Equine-Assisted Activities Offer Heartfelt Help for Vets, Children with Special Needs
by Mary Toothman
At TiAnViCa Riding Academy, more than a dozen horses are on hand to allow people to ride — and heal.
Sara Meadows, executive director and co-founder of TiAnViCa Riding Academy, says horseback riding for people with special needs has been offered since the academy was established in 2005.
The benefits of riding depend upon the rider, but they are clearly substantial, she says. “For a child who sits on a wheelchair all day, it helps build trunk support and self-esteem. We teach our participants to ride the horse to the best of their ability.
“There are no words to express the feeling you get when a child is able to say ‘walk on’ on their own, or they are able to lead their horse through a pattern with minimal support from our volunteers. This is one of our goals.”
The academy was established after a friend mentioned a local need. “The idea came from a friend who has a child with special needs,” Meadows explains. “She had heard about equine therapy, and we had the horses available. At the time, the centers offering the service were in Tampa and Orlando, and it made it difficult for her to drive him there.”
The wording has changed for the most part from “equine assisted therapy” to “equine assisted activities,” she says. “Because most people see the word ‘therapeutic’ and expect a therapist on staff.”
From that start, the academy was eventually formed. They put their friend’s child on Roxie — one of their horses. “And the rest is history,” she says. Her husband, Roger Meadows, looked into becoming a certified instructor through what is called PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship).
“We moved to a property with a bigger barn, picked up two more horses donated by the Miami Police Department, and began giving lessons from our private barn.”
She and Roger operate the program with the help of many volunteers. “I basically run the program’s day-to-day activities,” she says. “I meet with donors, speak at meetings and wash the buckets, too, when needed. We have a board, as we are a 501c3 corporation.
“Roger oversees the programs and mentors new instructors. We would not be able to run our programs without the help of our volunteers … who give of their time on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings.”
“We have a part-time barn manager, and some great kids who keep us up-to-date in the social media realm. We are privileged to have Polk State College nursing students come in and help out for a few weeks every session.”
The academy has been leasing the Youth Villa barn in exchange for lessons to the girls at The Sheriffs Youth Villa in Bartow since 2009. “We became a PATH Premier accredited center through PATH and ClearSprings has generously given us access to the driveway, parking area and three fields to use for our programs,” she says.
While horseback riding is at the heart of the program, it is not just about the riding. “Our at-risk program takes a different turn, in that we have the participants learn to ride at the same time they are responsible for the horse and its gear while they are here,” she says. “They ride, groom, muck stalls, and help with other barn chores.”
The program is open for veterans as well, where it has a different benefit for participants. “Some of our participants in this program are beginning to integrate themselves back into the community.”
“They come in because they enjoy the time spent with fellow veterans, and they feel welcomed and like family. This is what I am frequently told. Some ride the horses; others simply groom and walk their horse.”
The academy changes people, Meadows says. “I always tell people when they come to visit that this is a ‘heart program.’ You will not leave the barn the same way you came in.
“Horses have the ability to change your perspective and pull you into their world. The horses do not see abilities or the lack of, they simply see a person who is searching and they come along and join them on that search. Every session there is a rider that pulls at your heartstrings, and you are privileged to come along on the journey.”
TiAnViCa has 13 horses, which are an integral part of the programs. “We have been blessed with a great farrier and veterinary doctor who keep our costs to a minimum. Yet the cost to take care of our ‘majestic giants,’ as some our riders call them, is a big part of our day-to-day costs,” she says.
To make a donation, contact the office at 1-888.548.2972 or mail your donation to TiAnViCa P.O. Box 7301, Lakeland, Florida 33807. All donations are tax-deductible.