When two groups with common objectives meet, the greatest outcome is cohesion. Seamless unions occur rarely, but the relationship between the Whitaker Family Foundation and Equestrian Bridges is a welcome exception.
Equestrian Bridges’ Mission
“Building Bridges of Connection for Children, and Empowering Families”
Whitaker Family Foundation Mission
“Building a Better Future by Supporting Healthcare and Education for Children Today.”
Making Sense While Making Lives Better
In addition to the Whitaker Family’s commitment to children, they also hold close an affection for horses. Passing by the Pauline Whitaker Animal Science Center on Maple Street in Fayetteville, you’ll recognize one of the halves to the whole of this new partnership.
The Pauline Whitaker Animal Science Center includes a 100 x 250 ft. riding arena with seating for 750, three classrooms, a conference room and a 10,000 sq.ft., fully equipped show barn. The Center is a place for education, idea sharing, and progress in all areas related to animal science.
Growing Their Reach Through Collaboration
Equestrian Bridges began as a brainchild of Shanna Dozier, a mental health specialist currently pursuing her masters in Marriage and Family Therapy. When Dozier discovered the almost-automatic bond formed between children on the autism spectrum and horses, she felt this was a dream worth realizing.
Equestrian Bridges began in Siloam Springs but moved to a new host facility, Parkerman Stables, at 3100 Oakland-Zion Road in Fayetteville.
Through their mutual love of horses and children, The Whitaker Family Foundation and Equestrian Bridges began to explore the potential of working together.
The Whitaker Family Foundation approved a grant of $10,000 to Equestrian Bridges in 2015 to help fund their Dream Catchers Program. Dream Catchers provides family therapy for children with autism, private therapy sessions for the children, and group counseling sessions for the parents.
Ms. Dozier expressed her gratitude about the new collaboration by saying, “The Whitaker Family Foundation grant has really allowed us to expand our capacity; not just to participants, but to their families as well.”
The Positive Effects of Similar Visions
The Foundation’s grant allows Equestrian Bridges to continually grown their outreach. From 2007, when the 501c3 began to now, the programs offered increased to include the siblings of the original participants, youth at risk, and adults.
With a larger number of incoming students, the need for support staff increases. When they began, human involvement was 100% volunteer. Equestrian Bridges now employs one full-time staff member and two part-time employees in addition to the volunteer teachers and therapists.
Dozier credits her team of volunteers and company representatives to the success of the foundation. Dozier states, “The team of Equestrian Bridges is where the beauty happens.”
The Results of Hard Work and Helping Hands
Programs offered by Equestrian Bridges encourage life skills through a therapeutic approach to play. The gentle nature of therapy horses draws children and adults to reach out physically and emotionally, and they form a bond through that interaction.
A noticeable difference in both horse and student behavior is evident within a relatively short time span. Some child/horse relationships begin to gel within an hour of meeting.
The students learn a new skill every week at the Learning Station. One week the lesson could focus around patience; the next week could emphasize boundaries.
When Fundraising is Fun
Equestrian Bridges hosts a Mini-Derby, a successful fundraising event, currently in its fourth year. The 2016 mini derby coincided with the Kentucky Derby, so, naturally there was a watch party and an oversized hat contest. The family-friendly event also included face painting, horse rides, and a pony race.
Volunteers Are Always Welcome
Please email Jamie@equestrianbridges.org for more information.