About Special Equestrians

History and Facility Information

Special Equestrians, Inc. is a United Way Partner Agency which provides therapeutic horseback riding and equine assisted activities to children and adults with disabilities. Special Equestrians is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit tax-exempt public charity that is solely supported by contributions from individuals, corporations, civic organizations, private grants, and service fees. One hundred (100%) of all contributions goes directly to the support of the program. As a volunteer-run self-administrative organization, Special Equestrians could not exist without volunteers and the support of the community.

Established in 1987 with borrowed horses, Special Equestrians serves children and adults with disabilities from Lee, Charlotte,  Hendry and Glades Counties in Southwest Florida.  Special Equestrians' facility, purchased in 2007, is located at 5121 Staley Road in Fort Myers, Florida. The 14.5 acre farm is a welcoming and versatile home for Special Equestrians with a twelve stall barn for our horses, a hay and equipment barn, a riding arena, caretaker quarters and office space.

In the fall of 2007, a 100’ x 200’ Metal Cover was added to the riding arena area, to provide a safer and more comfortable environment for our participants, volunteers, instructors, and horses. This roof structure provides a safe area to congregate, out of the heat and rain. Its concrete walkways provide a safe traverse through the viewing area and on to the mounting ramp.

In 2009, a sensory integration trail was built, as a partnership project with Florida Gulf Coast University Students, on the Special Equestrians property. While riding on the Sensory Integration Trail, our participants experience 20 different activity and obstacle stations.  The wooded setting provides a unique and exciting addition to the program classes offered at Special Equestrians.

Special Equestrians achieved Premier Accredited Center status through PATH, Intl. (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) in 2003.  Premier Accreditation requires on an on-site evaluation of policies and procedures covering more than 100 standards set forth by PATH, Intl. The accreditation process produces an organization that is not only extremely safe, but very professional. Special Equestrians is better able to serve our community because of our investment in the accreditation process.

Every five years since 2003, Special Equestrians has gone through a successful re-accreditation with a PATH, Intl. site visit, which is required every five years, in order to retain the status of Premier Accredited Center.

The center supports 13 horses and serves more than 95 participants each week. Participants range in age from four years of age to 75 plus years. Some of the disabilities we serve include: Cerebral Palsy, Autism, Down syndrome, Head Trauma, Stroke, Developmental Delay, Multiple Sclerosis, Seizure Disorder, Hearing Impairment, ADHD, Visual Impairment, Asthma, Loss of Limbs, and Impaired Communication.

The therapeutic riding and driving classes are divided into six week sessions. Thirty minutes of therapeutic instruction is given to each participant per week, or per lesson. The program is year round (eight consecutive sessions) with the exception of the month of August. A fee of ninety dollars ($90.00) for a six-week session is charged per participant. This low fee only covers about 25% of the cost to run our programs. Scholarships are available for those who cannot afford the fee. Volunteer work, in exchange for scholarships given, is highly recommended. Medical and liability insurance coverage for riders, volunteers, board of directors and the program site is obtained through PATH, Intl. and the Markel Insurance Company.

The mission of Special Equestrians, Inc. is to enhance physical, emotional, and cognitive growth for individuals with disabilities through equine assisted activities and therapies.

Special Equestrians, Inc.

P.O. Box 61528Fort Myers, Fl. 33906-1528

Facility location:

5121 Staley Road, Fort Myers, FL 33905

Our Mission Statement



Bob Murray, President

Erin Houck-Toll, Vice President

Sarah Lacy, Secretary

Freda Jones, Co-Treasurer

Brenda Morrow, Co-Treasurer

Jan Fifer, Executive Director


Priscilla Kovalsky

Sherry Gilbert

Adele E. Smith

Terra Anderson

Ashlynn Super


Grant Alley

Bus and Nifty Hamilton
Mindy La Croix

Christi Pritchett
Raymond Rodrigues
Angela Schivinski

Dr. Dennis Van Roekel
April Ward

Special Equestrians, Inc.    Board Of Directors

n Dee Hollander

PATH Intl. Certified Instructor

Our head Instructor, Dee Hollander, has been involved with Special Equestrians since its beginning in 1987. She is a PATH Intl. Certified Instructor and we are delighted to have her as our head riding instructor. She is an accomplished horseperson and rider herself, competing in the past in Saddle Seat competitions in Illinois. Dee has contributed her time to all aspects of our program and, in fact, was one of the founders of Special Equestrians. She leads our evaluation team in accepting new students when they apply to the program. Dee places students in classes with other students according to their abilities and needs. Dee is an active trail rider with her horse, Slick, a Spotted Saddle Horse. They have also competed together in ACTHA competitions and local Extreme Equine Horse Shows.

n Justin Parchem

PATH Intl. Certified Instructor

Justin Parchem is one of our Path, Intl. certified instructors. Justin wears many hats at Special Equestrians, including Spirit Riders Drill Team Coach, a member of the Special Equestrian stable committee, and our Equine Co-Manager. Justin is a Wisconsin native who moved to Florida in late 2000. Working the golf business, he began his journey with horses in Tampa, helping at a hunter jumper barn. After moving to Fort Myers area, he became a golf professional and invested as a partner in the ownership of three thoroughbred race horses in Miami. Soon Justin began volunteering for a John Lyons Certified Instructor to learn even more about training and riding horses. Since Special Equestrians came into his life in 2009, golf and horse racing have been put on hold to dedicate more time to a career in therapeutic riding instruction and his newly founded farrier business.

n Amy Oxendine

PATH Intl. Certified Instructor

Amy Oxendine is one of our Saturday instructors for Special Equestrians (SE). She joined our team here at SE back in 2009 as a volunteer. It became immediately clear that Amy was a very valuable asset to SE and we encouraged her to begin the process of instructor certification. She is a very intelligent, organized, and hardworking individual, so it is no surprise she became a PATH, Intl. certified instructor in 2010. Owning horses since she was very young, Amy possesses the knowledge and riding skill necessary for the instruction and further advancement of our riders. Amy is active in a local competitive drill team, Just Horsin' Around Drill Team. She is also an avid trail rider and enjoys riding all over the state with friends and family sharing her love of horses and the environment. Amy works as a marketing coordinator for Johnson Engineering and also has a miniature horse, Guinness, who has volunteered his time as well, to be a part of our new Outreach Team.

Diane Shaw
n Diane Shaw

PATH Intl. Certified Instructor

Diane Shaw is one of our Path Intl Certified Instructors. Diane began volunteering for Special Equestrians in 2007 and has always had a great love for our program. After years of sidewalking and horse leading, Diane decided to mesh her love of horses, the students, and teaching by becoming a certified instructor. She has owned horses off and on since seventh grade and rides Western and English. Diane also volunteers with our Special Partners program and the sidewalker training program.

n Mike Freeman

PATH Intl. Certified Driving Instructor - Level 1

In 2014 Mike Freeman joined the ranks of Special Equestrians as a volunteer. Recently retired, Mike was seeking to spend some of his available time in areas that involved his love for people as well as horses. When introduced to SE the perfect combination was obvious. Although working as a groom, side walker and horse leader was satisfying, there were new horizons that would dawn in 2015. For several years there had been a desire to expand the opportunities at SE by adding a carriage driving option for students. When the request went out for anyone who would be interested in ''taking the reins" of becoming a PATH certified driving instructor and heading up the driving program Mike stepped up. His years of breeding, training and showing riding and driving horses in central Indiana along with 40 years of working with public and private schools would serve as a good foundation for a quality driving program. One of our therapeutic riding horses, Lacey, had been driven extensively before coming to SE. When she was put to the cart it was obvious that she would be the perfect equine member of our team. She was much happier pulling the cart than she ever was under saddle. After a successful Driving Support Team training and six weeks of our pilot program working with three willing students in the Spring of2017 we were ready to "roll"! Many of the same therapeutic benefits of riding can also be accomplished in our driving program. Our Mission of “enhancing physical, emotional and cognitive growth" is ever before us and our new Driving Support Team is ready to “Make Miracles Happen"!

n Sarah Poindexter

MS, OTR/L, PATH Intl. Registered Therapist

Growing up riding and competing in hunter/jumpers and dressage, horses have always been a passion of Sarah Poindexter. She is also passionate about helping people and has been involved with adaptive riding centers as a volunteer since 2006 in both the Tampa and Ft. Myers areas. Sarah began volunteering for Special Equestrians in 2010 as a side walker and horse leader. She quickly discovered that there was something more to this and decided to pursue an occupational therapy graduate degree at Florida Gulf Coast University with the long term dream of incorporating horses into her therapy practice. Sarah joined the Special Equestrians board of directors in 2014. She attained her AHCB Certified Therapist status in 2016 after completing the American Hippotherapy Association Level 1 and 2 courses and passing the entry level board exam in hippotherapy. She now offers occupational therapy incorporating hippotherapy as a treatment strategy at Special Equestrians as a PATH Intl. Registered Therapist.


Special Equestrians' trained volunteers are the backbone of our therapeutic riding program. If you are comfortable around horses, we have many ways for you to contribute. You can groom and tack up the horses, be a sidewalker, lead the horses, or help maintain the stable area. We also have office work, fund-raising, and special events for those volunteers who do not want to work directly with the horses. Whatever direction you choose will be unique and rewarding. Join our team and share the joy!

You will receive orientation and training to explain the safety and procedural rules of the program. You will need to fill out an application form and the emergency medical treatment form before you begin your volunteer work or your volunteer training. If you would like to fill out the forms before you arrive for orientation and training, click the links below to print out the volunteer forms and the release forms. You may also read the volunteer handbook at this time.

Once you have completed the volunteer application and read the volunteer handbook, call our office and leave a message for our volunteer coordinator, Priscilla Kovalsky.  She will return your call and schedule your volunteer training, which will take place at Special Equestrians. If you need directions to our facility, click this link:

Directions Volunteer Application Packet Volunteer Handbook

Volunteers are not paid not because they are worthless but because they are priceless.

Please take a minute to watch a short introduction to Special Equestrians' and our facility...

Please give us a call or send us an email if you have any questions.

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Special Equestrians is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit, tax-exempt local charity supported solely by individual donations and service fees donated by riders.



FED. ID # 65-0250071



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