The Giant Steps family was begun by founders Robert Pope and Lee Justice. Robert Pope and Lee Justice moved from the Bay Area to a horse ranch in the Bitteroot Mountains in South Western Montana. Anticipating that the move would be the beginning of a well-deserved retirement, they began breeding and raising Tennessee Walking Horses.
Four years later, a friend mentioned therapeutic riding and that began a year-long study and visits to therapeutic riding programs around the country. After that year, they were so moved by the life-changing impact therapeutic riding could have on individuals with disabilities, that they were inspired to start the ambitious project of creating a riding program. Because the population base in Montana wouldn't support the program that they envisioned, they sold the ranch, moved back to the Bay Area, and founded Giant Steps.
Giant Steps opened its doors in June of 1998 with 10 riders and 19 volunteers. However, because the program’s use permit limited the occupancy to 50 riders per week (a number reached after only two months of operation) and the waiting list was steadily growing, Giant Steps leased land at Riverside Equestrian Center in Petaluma, began a capital campaign and built out a new permanent facility. This new home has no restrictions on the number of riders, plans are to eventually serve 250 riders each week.
Robert retired from the Executive Director position in June of 2011 and Lee, who was the program director for 10 years, now represents Giant Steps to the San Francisco Bay Area community.
For their work with Giant Steps, they were awarded the prestigious “Jefferson Award for Public Service” from the Institute of non-profit leadership in Washington D.C. in 2006. A year later, they received the “Real Heroes” award from the American Red Cross.