Equine Therapy Program Reaches Teens, Adults With Disabilities On a New Level
by PAUL CATALA
The connection between horses and humans facilitates a bond that can help us overcome intense challenges.
That’s why Inspire Equine Therapy Programs uses activities and interactions with horses to help teens and adults with disabilities, as well as veterans with disabilities.
Located on 12 acres in southeastern Clearwater, Inspire averages more than 200 participants per year from across the Tampa Bay area, including about 100 U.S. veterans.
Inspire helps participants cope with disabilities and life challenges such as trauma, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety and depression. Emotional benefits gained from the interactions include increased independence, motivation and self-control, as well as cognitive gains and improvements in self-esteem, balance, coordination and muscle tone.
Inspire has multiple programs that include:
- Adaptive Riding
- Agricultural job training
- Freedom Heroes and Equines Program for veterans
- Equine Assisted Learning Programs in Education and Personal Development
- Stable memories for seniors
- Equine Partners Program
- Adaptive Equestrian Sports
Some Inspire programs are fashioned through a partnership with Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International, a national equine-assisted therapy program. There are 400 standards with which Inspire must conform to maintain that partnership, all under the direction of Melissa Yarbrough.
Yarbrough, Inspire founder and board-certified behavioral analyst, has been a PATH-certified riding instructor since 2001.
Yarbrough founded Inspire in 2016 after working as a certified riding instructor for 20 years. She says it’s the only equine therapy program currently in Pinellas County and complements similar programs at Quantum Leap Farm in Odessa and Bakas Equestrian Center in Tampa.
Yarbrough says it was her desire “to do it right” that drove her to open Inspire.
“From the other programs I worked at, sometimes they cut corners. I just wanted to make sure I was doing it right for the horses and safe for the clients and make sure it’s top-notch,” she explains.
At the equine center, Yarbrough and her staff of five have seven draft breed horses available, purchased from across the U.S. With them, participants can learn basic riding skills, horse control, directions and grooming. Riding goals are set and riders continue to the next sessions as goals are met. They get progress reports, but “they’re constantly working on their skills,” says Yarbrough, 47. She began horseback riding at 5 years old in Chicago before moving to Florida in 1997.
Participants mostly find out about Inspire through word-of-mouth or referrals from doctors or other agencies, and there is no limit on how long they can stay with the program. Ages generally range from 10 and older, with one recent participant being 101 years old.
“Our participants can participate as long as they’re able to afford it and physically able to. The sessions can continue with priority, so there’s usually a waitlist because once people are in, they stay,” Yarbrough says.
Programs run in two sessions: September to December and January to June. Participants start one before continuing to the next session.
At the center, CDC-recommended covid guidelines are followed but since courses are outdoors, masks aren’t currently required.
Yarbrough says the idea is for Inspire to provide the instruction and encouragement for participants to achieve on or off horseback. She says it’s the look on faces that is often the biggest payoff.
“Mostly, it’s the smiling faces and accomplishments the participants are making, what goals they’re meeting, seeing them strive to achieve and how much fun they’re having,” she says, “It’s also how their everyday lives are getting better because of it.”
While she’s pleased with what Inspire has achieved, Yarbrough says she would like to expand her riding herd by three horses and get a truck donated to move additional horse trailers.
Inspire Equine Therapy Program will be holding its 5th Annual Boot Scootin’ Barn Dance from 6:30-10:30 p.m. on Nov. 19. It will include music by Nashville recording artist The Angie Rey Project, food by Bay Star Catering, a silent and live auction, dancing and the Inspire horses.
For information, see www.inspireequinetherapyprogram.org.