Special Equestrians was founded in 1986 by Rita Mendel and a handful of hard working volunteers with big hearts and a love of horses and children. Working out of the stables at Oak Mountain State Park and with borrowed horses they gave children with disabilities a chance to do what many of their able friends and family couldn't - they put them on the back of a horse and gave them freedom that only a horse can give. No wheelchairs or crutches, no need for verbal interaction or eye contact that is difficult if not beyond the reach of many with autism and other cognitive disabilities – just the experience of learning to control a big, gentle horse.
Special Equestrians has grown from 5 riders on borrowed horses to over 115 children and adults, 11 horses, 12 instructors, and a leased barn and 8 acres of land on the campus of Indian Springs School. Program participants are as young as two and a half and there is no upper age limit for riders. We serve riders with Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida, Multiple Sclerosis, Down's Syndrome, Autism, brain injury (including stroke), and many other physical and developmental disabilities. Our students are referred by the medical community and school counselors or they find us through media coverage, other community programs for people with disabilities, the internet, and word-of-mouth. In order to be accepted into our program, each student must have a physician's referral and, when applicable, a physical therapy evaluation. No one is turned away for financial reasons.