Topics & Perspectives

The Passion of Gail Pace

The power of the human-horse connection

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Pace and her miniature horse Tex

In Equest’s 43-year history of serving special needs clients, Gail Pace is legendary. A leader in the therapeutic horsemanship world since 1983, Gail has been around the proverbial barrel. She retired in 2016 from her 30-plus-year career as head instructor at Equest. 

Since then, she has served as an accreditation site visitor, faculty member, and evaluator for the international instructor certification program at the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International.

Still, Pace would come around now and then to help Equest with the instructor training program and volunteer with the horses. While Equest wished her well in her hard-earned retirement, she was a missing link in our program.                              

Last spring, she surprised us when she drove up in her truck and horse trailer with Tex, her adorable black and white miniature horse, and began training him to drive a small carriage. She mentored the Equest staff in navigating the carriage with Tex leading the way. Her infectious enthusiasm added to the pleasure of having her back in the fold.

Pace started the carriage driving program at Equest decades ago with a lovely black Percheron mare, Suzy Q, and a wheelchair-accessible carriage built for Equest that was acquired through a grant. 

She comes weekly as a volunteer expert and brings her 13-year-old grandson, Liam, to see his Gigi in action. He mentioned that Gigi always talks about horses and taught him to ride. She’s keeping the love of horses all in the family.

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Pace handing Gina Levi Strauss her award in horse drawn carriage

Pace’s passion is the power of the human-horse connection. Her proudest moments in all the years at Equest are the stories that capture the driving force behind Equest’s mission, which is to see the ability in any disability and help clients know that they can do anything in the equestrian world they want to with confidence: learn to ride, compete, drive carriages, be part of a team, communicate to a horse (even if they can’t speak) and trust it to respond. There is dignity in knowing that they can control a 1,200-pound horse, especially when so many things are outside their daily control.  

One of Pace’s most memorable moments as an instructor was when she worked with a young boy with autism who was primarily nonverbal. 

At the end of his lesson, Pace told him and his mom that he would need to switch  horses the following week because she needed JJ for another rider. He would be riding M&M. She introduced him to the new horse before he went home. The next week, the boy came for his lesson, and M&M was brought to the mounting block. 

With rock-solid energy, the boy said emphatically, “I want JJ!” So, yes, he did get JJ that day. The success at that moment was he declared his desire. He expressed emotion. He verbalized clearly. His mom wept. Pace smiled. It was a breakthrough that she could build on. (And it confirmed the importance of flexibility in the future.)

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Pace, left and competitors at the United Professional Horsemanship Assoc. Competition, 2003

Another great love for Pace is her years creating thematic equestrian drill shows with beautiful riding patterns performed to music with fancy costumes on the riders and horses. She loved her time coaching riders who were paraplegic or had cerebral palsy to compete at horse shows all around the country — Minnesota to Mississippi, California to New York, and in between to Missouri, West Virginia, and ultimately the U.S. Paralympic Equestrian games in Atlanta. She saw some go on to international competitions in Athens, Ireland, Beijing, Rome, and London. 

These experiences would have seemed unattainable due to the clients’ limitations, but Pace doesn’t see limitations. She creates adaptations and solutions and expects success, whether small wins like declaring what you want or gold medals in the world’s biggest horse shows.

No matter what she chooses to do in her second, third, or fourth acts, she takes that can-do, will-do, creative spirit with her wherever she goes. Her light in the barn is contagious, and our beginner instructors know they are in the presence of greatness.

Equest is a 501C3 non-profit organization on a mission to enhance the lives of individuals with diverse needs through therapeutic activities with horses. 

For more information on their mission and ways to volunteer, sponsor a horse, or contribute, visit    


Christine Volkmer

Christine Volkmer came to Equest in 2016 with a 15-year background in public relations and marketing, specializing in nonprofits and national media placement. Her prior career as an educator spanned 10 years with an emphasis on English language learners and children with disabilities. She oversees all development activities including events, fundraising, and communications.

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