SPECIAL TO FLORIDA WEEKLY

Last month, the Special Equestrians family had a long-awaited celebration – the completion of a new covered riding arena.

Serving disabled children and adults throughout Southwest Florida since 1987, Special Equestrians offers therapeutic horseback riding lessons. The successful program operated out of a Fort Myers boarding facility until December 2006, when Jan Fifer, president of the Special E

Mark_JP_Jeremiah_PRAfter viewing 18 properties, the organization’s board of directors settled on a 10-acre property in Buckingham, which had a house, horse barn and equipment barn, but was in disrepair. The renovations began full force in April, with hundreds of volunteers donating their time and resources to transform the facility – a massive undertaking that included pressure cleaning the barns and house, laying PVC for water and conduit for electric, taking down and building walls, painting, laying linoleum, moving and selling hay, weeding and pouring concrete. Only one thing was still missing. Once again the community stepped up to the plate. A number of companies, including commercial contractor Stevens Construction Inc., answered the call for help in building a covered riding arena that would provide much-needed protection from the sun and lower the temperature by about 15 degrees in the hot summer months.

Mark Stevens, president of Stevens Construction Inc., donated construction management services and volunteer labor, which amounted to 140 hours, for the project.

“I have three children of my own and just wanted to help,” Stevens said. “Plus, the board of directors was so passionate; it was apparent they really believed in the program.”

Each week, Special Equestrians serves about 50 disabled children and adults, who are referred to the organization by physicians, physical therapists and word-ofmouth. Riders’ disabilities include cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, Angelman syndrome, head injury, blindness, stroke, autism, deafness, mental retardation, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and schizencephaly.

Thirty minutes of therapeutic instruction is given to each rider per week, for a six-week session, helping them improve balance, coordination, strength and flexibility. It is also a huge boost to their self confidence, giving them a sense of accomplishment as they learn.