Take it indoors. Therapeutic center looks to build riding arena

Shepard Meadows Therapeutic Riding Center has been in existence for eight years, and has been offering its programs for seven of those years. By 2015, the center expects to have a brand new indoor arena to enhance and increase its services and better serve the clientele it works with.
Murdo Smith, vice president of the center’s board of directors, said the horses will be housed in the indoor arena, and there will be a riding ring, viewing area for parents and a lobby area for children to get comfortable when they first arrive.
The center currently operates about 24 weeks out of the year, and Smith said 80 percent of the time one day of each of those weeks gets rained or snowed out or it is too cold or hot.
“It puts a real damper on us as an organization,” Smith said, adding that many of the 35 clients the center serves are from out of town, and end up driving longer distances to find out there will be no lessons that day. “We want to get them excited about their lessons that day, not disappointed.”
The arena is planned to be 200 feet by 80 feet and is coming at a price tag of between $1.5 and $2 million. In addition to stables, the riding ring and a few other areas, there will be washing and brushing areas for the horses and offices as well.
Petra Shearer, administrative director of the center, said the center will still only provide therapeutic riding, however will be able to bring in clients in wheelchairs.
“Our services would greatly expand with the new arena,” Shearer said, adding that she has mapped out what needs to be done over the next few riding semesters. The number of volunteers needs to increase and the number of clients is expected to increase to 50 by July of 2015. Each client requires about three volunteers, and the current programs need about 75 volunteers.
“If someone wants to volunteer, we take what they bring and make it successful,” Shearer said, adding that volunteers don’t need a background in equine care or child care. She said the only requirement of volunteers is that they are committed to being at the center regularly and being reliable.
The three goals of this project are to run the present program through June of 2015, open the arena in September of that year, and financially obtain present opportunities, future opportunities, and permanent endowment. Currently, Shearer said, 20 percent of the center’s revenue comes from the riders, while the remaining 80 percent comes from grants, fundraisers, and contributions. The center became accredited over the summer last year with the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horseman-ship International, a 501(c3) non-profit focused on equine-assisted activities and therapy.
“We need everything needed to run a non-profit,” Smith said, referring to consistent professional services like office support, receptionist, fundraiser planning assistance and more board members.
The center has three large fundraisers each year: a gala, a motorcycle event, and a bowl-a-thon, as well as an annual campaign. For one year, it costs about $150,000 to $180,000 to run Shepard Meadows Therapeutic Riding Center. There are eight paid staff members between maintaining the barn and also running the programs, who each put in one volunteer hour for every four paid hours. The center has also already received site approval from the city for the arena, and would need building approval next.
“We’d be able to run 44 weeks out of the year, and probably about 12 hours per day with the new arena,” Smith said, adding that the center currently is open 6 days per week and operates programs in the late afternoon. With the indoor arena, he said the center could open up more programs for a larger number of adults with needs, and veterans.
“This is a huge change for us,” Shearer said, adding that once the facility opens up “we can continue to grow our number of clients, horses, volunteers and paid staff.”
Shepard Meadows will be “a much different facility,” Smith said. “This will be one of the best organizations in Bristol. The possibilities are endless.”
The center is going to focus on raising funds for this new project, as well as increasing the number of volunteers. For information on how to get involved, call Shepard Meadows at (860)314-0007.
Comments? Email knaples@BristolObserver. com.