share the dedication our instructors have for their horses and riders. You will be able to choose your shift or shifts and be responsible for arriving on time and actively participating in teaching these students to ride.

In addition, you will:

  • Learn about working with horses with guidance from Sophia and Brandon, instructors experienced at working with special needs students.
  • Learn about managing horses and an equestrian operation.
  • Learn about teaching children with special needs.
  • Learn procedures that will help riders have a safe, secure and fun riding experience.

Earn service hours for personal fulfillment, letter in service at your school or secure job experience.



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