News & Media

Wish Granted for One Last Horseback Ride

Media Contact Joe Poelker
Release Date: 10/26/2016 By St. Anthony's Medical Center

Jean Johnson, hospice patient, fulfills her wish for one more horseback ride.

Jean Johnson, hospice patient, fulfilled her wish for one more horseback ride when she rode April.

  Jean Johnson grew up loving horses. Her family owned two ponies as she grew up in St. Charles County. Jean was especially fond of another horse named Spoon, which she often rode and cared for.

  “Spoon was 16 hands high and liked to play tricks on me,” said Johnson. “I used to wolf whistle, and he would come running full steam. He would stop with his hooves right at my toes, then he put his head right on top of mine. We used to go swimming together. I would ride him bareback right into the pond and we’d swim together.”

  It’s been 15 years since Jean last rode a horse. About a month ago, she entered home hospice care with St. Anthony’s and met with Sharon Wernig, LCSW.

  “We started talking and I asked her what she wanted,” said Wernig. “She said she wanted to ride a horse, and I could see her face light up as she talked about it.”

  Wernig says families are usually able to help fulfill last wishes, which often involve reconnecting with family members. But in this case, Wernig knew of a group that could help.

  Ride On St. Louis is a non-profit organization that provides equine-assisted riding and therapies. They generally work with children with various conditions, including physical disabilities, genetic disorders, and autism. They also work with veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

  The process to schedule a horse ride for Jean moved quickly. Ride On St. Louis was happy to accommodate her, and St. Anthony’s Charitable Foundation stepped in to cover the cost.

  Wernig says in her 15 years as a hospice social worker, this is the first time she has coordinated this kind of field trip to fulfill a wish.

  “When we told Jean we had the horse ride arranged at the facility in Kimmswick, she said ‘Let’s go to the Blue Owl and get some pie, too!’” said Wernig.

  On the sunny, warm fall afternoon of Oct. 25, Jean enjoyed a slice of Hawaiian coconut cream pie and headed with Wernig and Maggie Poe, RN, to the equine facility along the Mississippi River. Her visit started by meeting the horse she would ride, Lady April Delight. Jean and April immediately took to each other.

  With Jean’s granddaughter, Jessica, and great-granddaughter, Ayanna, there to enjoy the experience with her, the trainers and assistants of Ride On St. Louis helped Jean into the saddle. They lead her through the indoor arena and into the outdoor riding arena for a couple laps. The ride went so well, they chose to head out for a short trail ride as well. All with a smile and laughter coming from Jean the entire ride.

  Jean completed her visit by hanging out a little longer with her horse April, feeding her new equine friend some much deserved treats.

  “This is the greatest gift I’ve ever been given,” Johnson said after her ride. “I can’t thank the people who did this for me enough. It means the world to me and I’m glad my family was able to experience this with me.”

  “Everyone here is so great. I thank God for this.”

Visit to see Jean’s story as it aired on KSDK News Channel 5’s 6 p.m. newscast.