Equestrian Diversity Project: Stable Strides Farm

State Line Tack® is proud to bring you the inside scoop on riding programs that are working hard to bring access to horses to kids of all ages. This month's spotlight is on Stable Strides Farm.

Stable Strides Farm

What is Stable Strides Farm?

An award-winning therapeutic riding program created to give riders with special needs a place to become competitive and effective horse people. Although competing is not a requirement, many of their riders enjoy going to horse shows with the hope of winning tangible awards. All coaches are certified through PATH International, and the program horses are carefully selected and evaluated to be suitable — sensitive to their riders, love their jobs, and be competitive.

Horses, College, and a Mission

Founder and Program Director Mandy Cleveland grew up in the Texas horse world. A familiar face on the NTHJA circuit on her Thoroughbred Mac, she and Mac moved to St. Andrews Presbyterian College where Mandy rode on their equestrian team. After completing every therapeutic riding class St. Andrews offered, she transferred and graduated from Texas Woman's University with a certification to teach Secondary and Special Education. However, she eventually came to realize that her true calling was in the arena instead of the classroom.

An Idea is Born

Mandy was working at another therapeutic riding program and taking her kids to horse shows. The idea for a show-centric therapeutic program was born on a sunny Texas day, ringside. Sitting in the bleachers, watching one of her kids compete in a Maiden class at an open show, Mandy noticed an agitated man a few seats over. His behavior escalated, eventually leading him to point to her kid in the ring while loudly complaining that she didn't belong there because she HAD to have won 4 Blue Ribbons before. He was really angry, and it was then that Mandy realized that he felt threatened by her disabled rider! He was afraid that she would beat his two able-bodied children who were competing in the same class.

It's Time

Shortly after that first show, the Board of Directors of her program let her know that they were discontinuing the show program because it was expensive and didn't provide any return on investment. Of course, Mandy was heartbroken, but it was the impetus she needed — she left that program and started Stable Strides Farm.

At one of their first horse shows as a new program, a big-name trainer approached Mandy and complimented her student's sportsmanship — her kid was noticed because she was so friendly and wished every fellow competitor good luck. He then asked if their program took donated horses. This trainer, and his twin brother, show at the highest levels, which meant the horses they had were well trained and nice enough to be competitive.

20 Years of Success

Stable Strides Farm will be celebrating their 20th anniversary Summer 2021. Their partnership with trainers to acquire quality horses has elevated their program, not just because the horses are impeccably trained, but also because it has brought their farm recognition. Able-bodied riders now know that SS kids can come into the pen and compete — they can complete the technical patterns in the trail courses and kill it! And Mandy's students thrive on that recognition and their bragging rights.

More Than She Could Have Imagined

Mandy started Stable Strides fully aware of the benefits of horses for therapeutic clients. Riding a horse can move the rider's body in a manner similar to the human gait, allowing an improvement in muscular strength. Working closely with horses, volunteers, and coaches builds socialization, self-esteem, and provides a sense of belonging. Cognitive abilities can be improved through multi-step learning, planning, and memory development.

What she couldn't have planned for was the rewards for herself and her staff. They have seen their riders speak their first words, walk their first steps, and get their first jobs. Riders in the program are growing up and starting to volunteer, which is great for them, the program, and their parents. Those volunteers know the program, the horses, and the procedures, plus they can help the younger kids navigate the system.

Q&A with Founder and Program Director, Mandy Cleveland:

We had the opportunity to sit down with Mandy to chat about SS, the people they help, and the power of the horse. Read on to learn about Stable Strides' goals, what drives her and the program, and what SS needs to reach out to continue their work.

Q: What do you think people should know about your program?

A: That it's not just about the riders — it's about introducing able-bodied people to people with disabilities to show them that they have value in the show pen, in life, in the workforce. Our kids persevere, show up, do the work — and I want the world to see how they thrive.

Q: How many horses do you have, and where do you show?

A: We have 8 full-time therapy horses, and 3 more that are part-time or half leased. We are based out of a great hunter/jumper barn, and we attend 10-12 shows a year, including:

  • QH Congress
  • Palomino World Show
  • Dixie Nationals
  • Houston Stock Show
  • Ft. Worth Stock Show
  • TX Palomino Circuit
  • Special Olympics

In 2019 we even had two students travel to Abu Dhabi for the Special Olympics World Games!

Q: Can you tell me about a specific person who has thrived in your program? How did it help or change them?

A: Spencer! He started in our program at 3 years old. He rode, showed with us extensively. He's a 3-time world medalist at the Special Olympics, has shown at Congress, and holds World Show titles. He now volunteers 20 hours a week and works part-time at our local feed store. His new goal is to show in the amateur classes at Palomino shows against able-bodied riders. Our program gave him the tools to succeed not only in the ring, but in life. It taught him to think big and that anything is possible, even if it is hard.

We have another girl that really has flourished, too. She is now in her early 20s, and when she started with us as a child, she had severe fear issues, but she always asked to come back, and her parents brought her week after week. She competes in amateur classes at Palomino shows, and actually was recently certified to coach other kids. She didn't let her fear, or her cognitive impairment, limit her one bit!

Many of our students are getting jobs in the community — feed stores, grooms, teaching beginner lessons — and I feel that our program has opened doors for them that may not have existed without the horses. It is our goal to set riders up for success in the ring, but to set up our industry for continuity and success, too. It is our responsibility to make therapeutic riding and horses far-reaching and with longevity.

Q: What is the biggest challenge your program is facing currently, and how do you tackle that challenge?

A: Funding! Ex-show horses mean maintenance issues, so we have some decent vet bills in order to keep our great horses comfortable and living a life they deserve. We don't charge a ton for our services, either, because our riders are typically paying for multiple therapies — physical, occupational, speech therapies are very common as well. We are just a facet of most of our riders' programs.

We do have a few big fundraisers a year — a golf tournament, and a Run for the Roses around the Triple Crown time. That one is fun for the kids too, because they get involved with getting sponsors, and they are very competitive!

Q: What is your favorite thing about the program, or the kids?

A: Their blunt honesty! These kids just tell it how it is. It's not like dealing with everyday things, with subtext, and social clues, and it's just so refreshing.

Not too long ago, one of my riders was working as a volunteer. We had 20 program kids that day, and this student tacked and untacked every single horse himself. I thanked him at the end of the day, and he said, Oh Mandy, it's almost always my pleasure! It just gave me a huge laugh — ALMOST always — they're just so honest and unfiltered, and it's fantastic.

Be sure to stay tuned to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and https://www.stablestridesfarm.org for updates on Stable Strides and their next steps on their way to serving the Flower Mound, TX area, and beyond.

  • Published:
  • Updated: 3/23/2021: 9:36:48 AM ET
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