Meet Our Gentle Giants

Photos by Mark Carlson, HGR Volunteer

DSC_4306 (1) (2)Ember

Ember — more formally known as “Amigo’s Smokin Ember” — is our 17 year old Rocky Mountain gelding who absolutely adores people. Before moving to Heaven’s Gait Ranch, Ember belonged to Deb & Chris Becker in Wisconsin Rapids. The loving couple enjoyed taking him horseback riding on camping trips with their grandchildren. After frequenting campgrounds and trails all over the state, Ember’s curiosity at Heaven’s Gait Ranch is unlike any of our other horses. As our gaited alpha on the ranch, Ember is our fearless leader out on the trails, and he sets a good pace for the rest of his herd. Ember was purchased in 2016 by Heaven’s Gait Ranch with the help of Howard and Judy Edison; he was the first program horse on site and was awarded our 2021 Equine of the Year.

Ember is anonymously sponsored through 2023.



Simpson is an 18 year old Appaloosa gelding who arrived to HGR from Amberg, WI with the help of Andy & Lisa Munao. With a big heart that is eager to please, Simpson loves affection from his trusted handlers. Having always been at the bottom of the pecking order in the herd, Simpson floats from one social circle to the next, waiting for his true friends to come to the ranch: the riders. Because he has had a hard time making friends with some of the other horses on the ranch, Simpson particularly enjoys his humans who give him their undivided attention. With a little love from new friends, Simpson is happy to have a job serving individuals with disabilities in our equine-assisted activities and programs.

Simpson is sponsored through 2023 by Helene Meyer. 



Registered with the National Spotted Saddle Horse Association, Inc., Ellie is formally known as Drifters Midnight Eclipse. As our 27 year old Paint & Tennessee Walker, Ellie Mae is proud to be the first female therapy horse at Heaven’s Gait Ranch. Although all the boys love her, she is a smart girl who keeps her cool, which is why everyone at the ranch adores her. A quick learner with a gentle spirit, we think Ellie was born to be a therapy horse. Generously donated to our therapeutic riding program by her owner Cheri Eberhardy, Ellie Mae loves teaching children how to ride, and standing tall at just 14.3 hands, she is the perfect fit. Every day at the ranch Ellie proves she is an old soul who is still young at heart, and with so much more to give, Heaven’s Gait Ranch is blessed to have her as part of our therapeutic riding program.

Ellie Mae is anonymously sponsored through 2023.



Windy is a 17 year old Palomino Appaloosa mare who is a rockstar for both our kids with special needs and veterans with disabilities. Standing 15hh with an impressive head set, she was generously donated to serve as a therapy horse in December 2018 by Kim and Kendall Floryance, with the hopes that she would serve our veterans. Windy comes to us from East Troy, WI and has been ridden both English and Western. Earlier in her life she even dabbled in dressage. Nevertheless, after learning Windy had “more woah than go,” her previous owners thought she might be a good fit for therapeutic riding, and we are now blessed to have her join our team in Cedar Grove. Windy especially loves to be groomed, and she appreciates handlers who take the time to get to know her from the ground up. Since Heaven’s Gait Ranch has become her forever home, Windy has settled in nicely, and she’s become our beloved blonde on site.

Windy is sponsored through 2023 by Helene Meyer. 



When you pull into Heaven’s Gait Ranch, it’s easy to spot our beautiful, Percheron-Paint cross gelding named Lucero. Immediately, visitors are drawn to his presence in the pasture, and it’s easy to see why. Formerly owned by Georgia and Scott LaBrosse in Shawano, WI, Lucero was generously purchased and donated by Mark and Karen Reed in the fall of 2020, with the intention to serve our veterans in HGR’s Equine Services for Heroes program. With a custom-built saddle, standing broad and tall over 16 hands high, Lucero is an 18 year old gentle giant who loves forming bonds with his handlers and riders.

Lucero is sponsored by Mark & Karen Reed through 2023.




Frost, also known as “Smooch,” is a lovely little lady who rules the roost in the east paddock at HGR. Standing 14.1 hands high, Frost is a 13 year old, Palomino Paint, Tennessee Walker/Quarter Horse mare who is often buddied up with her friends Kong & Ember. Owned by Jennifer Rescorla and leased by Heaven’s Gait Ranch, Frost arrived during “the summer of COVID,” ready to work with her mask (muzzle) and all! Family owned and personally trained, Frost comes to us from Fredonia, Wisconsin. Her strong conformation is much appreciated by other members of our herd, and her one blue eye will instantly have you mesmerized.

Frost is sponsored through 2023 by The Jors Family.


IMG-8225Donkey Kong

Kong is a 16 year old miniature donkey who was generously donated to Heaven’s Gait Ranch by Jim & Pat McLaughlin. As a domesticated member of the horse family, this little guy has a big personality on site, and you can hear his bray the moment you arrive at the barn. Gelded later in life, Kong enjoys spending time with the “big guys” on site, as well as his new lady friend named Frost. Because every donkey is defined by the cross that they bear on their back, Kong’s markings are tied to various legends throughout history, and he loves story time with the participants at HGR.

Kong is sponsored through 2023 by Deb. 




As our youngest prospect at HGR, Captain Kohler is a dashing, eight year old saddlebred gelding who proudly stands at 16 hands high. Anonymously and generously donated to Heaven’s Gait Ranch in the fall of 2021, Captain is currently registered with the American Saddlebred Horse Association (ASHA), and we are eager to watch his potential soar with our programming. With an impressive foundation in single carriage driving, Captain was not only professionally trained as a show hunter, but he was also trained in dressage prior to arriving at HGR. Willing to please and not one to be idle, Captain is acclimating well to our diverse herd and evolving program needs. As one of the two saddlebreds on site, you’ll often find him shadowing his mentor & buddy, Mr. Mac, to and from the arena, where he reminds us of the beauty in both work & play. While older horses have been donated to HGR in the past, it’s exciting to imagine a long life with Captain at our center, where participants and veterans will have the opportunity to grow with him over time.

Captain is sponsored through 2023 by Sherri Sandona Kamenski. 



Registered as Kohler It’s Magic with the American Saddlebred Horse Association (ASHA), Kola was adopted by Heaven’s Gait Ranch in the fall of 2021 with her son, Captain, after her owner generously and anonymously donated both to our programs. As a 17 year old, five gaited saddlebred, this chestnut mare was professionally trained for showing saddle seat prior to arriving at HGR. While other horses on site are trained to walk, trot, and canter, Kola is unique in that she essentially has two extra gears: she can rack and slow gait as well. The rack is a fast, lateral, four-beat gait that is synchronous, where each foot meets the ground at equal, separate intervals. The slow gait is a slower, smooth, collected, four-beat gait that is asynchronous, where the lateral front and hind feet start almost together but the hind foot contacts the ground slightly before its lateral forefoot. Kohler It’s Magic was previously shown in The All American Horse Classic, and she earned the top spot as a three year old five gaited in The 2008 American Royal, with Tracy James. Needless to say, HGR is fortunate to have such a special addition to our herd, as Kola offers the opportunity for our participants and veterans to learn about horsemanship at an advanced level.

Kola is sponsored through 2023 by The Schultz Family.




Former Therapy Horses at Heaven’s Gait Ranch



IMG_0544Jack — In Loving Memory
Our first therapy horse to serve in lessons on site, Jack was about as gentle as they come. In summer 2016, he was donated to Heaven’s Gait Ranch by his owner Jackie Vana, and he quickly won the hearts of our participants with special needs and veterans with disabilities. With his quiet eyes and calming demeanor, Jack was so intuitive he really moved at the pace of his rider’s wishes which undoubtedly put his team at ease. First Day for Wednesday Group

Formerly trained for reining, Jack had a variety of skills, so even in his retirement, he had so much to give and teach us at Heaven’s Gait Ranch. From 2017-2018, he was our #1 “go-to guy” when it came to taking care of our senior citizens and veterans with disabilities, and in 2018 he was named our Equine of the Year.

You could see it in his eyes, his joints and muscles, that he was so strong, willing, and daring back in the day, which made our veterans really take to him upon meeting each other. With old injuries himself, Jack was cautious but steady, trusting his handlers and expecting trust in return. For these reasons and more, Jack became the perfect friend for some of our veterans in need.

In retirement, Jack reveled in the little things — smelling fresh grass in the mornings, rolling in the sand after a heavy rain, walking softly on the trail, and engaging in a little healthy competition any time he’d see barrels lined up in the arena. Sponsored by participant Steven Schultz and his family, Jack found a forever home with us at Heaven’s Gait Ranch, and we can’t thank him enough for all that he did to pioneer our programs.


Dolly Profile 2020

Dolly — In Loving Memory

Dolly was a delightful 25 year old Clydesdale mare whose sire was a Budweiser stallion, named Belleau McDougel, and whose dam was named Flossie Snowflakes. Registered as “Dolly Belleau Snowflake,” this gentle giant was generously donated by Jim & Pat McLaughlin, after living at McLaughlin Family Farms for 16 years. In the summer of 2020, she arrived to Heaven’s Gait Ranch with her buddy, “Donkey Kong,” both looking forward to making new friends. Built to both drive and ride, Dolly was 16.3 hands high and proved to be a quiet soul for our participants with special needs and veterans with disabilities. She loved to be groomed, and her fluffy white feathers gave us all the more reason to show her extra care.

We wish we had more time with this gentle giant at HGR, but we sincerely thank The Schultz Family for their understanding and support in sponsoring her through her end of life care.


DSC_4430 (1)Rufus

Rufus came to HGR in May 2019, after serving at Free S.P.I.R.I.T. Riders in Fond du Lac, WI for five years. When that center closed, after the death of their founder & Executive Director, we were blessed to have Rufus join our herd and growing program.

Known for his many tricks, Rufus loved showing what he could do. His previous owner, Lori Gottsacker, not only taught him to smile and kiss, but she also taught him to hug, shake (give hoof), and even bow! He was like an overgrown lab who never realized his size, loving life “off lead,” never leaving your side. 

When concerns of COVID began to soar and mounted lessons were no longer suitable for his health or our riders’ safety, Rufus became the perfect partner to conduct telehealth services from the barn. From spring 2020-2022, Rufus was so animated and engaging, that all the kids still wanted to see him every week, even if it was only through Google Meets. While some of the other horses never seemed to understand where the voices were coming from, Rufus loved looking into the camera. Not to mention, with a curious mind and willing heart, he proved how fun it is to be a lifelong learner: Maggie Robertson taught him how to paint at HGR, which he perfected during the pandemic, by picking up brushes and moving them on a tall topper with his mouth. When we reopened for onsite services, everyone wanted to paint with Rufus! We were so sad to let him go this spring, but we will forever remember the time and talents he shared with everyone at HGR. A sincere thank you to his anonymous and loyal sponsor: you truly gave him a beautiful life! 


DSC_0528Mac — In Loving Memory

“Mac-ee-boy” was a been-there, done-that kind of horse. Formally registered as “Woody B.A. Hancock,” Mac was a 20 year old Paint gelding who was our go-to guy at Heaven’s Gait Ranch. Originally from Wonewoc, WI, Mac came to us from 100 acres of pure serenity in September of 2016. His previous owner Jenell Snyder had taught her children how to ride on Mac, and he proved not only to be an excellent instructor but also a trusted partner and friend. After teaching many young people how to ride over the years, Mac also showed in holiday parades and served the Mounted Patrol for the Midwest Horse Fair.

One of the “originals” at Heaven’s Gait Ranch, he offered children and adults the opportunity to engage in a variety of activities from 2017-2022. While he loved to be bathed and groomed, his favorite pastime was trail blazing and making treats.  He was named our Equine of the Year in 2020, providing more virtual lessons than any other horse on site. Mac showed us that there was so much more for our participants and veterans to learn between riding lessons that would help them in and out of the saddle. Whether he modeled hoof care, herd dynamics, or stretching exercises for self-care, Mac was quite the tutor during COVID-19.

Mac especially thanks Jim Zirngibl & Susan Wilson for six years of generosity in sponsoring him throughout his tenure at HGR, and our staff thanks Farrier Matt Jones for providing him with the best hoof care when he needed it most. 


IMG_9097Denali (aka “Levi”) — Retired
Denali was a Morgan gelding who was commonly known around the barn as “Levi.” Because Morgans were historically bred to be cavalry mounts, their breed is known for its high intelligence and endurance. Always curious yet also alert and willing, Levi loved positive reinforcement from his riders, and it wouldn’t take long for him to start searching your pockets for little goodies once you met him.Therapeutic Riding at HGR Spring 2017 Cliff and Levi

Before coming to Heaven’s Gait Ranch, Levi was trained in a variety of disciplines. From hunt seat, English, dressage, and cross country/stadium events to trail riding, driving, and showing saddle seat, Levi saw it all. Leased by our therapeutic riding program while his owner Samantha Vian was away at college, Levi served Heaven’s Gait Ranch from October 2016 – May 2019. He developed special bonds with his riders with Down Syndrome, dementia, and speech & hearing impairments, just to name a few.

Thank you, Samantha Vian, for sharing such a special part of your life with us, and thank you to the anonymous sponsor who cared for Levi at HGR during his time here!



Finn — Retired

A sorrel Appendix with soft eyes, our friend Finn is still owned by Ella Jors and was leased by Heaven’s Gait Ranch in the final quarter of 2020. Coming from Saukville, WI, Finn joined our herd the same day as Frost, while we continued to navigate through the pandemic and ramped up for more services on site. At 15.3 hands high and with extensive training under saddle, his comfortable walk, trot, and canter, made him a steady mount for our teens and veterans ready to step up their game. We can’t thank the Jors Family enough for sharing this special guy with our families at HGR!