Started as a dream and launched as a one night a week program - in daylight and good weather only - for 10 students, Saddle Up! is now a year-round program that will serve nearly 180 children/youth in 2012.
Saddle Up! is the oldest and largest program of its kind in the region, and the only one exclusively serving children and youth who have disabilities. We are a Premier Center accredited by PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) International, the organization that sets the standards for safety and quality in equine assisted programs.
In 2011, Saddle Up:
- Marked its 20th anniversary as a nonprofit organization with a year-long celebration. Chris Cagle kicked off the celebration in February with a rock the roof concert – “Chris Cagle Unbridled” – at War Memorial Auditorium. The observation continued with our two June fundraising events, Music Country Grand Prix and Chukkers for Charity. In September, Joey+Rory were “Rockin’ for Riders” for a full house at the historic Franklin Theatre in September. Wrapping up the year was Homecoming Day in October at Saddle Up!. More than 300 people gathered to share memories and participate in multiple activities including demonstrations by “horse whisperer” JR Root, horse massage by Richard Valdez, hoof care by farrier Billy Lampley, veterinarian care by Dr. Nathan Wright plus “practice pony” rides, roping, coloring in special anniversary coloring books, and enjoying fresh off the grill lunches by the Men of St. Paul’s. A highlight of the day was the noontime ceremony honoring the four founders as well as past and present riders, families and volunteers. The anniversary marked the services of Saddle Up! that has served more than 1,000 children/youth with over 37,000 lessons through the power of 100-plus noble horses.
- Launched the pilot for the Saddle Up! Equestrian Club (SUEC). The SUEC was created to meet our mission by providing our more advanced participants the opportunity to grow and develop through additional learning opportunities. Modeled after the United States Pony Club, the SUEC includes classroom work, barn work, riding, and horse care, and it provides members the opportunity to earn badges and other recognition showing their achievements and growth. The SEUC is now an ongoing program.
- Provided 4,509 lessons to 176 participants. The participants consisted of 55% boys and 45% girls. They came from nine midstate counties, with the majority from Williamson County followed by Davidson County. The young equestrians daily deal with more than 50 types of disabilities – 38% physical disabilities, 8% speech/language, 9% cognitive/learning, 6% psychological/emotional, and 43% developmental – with many having multiple challenges. At Saddle Up!, however, the emphasis is on ABILITIES and each child is encouraged to do all he/she can whether it is helping to groom or tack his/her horse or ride independently.
- Lowered the average age of our herd. In 2010, our herd’s average age was 22.6 years. At the end of 2011, it was 13.4 years. Getting younger horses helps us keep our costs down and increases the chances for each horse to serve longer in the program. We maintain an absolute commitment to the health and welfare of each “horse staff member” as shown in the veterinary, farrier and massage therapy provided to keep them healthy. Our commitment to these amazing animals is also shown by our retirement plan for each horse at Saddle Up!, with the goal to retire each while the horse is healthy and able to enjoy a true retirement. We know it takes a really special horse to do this job.
- Provided learning opportunities. Ongoing learning is needed by staff and volunteers to ensure that we provide the best program possible. Among training provided during 2011 was special training for Board members to help them be better prepared for their leadership role. Also in 2011, we did a pilot for an Instructor Development Team to provide ongoing learning and development opportunities for our staff Instructors. The pilot’s success resulted in the Instructor Development Team continuing this year. In service to the field of equine assisted programs, we again hosted a workshop and certification for candidates seeking to become Registered Instructors of PATH International. The candidates from Saddle Up!, who had completed our Instructor in Training program, all passed and became Registered Instructors – keeping our record at 100% for our candidates!
- Maintained financial health. Thanks to the generosity of individuals and organizations combined with the stewardship of resources entrusted to our care, Saddle Up! again ended the year with revenues being higher than expenses. We are especially happy to report that during these times of economic challenges.
- Valued our amazing volunteers. Saddle Up! was founded by volunteers, and we remain a volunteer-driven organization. Our nearly 300 active volunteers again set a high bar, giving an amazing 14,960 volunteer hours. Based on the 2010 Tennessee rate of the dollar value of a volunteer’s time ($20.85 an hour), the 2011 Saddle Up! volunteers gave $311,916 in service! But, as anyone at Saddle Up! will tell you, our volunteers are priceless!
At the heart of all these numbers is a child. Serving that child - with an emphasis on the abilities of each individual - is the reason why we exist, plain and simple. It is what drives our Board, our hundreds of volunteers and our staff. All that we have, all that we do is in service to our participants. Thanks to all of you who help make that possible.