Special Equestrians of the Treasure Coast Steps Up its Game to Become a “Premier Accredited Center”


Oil painting by Gail Dolphin, Vero Beach.  After many years of owning, riding and working with horses and dogs, her intimate knowledge has become a constant inspiration for her work.  www.gaildolphinart.com

SPECIAL EQUESTRIANS OF THE TREASURE COAST FOSTERS PERSONAL ACHIEVEMENT through equine assisted activities and therapy (EAAT) for individuals with special needs in a safe and stimulating environment.

Whether it’s a five-year-old with Down syndrome, a 45-year-old recovering from a spinal cord injury, a senior citizen recovering from a stroke or a teenager struggling with depression, research shows that individuals of all ages who participate in EAAT can experience physical and emotional rewards. For individuals with emotional challenges, the unique relationship formed with the horse can lead to increased confidence, patience and self-esteem.

A physical, cognitive or emotional special need does not limit a person from interacting with horses. In fact, such interactions can prove highly rewarding. For instance, experiencing the rhythmic motion of a horse can be very beneficial. Riding a horse moves the rider’s body in a manner similar to a human gait, so riders with physical needs often show improvement in flexibility, balance and muscle strength.



Special Equestrians is a member of the The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.), which promotes safety and optimal outcomes in equine-assisted activities and therapies for individuals with special needs.

PATH Intl. was founded in 1969 as the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) to promote safe and effective therapeutic horseback riding throughout the United States and Canada.

It is a global authority, resource and advocate for equine-assisted activities and therapies and the equines in this work that inspire and enrich the human spirit.

Special Equestrians has a “working” Board of Directors who are stepping up their game to become a PATH Intl. “Premier Accredited Center.”

Only centers that achieve the highest level of excellence in quality of service, program deliverables, and administration are recognized by PATH Intl. to be Premier Accredited Centers.  Once achieving the Premier Accredited Center status Special Equestrians will one of only four or five in the State of Florida.

As a Premier Accredited Center, Special Equestrians will be able go beyond providing occupational therapy by equine assisted activities by being able to offer participants mental health assistance; to help individuals with special needs deal with  post-traumatic stress, grief and depression.

It will also allow them to open up their program to veterans (“wounded warriors”) dealing with mental and physical health issues.

Special Equestrians will have PATH Intl. Certified Riding Instructors, qualified to instruct other instructors.  They will also be qualified to provide other existing or start-up barns offering equine assisted activities and therapy with the knowledge-base to establish safety and evaluation standards.

They will also have Equine Specialists on staff who are responsible for creating and maintaining a therapeutic and educational environment for all participants; understanding how to maintain PATH Intl./EFMHA standards, including the care, management and humane treatment of the equine.

The Equine Specialists will also ensure the safety and well-being of all equines participating in Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL) and Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP) sessions, and serve as the equine expert during all equine/human interactions; collaborating with all members of the team (mental health professionals, educators, volunteers and equines) to meet the goals of the client’s treatment plan or individual education plan.

Becoming PATH Intl. Certified Riding Instructors and Equine Specialists is not an easy process.

For example, in addition to other requirements such as attending conferences, clinics and publishing papers, Certified Riding Instructors and Equine Specialists must document of a minimum of 20 continuing education hours (clock hours) obtained during the previous 12 months to include core requirements of disability education.

Disability education is defined as educational activities that provide the student with greater understanding of the physical, social, cognitive and/or behavioral impacts experienced by individuals with disabilities, mental health disorders or emotional trauma.

In conjunction with the Board of Directors, Special Equestrian’s new and first ever Executive Director,  Sandy van der Meulen, is now leading the charge to create a “higher caliber” facility.   The fact that Special Equestrian’s Board recruited Sandy speaks to their commitment to step up it’s game.

Sandra Special Equstrians

Sandy van der Meulen

Sandy brings over two decades of leadership experience in the business and non profit world. Her passion for horses is evident the moment you meet her. She is also a motivational speaker in her spare time.

Sandy plans to increase equine assisted activities and therapy classes from three to five days a week and add additional instructors.  She wants to teach more and more individuals with special needs and eventually double or triple enrollment.   “We want to become an educational facility.”

Two charity events are going to be held to support Special Equestrians planned growth.  Both will be held at PG Polo & Equestrian – Vero Beach, located 7700 8th Street, Vero Beach.

The first charity event will be held on February 20 to support Special Equestrian’s operating expenses, projects and programs.

The next event will be in fall and have a “fun” theme to support scholarships that will enable individuals to pay for tuition.  It will, perhaps, be a fun cajun/New Orleans type event with a band.

Obviously she is seeking corporate sponsors for each event.

In closing,  Sandy made a  “special,” point of highlighting that “100% of the riders who have gone through the Special Olympics program since 1992 have gone through the program on a pro bono basis.”

For more information on how you can sport Special Equestrians step-up their game please call Sandy at (772) 532-5627 or email her at sandivand@me.com

holding hands

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  1. Pingback: This Young Woman at Gifford Middle School Could be the CEO of a National Non Profit Organization: Give a Buck for Special Equestrians | Vero Communiqué

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