Nestled among farms and ranches on Canadian County’s prairie, there’s an area that simply looks like more barns and horses. But Savannah Station Therapeutic Riding Program isn’t your average horse ranch.
“We are the only therapeutic riding program that serves special abilities youth and adults and their families west of Oklahoma City, all the way to the state border,” says Andi Holland, the program’s executive director since 2017.
Always the head cheerleader extraordinaire, Holland is over-the-top thrilled for her students who participated in the fall 2020 Special Olympics Equestrian competition.
“We are excited to congratulate our amazing medal winners,” she says. “We had one gold, four silvers and five bronzes. 2019 was the first year we participated, and we had a gold and two bronzes.”
A native Oklahoman, Holland came from a lengthy career in nonprofit management. She is a certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor with PATH – the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship – which is the credentials organization for equine specialists. While overseeing Savannah Station, she finds ways to raise the annual $85,000 budget, including the Galloping for Hope Barn Party fundraiser, which switched to an online auction in 2020.
The nonprofit program, with a mission of “hope and healing with horses,” relies on individuals, sponsorships, grants and fundraising events for support. All classes are free for students.
“When I started in 2017, there were 14 students,” says Holland. “Now, we have 40 students and a waiting list, and the highest number of students ever. Our ability to grow depends on the number of volunteers and instructors we have. We have 60 volunteers and four certified instructors. The minimum age for riders is age 4, and now we have riders ages 4 to 30. They have 45 minute sessions, and we have three riders in each class. Our programs focus on cognitive, social and emotional confidence. Since the program began, we have worked with approximately 200 children and adults.”
A proven form of valuable therapy, equine-assisted riding uses the horse’s movement to create muscle and sensory stimulation that brings about physical, emotional and cognitive rehabilitation. It’s linked to the rhythmic, repetitive gait of the horse, giving the experience of normal pelvic movement for the rider. Riding the horse brings a sense of freedom that many riders are unable to experience another way.
The program’s lessons address numerous challenges including autism, brain injuries, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, emotional and learning disabilities, multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, spinal cord injuries and visual impairment, among other disabilities.
In 2013, a retired special education teacher and other volunteers founded Savannah Station. Originally a traveling program, each week they moved the horses, tack and arena equipment to Bethany, Piedmont and El Reno. But in 2016, the program nabbed a permanent home at Redlands Community College’s Royce Ranch in El Reno.
“I absolutely love seeing what our miracle-working, healing team of horses does for our students,” says Holland. “Little miracles happen in every class. This is God’s program – it always has been and always will be.”
with Savannah Station Therapeutic Riding Program: