Building the Dream - A History
It all began in the summer of 1994 – Mary Nastan, a registered physical therapist, was operating a hippotherapy program in a local barn on Laurel Road in Nokomis. It was at this same barn that Donna Blem, a recent business graduate, was boarding her horse. Mary needed volunteers and she recruited Donna. The connection between Mary and Donna was instant and the perfect match to build InStride Therapy. Mary with a passion for and knowledge of hippotherapy and Donna whose lifelong journey was horses – it was the beginning of the dream. Together they took Mary’s hippotherapy knowledge and Donna’s equestrian experience and incorporated it into the Smith Center for Therapeutic Riding.
Sam Smith was a central part of getting this program started for its first year of operation. Throughout the years the program grew and changed in every possible way. Mary and Donna realized that they needed a name for their hippotherapy program to reflect who they were and what the future held. After many meetings with a group of dedicated staff and volunteers that perfect name came to light – “InStride”. InStride represents everything about the organization – it is the stride of the horse that challenges and enhances InStride’s special riders. As the riders fall into rhythm with their therapy horse their hips begin to move with the horse’s hips, their shoulders move with the horse’s shoulders, their heads move with the horse’s head. Literally, their entire body is following the same stride as the horse. In that perfect moment, not only will you see the horse and rider in sync, but you will see the leader of the horse and both sidewalkers walk with the same stride and footfall as the therapy horse. It is the moment we are striving for - – everyone is “InStride”. Upon incorporation in 2006 the name was officially changed to InStride Therapy, Inc.
Following incorporation InStride contracted with the Sarasota County School System serving students at Oak Park School in Sarasota in addition to private clients at a local farm in Laurel. InStride started with a staff of one, Ms. Blem, the Executive Director/Riding Instructor. The therapy horses were leased and services were contracted with local physical therapists.
In December of 1995 InStride started on the road to independence by purchasing its first therapy horse. In April of 1996 the program moved to a private barn at the Sarasota Polo Club and acquired six more therapy horses funded by the Plantation Foundation, Venice Foundation and generous individuals. Additionally, a horse trailer was purchased with a grant from the Selby Foundation.
What is now known as “home” to InStride was found in July of 1998 – a beautiful 76 acre site in Nokomis - high and dry, accessible to clients, established riding trails, cleared and good grazing resources. With the assistance of Cook Springs and dedicated volunteers the property became a facility to safely house the horses and run the program. The site provided the ability to keep programs operational while planning for a future therapeutic riding facility.
In November of 2000 InStride Therapy became the equestrian center for the Sarasota County Special Athletes. And in 2001 InStride provided recreational riding to qualified campers of the Foundation for Dreams. In 2003 Easter Seals partnered with InStride for hippotherapy services.
Following a highly successful capital campaign, InStride Therapy was able to purchase the leased Nokomis site in July 2001.
The cost of the land with due diligence and feasibility studies was $1,000,000. InStride Therapy received a commitment from The Bolger Foundation for $200,000 of this cost. Additional funding was acquired through contributions by local foundations, corporations, individuals and special fund raising events. By the summer of 2003, the remaining balance on the property acquisition was funded in full by an anonymous foundation. The vision was becoming a reality!
In September, 2009 we celebrated our Grand Opening in the Family Center with more than 200 old and new friends! What a great time and welcome relief! Then, in early 2010 we moved into our new facilities! A 28 stall barn, office, 200' x 110' covered arena, and outdoor family center and cartaker residence are now in full operation!
Since then, on October 10, 2010 and again October 9, 2011 InStride has hosted it's annual family centered event - GIDDY UP & Grand BBQ for more than 450 new and old friends!
In early February, 2011 PATH (Professional Association for Therapeutic Horsemanship) selected InStride to host an international Certification and Workshop for 20 students from all over the U.S. and Canada. Four InStride staff and volunteers received their Registered Instructor certificates at this workshop!