The TEAM staff is a firm believer that everyone deserves his or her “15 minutes.” Our commitment is to those individuals and their families who may not get the chance to enjoy those accolades on the basketball court, football, baseball or softball field, on the stage, or in any other community arena.
For those individuals, we are their ball game, their stage, their pedestal. They are our comrades, our teammates, our heroes.
Our dynamic staff of volunteers shares this commitment and works tirelessly to see it happen on a daily basis. No job has been too large, too small, or too dirty for this group. Sharing the vision of a strong equine therapy program, volunteer determination has made the dream of a permanent program a very reachable reality.
While at-risk students have crossed invisible lines of social, communication, and cognitive difficulties, clients with physical impairments have improved balance and coordination. Autistic clients have discovered a whole new world through various equine activities, making great strides in many directions. The only regret seems to be the conclusion of each session.
The TEAM serves those who are faced with challenges of ALL kinds
There are a few myths or misconceptions about the TEAM that should be addressed to ensure future growth and impact on southeastern Oklahoma youth.
--We are not a recreational “pony” ride for youth. This program provides therapeutic riding activities for youth with special needs of all kinds.
--We don’t provide our services for free. While no one is turned away, sessions must be paid for by some source of funding. Limited scholarships are available from time to time.
--We take what we do very seriously, instructors, volunteers, and our horses work very hard to maintain a safe and productive experience for our clientele. We feel very privileged to work with our clients, volunteers, and horses. We strive to create an environment of mutual respect in a relaxed atmosphere for everyone.
--We believe this program is a partnership between parents, clients, instructors, volunteers, horses, and the community.
The mission of The Therapeutic Equestrian Association of McAlester (TEAM) is to provide persons of all ages with cognitive, physical, behavioral, and emotional challenges a therapeutic equestrian program that can not only help develop strength in areas of limitation, but also augment existing strengths, build valuable personal traits such as confidence and responsibility, to provide tools to improve independence and quality of life.
While still in the developmental stages, the TEAM’s program has already begun to implement this mission. To date, we have served approximately 40 clients whose disabilities include cerebral palsy, autism, Down’s, stroke, and emotional and behavioral challenges.
We have had the privilege of watching an autistic and deaf client play horseback basketball, high-fiving teammates, volunteers, and instructors, developing not only physical balance, strength, and dexterity, but personal relationships, as well. We have laughed as a cerebral palsy patient decorated his horse with sleigh bells and bows, standing on his own and exercising muscle control where there is often none. We have smiled through tears as a Down’s client verbalized commands to his horse for the first time, sharing his triumph with everyone in the arena. We have quietly celebrated as behaviorally challenged clients have built deep and abiding relationships with their horses, learning caring and empathy that has translated to their human relationships.
The TEAM offers a wide variety of benefits, including physical, mental, and spiritual, to its clients. For those clients with physical limitations, our goal is to provide activities that promote muscle tone, coordination, balance, and a sense of independence. These activities often result in cognitive development, as well. For clients with emotional or cognitive needs, our program provides both group and individual activities that foster the ability to apply scope and sequencing skills, as well as focus, critical thinking, and problem solving. Special needs families such as foster families can also reap the benefits of a therapeutic riding program, participating together in team-building and cooperative activities offered by the program.
While the mission of the TEAM currently has a central focus on clients with disabilities, that mission is quickly broadening to include the community as a whole. Not only do the clients receive innumerable benefits from the program, but instructors, volunteers and benefactors alike have nothing to lose and everything to gain from supporting such a program.
The TEAM is a grass roots program whose seeds were planted in late 2007 when founding members organized an equine assisted therapy instructor training workshop and certification clinic. The clinic included a pilot program in which individuals with disabilities participated in therapeutic riding sessions as potential instructors learned horse evaluation, volunteer training, safety and instruction from a certified therapeutic riding instruction clinician. Once the process concluded, the program continued, starting its first official session in the spring of 2008 with 6 clients and 4 horses. The TEAM acquired its 501(c)(3) status in the fall of 2008. Over the next two years, through service provision and promotion, the TEAM has expanded services to the Kiowa and McAlester public school systems, in addition to the customary 15 to 20 clients served during the majority of the year. Horse and volunteer counts have grown proportionately, as the TEAM now houses 10 horses and boasts a volunteer count of more than 25 trained individuals. All has been possible due to the generosity of the Pittsburg County Fair Trust, an organization that has allowed the TEAM full use of the Pittsburg County Fairgrounds facility, when not in use.
To build a therapeutic riding center conducive to providing equine assisted therapy year-round to groups and individuals in a safe, productive, spacious, facility to be conveniently located on 35 acres two miles north of McAlester. TEAM has secured the land that will allow for a facility that includes a 100 x 175 foot climate controlled, ventilated riding arena; twenty 12 x 12 foot stalls (half of which will be capable of easily expanding to 12 x 24 foot for larger horses or those that need more space to move); a 12 x 24 foot tack room for tack and equipment storage and organization; a 12 x 24 foot feed room; 12 x 24 foot classroom that includes an Americans with Disabilities Act compliant restroom. These rooms will all have cement floors for easy accessibility and cleaning; a wash rack for equine maintenance and session activities; an observation area for parents, caregivers, and therapists overlooking all teaching and activity areas; an office for computer and filing on-site access; and pens and pasture turnout facilities.
The TEAM successfully serves individuals of all ages with a wide range of disabilities through equine assisted therapy (we call them “Jockeys”), seeing improvement in physical, emotional, social, communication and intellectual abilities across the board. In addition, the TEAM provides service learning opportunities to a myriad of groups, organizations and individuals (we call them “Trainers”). As a former public school educator and library media specialist, TEAM’s North American Riding for the Handicapped Association certified instructor is determined and well-qualified to provide maximum instructional opportunities for the Jockeys, as well as service learning opportunities for high school students, youth and adult volunteers – the Trainers.
Jockeys ride once per week for the duration of sessions six, eight or twelve weeks in length, depending upon availability of facilities. They ride in ½ hour or hour segments, according to their needs. Cost is $25 for ½ hour session, or $50 for full hour session. No one has ever been turned away for financial reasons, and no volunteer has ever been denied the opportunity to serve, regardless of limitations they may have themselves. We are, however, limited to the number we can serve due to lack of space and time.
TEAM programming combines therapeutic equine activity with community service opportunities for youth and adults, including women’s shelter residents, high school students and members of community organizations and civic clubs, for the benefit of all.
TEAM currently functions through the donated use of the Pittsburg County Fairgrounds. Sharing the facility with events at the fairgrounds is a problem for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is amount of instruction time lost. Using the fairgrounds requires TEAM to interrupt sessions twice a year and vacate the premises. This break means hauling horses out, removing and relocating the wheelchair accessible mounting ramp, hauling out and storing tack, equipment, teaching tools and equine maintenance and care items, and tearing down stalls and arena materials. This is ordeal in the spring during the Pittsburg County Junior Livestock Show putting TEAM sessions on hiatus from mid-February to mid-March. The Pittsburg County Fair in the fall brings another break in TEAM action from mid-August to mid-September. TEAM sessions lose a week on either side of these events for removal and re-installment of program necessities.
The best illustration of this issue occurred when we initiated a pilot program in the fall of 2010 partnering with McAlester Public Schools, an institution with 3,000 students and four campuses determined to make equine assisted therapy a permanent part of its curriculum. While TEAM was able to serve all 23 special-needs students in the fifth and sixth grades in the pilot, scheduling in the current fairgrounds facilities allowed TEAM sessions for only half of each semester in the school year, and could not serve students from all campuses. The start and stop scheduling also meant that “Trainers” who are residents of the local women’s shelter, Hope House, lost their opportunity for fellowship, communion with the horses, physical exercise, a sense of responsibility and confidence that all come with their opportunity to volunteer in getting the horses ready for the week’s work.
Another challenge presented by the fairgrounds facility is the fact that it was built with livestock showing in mind. Therefore, the main arena is small, safely accommodating no more than three horses at a time in a session, and allowing for only one class at a time. This means that TEAM is limited to a maximum of eight students per day, which translates to services limited to only two of the McAlester Public School campuses, as well as the individual Jockeys who are not from the partner schools.
The facility situation creates additional hardships, as well. The median age of the TEAM horse herd is 22 years. Session participation has had positive effects on the horses, such as improving arthritis, appetite, muscle tone and even attitude. However, constant trailer transport and having to stay in stalls the majority of the time (there are no turnout facilities at the fairgrounds) has induced wear and tear on the horses’ bodies, and this has had an equally negative effect.
A TEAM specific facility would allow the program to double, at the very least, number of people served, while improving quality of service at the same time. In 2010, TEAM served a total of 82 Jockeys. Disabilities served include autism (30); Down syndrome (8); cerebral palsy (10); spina bifida (1); mental retardation (5); and emotional, behavioral and/or learning disabilities (28). In addition, TEAM volunteers outside of regular sessions in 2010 included 9 high school students acting as Trainers in the McAlester school pilot; an average of 5 residents of the women’s shelter each week through the summer on a rotating basis (some returned each week, but each week saw new residents, as well).
TEAM’s building proposal includes a 26,000 square foot combined 20-stall barn and arena to accommodate up to 10 horses at a time, or multiple classes at the same time, separate feed and tack rooms, office and administrative areas on-site, a classroom with computers for tutoring and further instruction for those with learning disabilities, and 30 acres of pasture, trail riding and turnout facilities.
Mandy Carter has finally decided what she wants to be when she grows up, a therapeutic riding instructor. She has traveled a winding road to reach this point. Growing up in Bixby, Oklahoma she began competing in professional rodeos by junior high. At Oklahoma State University she competed for the rodeo team and later became the first female Spirit Rider.
She has always been one that takes life at face value and puts stock in family, friends, and her faith.
Horses have played a major role in the life of Mandy Carter almost from the beginning. Having competed in barrel racing and various other performance events since the age of seven, she has developed not only a deep and abiding love for horses, but an equally deep respect, as well as the ability to read them.
With a bachelor’s degree in Ag Communications and a Master’s degree in Library Science from Oklahoma State University, Mandy has spent the last 9 years in the traditional classroom as an high school English teacher and Library Media Specialist. These years in the classroom resulted in a binding love and respect for her students, and an almost overwhelming need to provide help and guidance.
Another result was the discovery of a surprisingly long list of similarities between teaching high school kids and training horses. And why on earth couldn’t the two walk hand-in-hand?
Thanks to the unending support of her husband, 4-H Extension Educator Mike Carter, and their two children, Zeke and Zoey, Mandy has answered the call and followed God’s path to the T.E.A.M.
Board of Directors
President – Dr. Teri Stacy, D.V.M.
Owner/operator – Mobile Equine Clinic
Vice President – Rick Caywood
Chief of Security – Jackie Brannon Correctional Center
Secretary/Treasurer – Dr. Nancè Weddle, D.O.
Weddle Family Clinic
Trustee – David Cantrell
Pittsburg County Extension Director- Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service
To provide equine-assisted therapy helping persons of all ages with special challenges build self-confidence, life skills and independence through teamwork with the horses, volunteers and staff.