SPROUT: To Grow, Spring Up, Come Forth
By Meg Mullery
On a beautiful autumn evening last September, Sprout Therapeutic Riding & Education Center in Aldie, Virginia, hosted a gala celebrating Sprout’s Tenth Anniversary.
While these kinds of formal events are not unusual in the D.C. area, this one was far from your typical black-tie soiree. Guests entered the event, which took place in Sprout’s riding facility, through a line of stalls that housed a welcoming committee of very excited ponies and horses with heads sticking out hoping for pats or treats. This led to the large indoor riding ring magically transformed into an elegant venue with chandeliers, loads of twinkle lights, large potted palms, dining tables, a dance floor and live music.
After cocktails and dinner, the time came to introduce the guest of honor. A Sprout staffer wearing a stunning gown led a large horse named Duke into the event to a standing ovation. Duke was recognized for his many years of patient lesson service and continuing to prove there is a transformative connection between human and horse. Duke is just one of the 18 uniquely trained horses that give hope and confidence to students at Sprout.
And then it was time to dance. And dance they did. Party-goers of all abilities crowded onto the floor.
If one were to create a tableau that captured the spirit and vision of Sprout, the gala would serve as the model. Sprout encourages and embraces friendship, fun, and community. Each week, Sprout serves nearly 185 individuals ranging in age from a one-year-old diagnosed with spinal muscle atrophy, to a thirty-year-old survivor of a traumatic brain injury, to an eighty-year-old with advancing physical and mental deterioration.
Since Sprout began operations in 2011 its programs have expanded to include adaptive riding/driving; equine supported therapies; community lessons; equine assisted learning; competition; and clubs to ensure riders are supported both in and out of the barn. These programs and therapies–created with the goal of providing hope, healing, empowerment and recovery through the bonds of partnership with equines–have changed the lives of thousands over the years.
My friend Nancy L is back in the saddle at the age of 60-something after being diagnosed with MS years ago. A mechanical lift takes her from wheelchair to her therapy horse Dancer with the help of the amazing instructor Nancy D and a team of volunteers. Nancy L and Dancer engage in a lesson involving the walk, trot gaits combined with Nancy D guiding her student through difficult stretches while on the horse. Nancy L amazes her doctors with her core strength and encourage her to keep doing what she’s doing.
Jeff, a retired military general, suffered a stroke impacting his cognitive abilities. His weekly lesson with physical therapist/instructor Sue entailed memorizing dressage tests and steering Thor, a large beauty of a horse, through the tests. Jeff’s doctors were stunned at his recovery. Jeff, by the way, had never before been on a horse.
Caroline, who is in her 20’s and uses a wheelchair, participates in carriage driving lessons with instructor Anna and horse Dancer. The joy and smile on Caroline’s face during the lessons says it all.
A beloved family member who was stricken with polio leaving him paralyzed inspired his niece Brooke Waldron, an avid equestrian herself, to start the riding facility focused on students with special needs. Brooke explains that her late uncle, although in a wheelchair, was a leader and entrepreneur who didn’t recognize or understand limitations; rather, he saw possibilities. To that end, Brooke’s pride in her students’ accomplishments is evident and she reminds them to embrace being a “possibilitarian”, a wonderfully appropriate and creative made-up word.
Brooke is so much more than the founder of Sprout. She is its heart, soul and brains. Her management and leadership skills are evident as she oversees a 27-acre facility with 16 dedicated staff members that include instructors, physical therapists, a barn manager and assistants, as well as front office personnel and an army of volunteers, working together to provide lessons and programs six days a week, ten months a year.
Caring for the horses is a large part of Sprout’s budget. But Sprout donations also go toward ensuring that no student is turned away through subsidizing more than 50% of each student’s lesson cost.
The annual September black-tie gala is only one of several fundraisers throughout the year. Donor contributions, volunteer manpower, and in-kind donations allow Sprout to provide on-going therapeutic programs essential to the disability community.
In defining her vision, Brooke explains, “Sprout is built on the conviction that we are not bound by our limitations but rather we are called to achieve personal greatness and invest in one another.” Possibilitarians, indeed.
Full disclosure: I have volunteered at Sprout for several years and have witnessed what can only be described as miracles.
About the Author: Meg Mullery is a contributing writer and Blue Ridge distribution “assistant” to the OTC and just a great all around person. She is a Middleburg resident and spends some of her valuable time selling real estate for Washington Fine Properties and volunteering at Sprout – a therapeutic riding program in Aldie.
This year’s gala is on Saturday, September 17, beginning at 5:30 pm at the barn. For more information, contact email@example.com. For information on lessons, programs, events, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Sprout Therapeutic Riding and Education Center on Facebook.
Sprout is located at:
40685 John Mosby Highway
Telephone: (571) 367-4555