Making a Difference… One Hoofbeat at a Time
Tucked away just off Doncaster Road, in a quiet, tree-canopied neighborhood, sits what some might describe as heaven — if Clearwater, Florida, weren’t paradise enough. In 2010, Pinellas County native Christine Gagnon and family discovered the 12-acre property with the dream of bringing the healing qualities of equine assisted learning to others.
Their daughter Kaylee, born with Down Syndrome, had always felt a special connection to horses, riding before learning to walk. Although her daughter’s private lessons were helpful, Christine dreamed of a place where multiple riders and their families could socialize and create relationships, all while gaining the physical and emotional benefits that come from bonding with horses. She envisioned a centrally located campus, peaceful and serene, where participants were challenged in the right way — for development, learning and positive feedback. It was here where a community would be built, not just around the horses but also the people.
“When we stepped foot on the property for the first time, we knew it would be a challenge. It was a jumbled mess,” Christine said. “The house was old and run down. The grass was overgrown. And there was so much work to do. But I could see it — a dock, a garden, a pasture, stables in a barn… even a swing set. The picture in my mind, it was all just so real to me.”
Family and close friends, including Karen Klinker and her daughter Amie, teamed up on an extensive two-year renovation. Chris Gagnon, Christine’s husband, volunteered to man the bulldozer — clearing the palm trees and extensive foliage. In 2013, Creek Under the Son Stables was born, complete with a horse barn, remodeled home, fenced pasture and newly built riding arena. Finally, Kaylee and Amie had a place to call their own. Together, they rode the property’s first four horses, Sunny, Abbey, Epi, and Sissy.
Christine and Karen connected with Melissa Yarbrough who, at the time, was program director at another local equine organization. Melissa had been working with animals virtually her entire career, from horses and birds to dolphins and exotic animals. Her gift for understanding and connecting with animals had also provided her with unique experiences,
such as working on the launch of SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove and appearing on Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures. Christine shared her vision for the property and Melissa immediately saw great potential in the vastness of this opportunity and began planting the seeds for what would soon become Inspire Equine Assisted Center.
“I really believed in Christine’s vision. We were definitely on the same page.” she said. “I told her I would develop a program and utilize these facilities exactly how she intended. We knew this was the start of something great.”
Within a few weeks, Melissa came up with the organization’s official name, secured 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, created a blueprint for sustainable operations and opened Inspire for programming in December 2016. Working full time as a behavioral analyst, she taught adaptive riding lessons on her days off — two days a week. She began with only five participants in the first class, including Kaylee. Three years later, Melissa was able to devote herself full-time to Inspire.
Today, Inspire employs five staff members, is backed by a board of six directors, and is supported by dozens of volunteers, young and old, from all walks of life. In the stables reside seven horses, with plans to add more. Lessons take place five days a week across eight programs. High safety standards and consistent training ensure the welfare of horses, participants, and volunteers. Individuals with a variety of physical and mental challenges — from traumatic brain injury and cerebral palsy to social anxiety and depression — all benefit from the Inspire program. “Each person comes to us with a different story, and we tailor to meet their individual needs,” Melissa says.
Looking ahead, Inspire aims to become Pinellas County’s only PATH International Premier Accredited Center, to expand programming to six days a week, and to continue growing financial support. Keeping the program intimate is important to Melissa, as this will ensure individual and personalized focus on the participants.
“We’ve just tapped the surface of what we can give back to this community,” Melissa says. “Every day, Inspire is transforming lives in remarkable ways — and with the community’s ongoing support, we’re confident this success can continue for generations to come.”
We approach our work and our interactions with honesty and accountability.
We strive to effectively serve our community and to be an active and valued community participant.
We uphold the highest professional standards for equine safety and the humane relationship between horses and humans.
We are committed to the highest level of quality throughout our programs., in our care for horses and in our interaction with participants, volunteers, donors, and other members of our community.
Inspire's certified instructors, qualified staff and committed volunteers work together to create an inclusive environment providing the optimal experience for everyone.
Every person has value, every being is important, every view has merit to be considered and we treat all with whom we interact accordingly.
We strive to offer a high-quality program that will maximize participant potential by fostering independence, skill progression and appreciating individuality.
Goal 1: Governance
Establish foundation for board governance and accountability
1)Establish an effective governance committee to address governance needs
2) Develop a finance committee to address financial assessment, budgeting and reporting
3) Establish a fundraising/development committee
4) Establish a task force to address long term site planning
5) Enhance practices to advance organizational communications
Goal 2: Resources
Establish a diverse and sustainable income base
1)Increase donor base
2) Maximize income and impact of fundraising events
3) Increase foundation and grant income
4) Establish long range endowment and estate planning outreach
5) Ensure improvement of stakeholder communications
Goal 3: Programming and Operations
Enhance capacity of program services
1) Expand engagement leadership and depth of staff
2) Address long term needs of program development
3) Expand size and engagement of volunteer force
4) Ensure continued quality development of programs
Inspire Equine Assisted Center
1743 Doncaster Road, Clearwater, Florida 33764, United States
Copyright © 2018 Inspire Equine Therapy Program at Creek Under the Son Stables - All Rights Reserved.
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