TianVica Equine Therapy helps people get strong and stay strong

Photography by Jordan Weiland

From the moment I walked in to TiAnViCa Riding Academy, I knew it was a special place. The welcoming culture, intentionally created by the owners, Sara and Roger Meadows, drew me in. I wanted to belong there. Both the people and the animals warmly greeted me. Sara, with her friendly demeanor, chatted openly with me as she prepped a horse for an upcoming lesson. I was introduced to the staff and volunteers, all of whom had been working there for years, most of whom spend sunup to sundown tending to the important work TiAnViCa provides to our community.
Nine years ago, Sara and Roger founded TiAnViCa (which is named after their daughters) when they responded to a neighbor’s immediate need. This friend and neighbor had a child with a physical defect and needed help that wasn’t available to them in Lakeland at the time. Sara and Roger had horses at their home, so they researched how they might be able to help their friend with equine therapy. Through equine therapy at TiAnViCa, this child was able to learn his colors, speak in full sentences, and, even though he was in a wheelchair, his posture improved greatly. Sara and Roger were so moved by his progress that nine years later they are still using equine therapy to improve the lives of people in our community.
Soon after my arrival, Sara had to leave and teach a lesson, so Linda, who works part-time for TiAnViCa, took over the tour. Linda began volunteering for TiAnViCa three years ago and was more than happy to start working for them. “Every day I pull in and say, ‘This is my job?’” She’s not alone in her sentiment. Everyone at TiAnViCa loves what they do: employees, volunteers, and horses alike.
There are 16 horses that live and work at TiAnViCa, and most of them come to TiAnViCa through donations. Among others, TiAnViCa is home to retired Miami police horses, an eight-foot- tall Percheron, and two mini horses that are used for presentations. TiAnViCa’s rst therapy horses — Shaker, a former Miami metro police horse, and Roxy — are now retired and spend their time together in the pasture. If a horse comes to TiAnViCa, it stays forever because it’s part of the TiAnViCa family.
Before coming to TiAnViCa, another one of the horses, Little Bit, had been abused and was found near starvation. After being nursed back to health she was brought to TiAnViCa, and she now spends her days as a therapy horse nursing others back to health. She is a favorite among the 11 at-risk girls who visit TiAnViCa from the Florida Sheri ’s Youth Villa. The girls at the Youth Villa come from tough situations and identify with the struggle that Little Bit has been through. They love Little Bit, and she loves them too.
As a member of PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International), TiAnViCa works with a variety of special needs, including people with learning differences and physical disabilities, wounded veterans, and at-risk youth. Weekly, TiAnViCa serves 60 people. Their oldest client is 70 years old and suffers from multiple sclerosis. During my visit, I witnessed four dierent lessons, aer which everyone had huge smiles on their faces.
Stevee is a 13-year-old girl who suffers from a brain disorder that she has had since birth. She was connected to TiAnViCa through her younger sister, Ashlee, who learned about equine therapy while attending summer camp at TiAnViCa. During therapy, Steve and her horse, Chickweed, work on core strength. e motion of the horse naturally positions Stevee to open her muscles and build the strength she needs to sit up on her own. Ashlee and her grandmother, Marily, enjoy watching Stevee participate in the lesson. Ashlee loves her sister and says seeing her on a horse “[Makes me] happy, helps me feel better.” Cole, a seven-year old boy who as an infant was diagnosed with hypotonia, has benefitted from TiAnViCa’s herapeutic services for the past three years.

TiAnViCa-2You name any therapy and we’ve done it. We stuck with this one

Cole not only suffers from decreased muscle tone, but he falls on the autism spectrum as well. His mother, Kim Spurlock, learned about TiAnViCa through the Achievement Academy, a school designed to assist children with special needs to reach their maximum potential by providing quality education, therapy, and family support. Cole’s mom says, “You name any therapy and we’ve done it. We stuck with this one.” Through the games that Cole plays on the horses, he has improved his balance, hand-eye coordination, and has even developed a lot of patience. “It’s helped him learn to follow instructions better, and sometimes he gets on the horse and will say things to his teacher, Jamie, that I’ve never heard him say at home.”
Equine therapy has also been essential to the Wounded Warrior project for almost 50 years. According to woundedwarriorproject.org, each year equine therapy helps more than 40,000 men, women, and children. Horses are known to be nonjudgmental, calming animals and can help riders develop physically by improving their motor skills, coordination, health, and muscle tone, as well as help them with focus, trust, and confidence. TiAnViCa is Polk County’s only PATH certified center.
Everything at TiAnViCa is thought out, well cared for, and organized. But Sara, Roger, and Linda can’t do it all on their own. The people who volunteer their time at TiAnViCa love the program as much as the workers do and invest themselves in the lives of the horses and the people they serve. There’s a long list of things that need to be done every week, and TiAnViCa is always looking for more volunteers to help on an individual or group basis. Volunteers can be groups of friends, or individuals, and can be involved in everything from exercising horses and preparing them for lessons, to mowing and maintenance. For more information on equine therapy or how you can get involved at TiAnViCa, please visit their website, tianvica.org, or call 888.548.2972.