They lost a 4-year-old son. Now this Iowa farm family is building a regional grief-therapy center.

Stables 4 Jed will be constructed and operated as a non-profit in honor of the late Jed Riesselman

January 2, 2023 2:15 pm

Jed Riesselman died in August 2021 in a farm accident near Manning at the age of 4. His final resting place, the family farm, will be the home for a new facility to assist people with grief, his parents, Rob and Megan Riesselman, said in an interview. (Photo of Jed courtesy of the Riesselmans; photo of Stables 4 Jed by Douglas Burns. Photo illustration via Canva)

Iowa Writers 'Collaborative. Linking Iowa readers and writers.Manning, Iowa — A wooden cross in a lovingly landscaped garden near the horse barn on this Manning farm marks the final resting place of Jed Riesselman, a little boy who carried an Avengers backpack on the school bus he couldn’t wait to board, smiled at the mention of M&Ms and bonded with a horse named Toby.

Jed is forever 4, the age at which the caprice of farming, serene one minute, dangerous the next, took his life on Aug. 12, 2021.

His surviving family mourns the absence every day as reminders of Jed, the apple of his late cattleman grandfather Dan Muhlbauer’s eye, abound on the farm.

Now the family, led by Jed’s parents, Rob and Megan Riesselman, is working to turn the Manning farm boy’s memory into an inspiration for public-mindedness. The Riesselmans have established a non-profit foundation, Stables 4 Jed, with an intent to construct a mental-health/grief facility, one with a focus on horse therapy, right on their farm, 5 miles southwest of Manning, on the east side of 370th Street.

“I never thought this would be our path, but we are on it,” Rob said on a brisk Saturday morning as he watched his 11-year-old daughter, Liv, feed two quarter horses, Axl and Rose. “I didn’t, of course, want to be the one to have to do this, but there is a need and somebody needs to step up and do it. This isn’t about a legacy. I don’t like that term. I don’t want this attention, but other people with grief need this attention, and that is what I am here for.”

Planned for 5 acres on the Riesselmans’ row crop and cattle farm, the facility is designed as a regional center for people struggling with grief of many varieties, from the loss of a loved one to a job or finances or other problems.

Rob and Megan Riesselman, sitting at their kitchen table in Manning, talk about plans for Stables 4 Jed, a facility that will employ horse therapy to help people with a variety of grief. (Photo by Douglas Burns)

“Jed was the spirit that would save anybody,” Megan said. “That was Jed. He was a helper so if Jed had to go we are going to use the loss for some kind of benefit. We are going to use it to help others. We don’t want people to go through what we did. We went to traditional therapy. It was not what we needed.”

The $1 million center, planned to be built through donations, will include an arena for counselors to interact with the grief stricken using equine therapy. The complex will include offices for professional therapists, space for individual and family sessions, and if funding is available, will be ringed by cabins for overnight and extended therapy.

The Riesselmans see it having a multi-state reach as demand for mental-health services continues to increase in post-pandemic America. The center will focus heavily on loss.

“This is the time,” Megan said. “Loss isn’t going away. People’s tragedies aren’t going away. This is a secluded area. People can feel welcomed. They’re in a place that somebody has gone through it. We get it.”

Stables 4 Jed will bring more to the bereaved than just horse therapy, but it’s an essential element of the visionary project, which the family and its network of supporters will operate as a non-profit. Construction will start as soon as funding is in place.

“I grew up on horses,” Megan said. “My dad (Dan) always had horses. Before I was walking, I was on a horse. That’s just how me and my brother and sister were raised. We were on horses for everything. I think going through what we are going through — horses are calm. They pick up on what you are going through. They have that just natural sense and ability to know your emotions. When times got rough growing up, it was always, ‘Do you want to ride a horse?’ And let’s go talk about what is going on. Now it is something we all cling to.”

Two quarter horses on the Riesselman farm, Axl and Rose, eat and frolic on a recent Saturday morning. (Photo by Douglas Burns)

Rob said the project developed as his family, which includes son, Jack, 12, a good shot on the driveway basketball court, faced challenges finding assistance to cope with the loss of Jed. Rob sees an urgency in Stables 4 Jed.

“The time should have been before this,” Rob said. “It should have been before us. There was nothing in this area to go to when we lost Jed.”

Grief is highly personalized and isolating, said Rob, 36.

“You feel so alone in it,” Rob said. “I feel like you go out into the public and you put on a face — ‘I’m OK’ — and then you go home and it all falls apart. This gives us a space to fall apart in a setting where you get to fall apart and have the help right there with you.”

Megan, 35, says she expects the loss to remain with the family for life. Stables 4 Jed will never eliminate the pain for the Riesselmans. They can help others, though, and that’s something, Megan said.

“Our hope is Stables 4 Jed will be an outlet for people who have gone through similar loss,” Megan said.

Megan said her son Jed was the “kid everyone wanted.”

“He was the kid who walked into a room and the room lit up because he was there,” Megan said.

“People gravitated to him,” Rob said. “It didn’t matter where he went. I mean, you can see his picture. He was just full of life.”

How to donate

Tax-deductible donations to the non-profit Stables 4 Jed can be sent to:

Stables 4 Jed, 3210 370th Street, Manning, Iowa 51455.

Donors can also contribute online through Venmo @stables4Jed.

The Riesselmans will be launching a Stables 4 Jed website and other social media platforms in coming weeks.

This column was originally published by the Carroll Times Herald and Douglas Burns’ blog, “The Iowa Mercury” and is shared here through the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative.

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Douglas Burns
Douglas Burns

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa journalist whose family operated the Carroll Times Herald for 93 years. He is the founder and director of development for the non-profit Western Iowa Journalism Foundation. Additionally, Burns founded a marketing and advertising firm, Mercury Boost, which is based in Council Bluffs. He is the business development director for Latino IQ, an Iowa-based organization. Burns, who resides in Carroll, writes for a number of Iowa newspapers with his work also having appeared in The Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Kansas City Star. You can subscribe to his blog, The Iowa Mercury, on Substack.