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Originally published Sunday, January 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Room to grow for Little Bit

The long wait at Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center may be near an end. Saturday, the Woodinville nonprofit announced the purchase of...

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center

19802 N.E. 148th St., Woodinville. For more information on therapy riding or to donate, call 425-882-1554 or www.littlebit.org.

The long wait at Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center may be near an end.

Saturday, the Woodinville nonprofit announced the purchase of the 17-acre Simpatico Stables on Northeast 106th Street in Redmond for $4.6 million.

The new property will provide enough room to more than double Little Bit's hippotherapy and sports-riding programs for children and adults with physical, emotional and development disabilities.

Although the organization serves about 525 riders a week, it operates at full capacity, said Kathy Alm, executive director, and there are more than 200 on the waiting list.

"There are so many developmental milestones that need to be reached between the ages of 2 and 7 that it hurts when we don't have room," she said.

The Little Bit board made a new facility part of the group's strategic plan three years ago. The current 3-acre site in Woodinville is surrounded by homes and can't expand. Because more than 25 percent of its clients come from Seattle, Little Bit was limited to seeking new space in an area between Interstate 90 and the King/Snohomish county line and Lake Washington and Duvall.

The board began looking for property in June 2007 with two big things in its corner: Little Bit qualifies as an agricultural business, so it could use land that is not developable. And thanks to a quiet leadership campaign, it had financial pledges to pay for the property.

"We still have a long way to go," said Kristin Miller, of Redmond, a board member and mother of a rider. "It will take some hard work to raise the rest of the money, but I can see the difference it made for my son.

"I want other children to have the same benefit."

The group has raised about $4.7 million of the estimated $11 million needed to buy the stables; build a second covered arena; class and therapy rooms and administrative center; acquire new horses; and hire and train staff members. Little Bit will retain its current site as a center for hippotherapy research and training.

Simpatico Stables, a boarding facility, also has a waiting list for stalls, said owner Rebecca Chatfield. Chatfield and the trainers at Simpatico specialize in dressage, a specialty horse competition based on technical moves performed by the horse and rider.

A staff member at Little Bit who was looking for a place to board her own horses stopped by Simpatico. As she toured the grounds, she realized it was a perfect fit for the organization.

"We were not on the market at all," Chatfield said. "I enjoy running the boarding business, but when they approached me and I got to know the program and Kathy [Alm], it was apparent they were a good buyer for my property."

Since Chatfield bought the property in 2003, she has upgraded the barns, stalls and arenas. It is an old farm, with a barn that dates to 1910, and has been in continuous use as a horse facility as far back as she knows.

The move will be gradual, Alm said, out of respect for current boarders. It will begin in July and be completed in 2009. The planned completion for the entire project is 2012.

"I call the whole thing 'Little Bit serendipity,' " Alm said. "The right people were in the right spot at the right time to find a perfect place. This is so exciting."

Sherry Grindeland: 206-515-5633 or sgrindeland@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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