Today we’d like to introduce you to Sally Cole.
Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
I have loved horses all my life. I took riding lessons starting at age ten and was blessed to have my own when I was 13… I showed him in local hunter/jumper and dressage shows. He was a former racehorse and taught me a great deal about riding. He passed away from colic when I was 31 and pregnant with my daughter.
When my daughter was diagnosed with autism, I quickly found a local therapeutic riding center to enroll her. She started at age four and it has been a joy for both her and myself. I loved the program and the progress I saw her make and that of other students and I knew I wanted to be an instructor. I went through the certification process with PATH International and started right away. It is the best job ever! I get to work with horses and watch them make a difference in the lives of special needs children and adults. It’s so rewarding and I’m humbled that I get to participate in such an amazing occupation. My longtime childhood friend, Audra Rosson and I created our non-profit organization called Chasing Dreams Equestrian Center out of our passion for horses and how these majestic animals can help humans in many ways. We offer therapeutic riding for special needs children and adults, riding lessons for disadvantaged youth and other equine-facilitated activities including working with mustangs from out west. We started in East Orange County at a boarding facility. It was always Audra’s dream to have her own property where we could conduct our program. Last summer, her dream was realized and Chasing Dreams Equestrian moved to Howey in the Hills.
We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Creating and running a non-profit presents many challenges….especially when horses are added in the mix. Caring for and maintaining healthy happy horses is a huge job in itself. Having moved from one side of Orlando to another, we were unable to retain all of our riding students that lived on the east side, however a few are able to make the trip for their lessons and we have gained some new students here in Lake County. We are slowly working on making the property the way it will work best for our program.
Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
As a PATH International Therapeutic Riding Instructor, I have the privilege of helping special needs children and adults learn how to ride a horse. The physical act of riding uses many different muscles in the body which is so helpful in strengthening the core and improving posture. With the help of dedicated volunteers who walk next to some of the riders, we can help people who may be wheelchair bound sit on a horse. The exercises and games we do from the back of the horse also help the rider with focus, memory, coordination, following directions, and relaxation. The movement of the horse helps tight muscles relax and stimulates the spinal cord. There is also the bond that develops between horse and rider. This connection helps encourage empathy toward another living creature. Therapeutic riding is a fun way to gain many benefits that are physical, mental, and emotional. I’m most proud of my riders when they enjoy their riding lessons. It’s therapeutic without being like another therapy session.
We all have a different way of looking at and defining success. How do you define success?
As a therapeutic riding instructor, I find success when a non-verbal child suddenly tells the horse “walk on” or “whoa”; or when a rider with anxiety relaxes and enjoys the ride; or when a rider with weak core strength can now sit up straight and go with the movement of the horse. To see the delight in the parents’ faces when this happens is such a rewarding experience.