Our Team

Dana Hollenzer

Executive Director

Growing up amid the beauty of New York’s Catskill Mountains, I followed streams, picked blueberries, and rode my bike until dusk. As a young adult, Rochester, New York, was home while pursuing my education at SUNY Brockport (B.S. Health Science Education) and Nazareth College (M.A Liberal Studies.) Then, with five years of teaching behind me and a heart full of dreams, I moved to St. James City, Florida, in the summer of 2004. My greatest honor were the births of my two beautiful daughters, Kathryn Helen and Lilly Madeline. I’ve spent most of my professional career teaching and saying yes to every opportunity thrown my way. I was a tutor, coach, theater director, and magazine editor, earned a M. Ed. Educational Leadership, and held many positions in schools while working to serve and advocate for outliers. All the while, a horse thread ran through the quilt of my life, tugging me along until I bought an AQHA golden buckskin mare. Horses nudge us toward self-discovery, implore us to explore the possibilities, connect us to spiritual realms, and beckon us to live more passionately. They ignite the creative, compassionate, and courageous parts of our brains which inspired me to integrate my life’s work and serve others alongside horses. The skills we gain along the way amount to nothing until we recognize God’s work in our lives, a flash of royal blue light that we can suddenly grasp for the first time. I’m far from mountain air, old logging trails, and Princess Pine, but that foundation armed me with a fierce sense of freedom, fueled an everlasting ember, and sent me on an availing adventure!

 

Melissa Velez
Volunteer Coordinator

Born and raised in Florida, I've only ever known sunshine, orange blossoms, oak trees, springs, and beaches. Straight from high school in 2001, I started my career as a civilian for the Lee County Sheriff's Office and worked there for over ten years. During that time, I obtained my A.A. in General Studies and was awarded Civilian of the Year in 2006. I also pursued my bachelor’s in applied psychology. In 2012, my husband, a retired law enforcement officer, and I made the decision that I would focus on being a stay-at-home mom. I've been blessed to raise my son, Kaden, 18, and my daughter Maliya,12. Thus, I have been fortunate to be very active in my children's lives.

I've also been able to help my husband operate and grow a retail boutique and an online business. I've always been the visionary and creative; he has always been the muscle and voice of reason! In 2021, I received my first "free" horse named Oakley! She has been an absolute joy and one of the best adventures of my life. I learn so much from her every day. My favorite thing to do is load up and go on a long, relaxing trail ride, take in the beauty of God's creation, and clear my mind. I train with her weekly. I take her out in public to mount patrol in Babcock Ranch, where she can experience different scenery, sounds, and people, and they can also love her. I also have a horse named Trigger, who also gets lots of love! If I'm not spending time with my family or friends or riding my horse, I am with my church family attending services, leading classes, and bible studies, and helping serve in youth ministry.
As the Volunteer Coordinator, I value volunteers' importance and the impact they have. I will strive daily to honor and cherish volunteers and their hard work, furthering the mission at Special Equestrians, Inc.

Lisa Coy

Administrative Assistant

Born in Plaistow, New Hampshire, I’m no stranger to icy winter weather. As a child, I relentlessly begged my parents for a horse, was a cheerleader throughout elementary and high school, enjoyed roller skating, and swimming in my grandparents’ lake. After graduating from Keene State College, I entered a rewarding career as a Career Counselor for young adults and at-risk youth. As a way to connect with a group of teens, I sought out opportunities at Windrush Therapeutic Riding Center. My group of students quickly gained social skills and experienced unexpected changes that armed them with valuable life lessons and career skills. I now knew there was something special about a horse. I moved to Florida in 2018 to live my dream of owning a horse property. Although I've always loved horses, it wasn't until I was 40 when my children were old enough to not miss me when I snuck off to the barn and began riding again. Now, I have my very own herd of two on my own Florida horse property. Astro, my handsome AQHA retired reiner enjoys trail riding and watching the antics of his baby sister an Arabian Thoroughbred cross, Roo. A full circle moment occurred in my life when I began volunteering at Special Equestrians as a Sidewalker and Horse Leader in December 2022. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the magic of SE and I happily joined the team as an Administrative Assistant in April 2023. This position is bringing another dream to fruition by combining my passion of helping people and working with horses. In my free time I enjoy spending time with family, trail riding with my husband Mike, and learning dressage. I’m working on building a connection and partnering with Roo. I’m thrilled to be part of the SE team! 

Diane Shaw

Instructor, PATH INTL. CTRI

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.

Dee Hollander

Head Instructor/Founder
PATH Intl. CTRI

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.

Amy Oxendine

Asst. Program Director
Instructor, PATH INTL. CTRI

Amy Oxendine is one of our Saturday instructors for Special Equestrians (SE). She joined our team in 2009 as a volunteer and it became immediately clear that Amy was a very valuable asset to SE and would excel as one of our instructors. Amy completed her instructor certification and became a PATH, Intl. certified instructor in 2010. Owning horses since she was very young, Amy possesses the knowledge and riding skills necessary for the instruction and further advancement of our riders. She is the coach for our Special Equestrians Miracle Outlaws team and has ridden on her own competitive drill team as well as a fast-paced rodeo drill team. Amy owns three horses and enjoys trail riding with friends and taking lessons to learn more about reining. She works as a marketing coordinator for Johnson Engineering and participates in our Special Partners Outreach Team with her miniature horse Guinness.

Suzanne Renwick
PATH INTL. CTRI

Suzanne Renwick is one of our Path Intl Certified Instructors.  

Mike Freeman

Mike Freeman

PATH INTL. Certified Driving Instructor​

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.

Pamela Newton

SE Facility Caretaker
Instructor, PATH INTL, CTRI

Originally from Ohio, Pam's love of horses started at an early age. She took lessons and was a member of the United States Pony Club with her own horse up through high school. Once she graduated Pam attended the University of Findlay and studied Equine Business Management and Riding and Training with English Influences. 

Pam moved to Florida in 2004 and started volunteering at Special Equestrians in 2007. Pam jumped at the opportunity to take part in the CTRI mentorship program at SE. Now officially a PATH Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor, Pam subs whenever needed.  Pam has recently taken the position of SE Caretaker. This position is very important as the care of our horses is of the highest priority.  We are thrilled to welcome Pam to this position.

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’s. 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.

Jan Fifer

PATH INTL CTRI, ESMHL

Jan has been a horse lover since she was a child and got her first horse.  She did not own another horse until she was an adult.  After her husband gave her riding lessons and a saddle for Christmas, the horse ownership opportunity came quickly.  The hunter/jumper world was Jan’s love for the next fifteen years.  This interest grew into purchasing and operating a large boarding stable in Fort Myers where some of the early Special Equestrians board members kept their horses.  When the business sold, Jan looked for a volunteer opportunity.  With a B.A. in Special Education and an M.A. in Guidance and Counseling, the fit with Special Equestrians was perfect.   She has volunteered with Special Equestrians since the year 2000, serving for 13 years as the executive director.  Jan shares her life with a very understanding husband, two horses, one donkey, two dogs and four cats. 

Sadie Maxwell

PATH INTL. Registered Instructor​

Sadie grew up with horses and loved to ride all over the countryside whenever time would allow. She
was homeschooled most of her life and graduated when she was sixteen. She and her husband moved
full time to fort Myers two and a half years ago, where she was introduced to Special Equestrians. She
knew she loved everything about horses and quickly went through side walker and horse leader training. But after just a couple weeks working with the participants, she fell even more in love with their hearts and couldn’t think of anything better than going through further training to become certified as an instructor for SE. For the past two and a half years she has been growing in her horse knowledge and has taken further steps to understand riding in English discipline. She looks forward to growing even more and spreading that knowledge with everyone who is under her guidance at Special Equestrians.

Diane Shaw

Instructor, PATH INTL. CTRI

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.

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.

Amy Oxendine

Instructor, PATH INTL. CTRI​​

Amy Oxendine is one of our Saturday instructors for Special Equestrians (SE). She joined our team in
2009 as a volunteer and it became immediately clear that Amy was a very valuable asset to SE and
would excel as one of our instructors. Amy completed her instructor certification and became a PATH,
Intl. certified instructor in 2010. Owning horses since she was very young, Amy possesses the knowledge and riding skills necessary for the instruction and further advancement of our riders. She is the coach for our Special Equestrians Miracle Outlaws team and has ridden on her own competitive drill team as well as a fast-paced rodeo drill team. Amy owns three horses and enjoys trail riding with friends and taking lessons to learn more about reining. She works as a marketing coordinator for Johnson Engineering and participates in our Special Partners Outreach Team with her miniature horse Guinness.

Mike Freeman

Mike Freeman

PATH INTL. Certified Driving Instructor​

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.

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’s. 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.