Each week we honor an individual or organization that is doing good work in the horse world. Today we salute Ride Above Disability Therapeutic Riding Center.
Ride Above Disability (RAD) Therapeutic Riding Center is a PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) member center in Poway, California, that teaches recreational riding to children and adults of all ages with special needs. While relatively new — it was founded in April 2014 by Katie Wooldridge, Allie Sarnataro and Wayne Jackson — the minds behind this program have years of experience in the therapeutic riding world. The idea behind RAD was to create a place where the entire family unit could come and feel welcome, relax and enjoy their time at the ranch. While special needs riders are their focus, they also teach siblings and parents who are interested which gives families an activity they can share together. RAD started with 11 clients and is now up to 17.
RAD’s mission is to recognize the ability of each and every person and encourage their growth and development through the use of mounted and unmounted equestrian activities.”
To learn more about this great program, we spoke with a few of the people involved:
Katie Woolridge, RAD Co-Founder, Equine Director and Instructor:
Tell us more about the program.
We really wanted to bring home that RAD is a place for family and community, not just for our clients but our volunteers and instructors as well. Everyone at RAD is committed to changing lives for the better, no matter who you are. We look at every person that is involved and see ability.
Each client gets an individualized lesson each week that is tailored to their needs and goals. For some this is working on verbal communication (we’ve had clients whose first words were said on the back of a horse telling the horse to “Go”), others it’s building the core strength they need to be able to walk without a wheelchair, and others are really pushing their riding skills and moving towards competing.
Who does RAD serve?
We serve clients with physical, emotional, social, behavioral disabilities. Some examples of the disabilities we work with are ADD/ADHD, Traumatic Brain Injury, Stroke, Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, Cognitive Defects, Autism, Amputations, Cerebral Palsy, Behavioral Problems, Learning Disabilities, Hearing, Vision and Speech Impairments, the list goes on.
What’s your background and experience with therapeutic riding?
I got involved with therapeutic riding about 10 years ago. I started out cleaning stalls for a program and preparing their lessons, within 6 months I was working full time as an instructor and working towards my PATH certification. I grew up in the United States Pony Club which I credit my eye for safety and thorough horsemanship knowledge with. I’ve owned horses for 20+ years and have competed in 3 day eventing and dressage. I never expected therapeutic riding to be my passion or my career, it grabs you in a way you don’t expect when you see the progress these riders can make.
For me my moment was working with a rider that complained every week about riding, he’d been through numerous instructors who struggled with him. He took great pride in one upping everyone and reveled in proving others wrong. He was incredibly intelligent but couldn’t relate to people or the horses. My first goal became to make him and his horse Dalton a team. All of his lessons became about what he and Dalton could accomplish together and I got to see this riders attitude completely change. The more goals he accomplished with Dalton the more he enjoyed his lessons, the more he trusted me and the more he wanted to set more goals with Dalton. It was amazing to watch a rider who everyone wanted to stay away from become one of the favorite lessons to watch. After seeing that transformation I knew I was hooked.
What do you get out of the experience personally?
What is I have met some of the best people in my life through therapeutic riding. Whether they have been other instructors, volunteers or riders. I have made friendships I will have for a lifetime. I truly love what I do, I love sharing how horses can change someone, how they can be your best friend, your teacher, I have one of the best jobs in the world…. I get to teach people they can accomplish things they never thought possible.
What’s on the horizon for RAD?
In the future we plan on getting involved with Wounded Warriors, our Executive Director Wayne Jackson is retiring from the Marine Corp this year; starting this program is important to him and all of us at RAD. Horses are so great at making a person feel whole, they accept you for who you are and don’t judge you. That is a great gift to be able to offer our veterans.
We would also like to start an EAP (equine assisted psychotherapy) program, this will go hand in hand with the Wounded Warrior program as well as offer an alternative therapy for individuals or families. EAP is generally done unmounted, you use the horse or horses along with varying objects to help people visualize what they are struggling with and how to overcome it. It is conducted with a licensed psychologist and an equine specialist.
Allie Sarnataro, RAD Co-founder, Program Manager, Volunteer Coordinator and Instructor:
How did you come to be involved with therapeutic riding?
I initially got involved with therapeutic riding as a volunteer and continued volunteering for six consecutive years. My first day on the ” volunteer job” I knew therapeutic riding was what I wanted to do when I grew up! I continued on to become a PATH Intl. Certified Instructor and am now lucky enough to be a part of RAD. Katie and I have worked together for many years at previous riding facilities and it has always been a dream and goal to create a program for the community. With a passion and much determination Katie, Wayne and myself came together to create a place for students, their families, volunteers and staff to enjoy equestrian activities. In addition to instructing, I run the more administrative duties as the Program Manager and Volunteer Coordinator. Some duties include maintaining the overall scheduling and coordination of the program and students. Also, scheduling weekly volunteers to assist in therapy lessons.
It sounds like RAD has been hosting camp this summer. How has that been going?
Camp is going great! We are excited to be able offer camp to our riders and their families and friends after a few short months of being open.
Erika Raye, RAD Volunteer:
When did you get involved with therapeutic riding?
I myself am still new to this style of riding, since I’ve only been volunteering with therapeutic programs for a little over a year, but I can’t even begin to describe the amazing work these people do and how honored I feel to be a part of it.
What makes RAD special?
RAD isn’t just a place where children and adults with disabilities can go to learn how to ride, but it’s a community of amazing instructors, volunteers, parents, friends, and most importantly, horses. The patience and tolerance it takes to be a therapy horse is absolutely amazing. I’ve been lucky enough to help work with some of the new horses we have at this program, and the rewarding feeling you get from watching a horse come into a new home as a timid, unwilling to cooperate with the ridiculous things we do to them horse (such as blow bubbles and hang hula hoops off their ears), and turn into a therapy horse is amazing.
Volunteering is hard work. What makes it worthwhile for you?
Through out all the hours I’ve spent in the 95 degree weather of a Southern California summer, I would never change any of it. The best feeling in the whole world is when a student arrives for their lesson and smiles because they see their horse waiting for them in the mounting ring, and you can say that you’re a part of that. I can’t even say the number of times I’ve cried after listening to a parent tell a story of how their child has grown and evolved after only a few short weeks of riding.
Many thanks to Katie, Allie and Erika for sharing. We encourage Horse Nation readers to reach out to the program — here are a few ways you can help.
Katie explains, “The two biggest things we need help with is funding for a ramp and horse sponsorship for the program, they change lives every week, they are the life of our program, if anyone is interested in sponsoring a horse please contact Wayne Jackson at [email protected]. Right now RAD is looking at moving to our permanent location at Rolling Hills Boarding Stable. We have a lot of build up to do and can’t wait to have our own oasis on this beautiful ranch, we will need funding for a shaded area for our families to sit and watch the lessons, an office for our staff, a sensory trail. If people would like to help we our always accepting donations; monetary, tack, office supplies, veterinary supplies, etc. We are a 501 (c) (3) so all donations are a tax write off. We are also always looking for great volunteers to add to the RAD team, you can’t give more than your time and we are so grateful to our committed volunteers. Our program can’t happen without them.”
We applaud RAD for the great work they do and encourage Horse Nation readers to visit the RAD Facebook page to learn more about its programming as well as ways in which you can help RAD continue serving its community.
All photos courtesy of RAD.
Many thanks thanks to Ovation Riding for their support of both Horse Nation and individuals and organizations that are doing good work in the horse world. If you know someone who deserves a Standing Ovation, we would love to recognize them in a future post. Email the name of the person or organization along with a message about the good work they do to [email protected] Photos/videos are always welcome, and include a link to their website if applicable.