By Saskia Florence. Photos courtesy of Sprout Therapeutic Riding and Education Center
A small white pony grazes in a field just beyond the din of passing cars and new construction along Route 50 on the east side of Aldie. The pony’s name is Cowboy; his job is to heal people.
Cowboy is one of 17 horses and ponies who live at Sprout Therapeutic Riding and Education Center, a 27-acre farm at the end of a gravel road marked by its horse-shaped mailbox on Route 50 just west of Lenah. Sprout provides equine therapies and education to children and adults navigating life with disABILITIES including autism, spina bifida, brain injury, cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, cerebral palsy and other physical, cognitive and emotional needs.
Like the facility she oversees, Sprout’s Founder and Executive Director, Brooke Waldron, doesn’t call attention to herself. She praises her volunteers, advocates, and, most effusively, equine partners.
“At Sprout, the horses are the embodiment of hope, the fulfillment of dreams, and the opportunity for freedom in an otherwise confined world of disability,” says Waldron. “They are great mediators between where people are and where they want to go.” And Waldron knows how to get from one place to another.
Seven years ago, Waldron, a rising star in education, transformed the property from a soybean farm to an equestrian facility and the program, which had two horses and a single instructor—Waldron—into an organization that serves 125 students per week. In the last seven years, Sprout has grown to provide 6,000 volunteer hours of service per year and deliver countless success stories.
Success, at Sprout, is not about notable class wins and prestigious trophies. It’s when a 9-year-old utters his first word during a lesson, when a student in a wheelchair independently puts her horse in its stall and proudly unclips its halter, or when a paralyzed student trots through a field with the wind in her hair.
“The horses bond with people in ways that change their lives forever,” Waldron says. “They have a unique gift to transform despair into joy, confinement into ability, and isolation into community.”
Sprout relies heavily on volunteers and in-kind donations to keep costs low, but these only account for 30 to 50 percent of the organization’s expenses. The remaining funds must come from events like Sprout on the Green, Sipping for Sprout, the Sprout 5k, and Sprout’s largest fundraiser, its annual black-tie gala.
This year’s gala, “Lucky 7,” will celebrate seven years of service with an evening of professionally hosted casino games, auctions, a farm-to-table dinner, Solace Brewing Company beer, Slater Run Vineyards wine, and according to event chair Kristin Quinn, “some great surprises,” on September 29.
“It’s about so much more than throwing a good party,” says Quinn. “It’s about bringing as many people as we can to this amazing place to show them who we are and what we do. When you see the animals, meet the students and hear Brooke—it doesn’t matter what got you here. You’ll be forever changed.”
Limited tickets are available at www.sproutlucky7.eventbrite.com. For sponsorship opportunities, email firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn about Sprout, visit www.sproutcenter.org. ML
This article first appeared in the August 2018 Issue