Equine Assisted Therapy of South Florida Helps Empower those with Special Needs
Young participant Matthew Lima, on Jose, assisted by his mom and a horse leader. {photos by Teyla Darce}

 By Claire Nana

Dedicated to providing therapeutic riding to children and adults with special needs, Equine-Assisted Therapies of South Florida first debuted as Horses and the Handicapped in 1982 in South Palm Beach County.

Willing to assist anyone with a verifiable diagnosis, the program enjoys a wide range of participants, said executive director Molly Murphy.

“There are no age limits and only a few contraindications,” said Murphy. “Our youngest participant is four, and our oldest is in their 70s.”

The things that prevent someone from riding are active and uncontrolled seizures, spinal rods, and osteoporosis.

“Basically, anything that could lead to a serious injury,” said Murphy, who added the barn will be full in just a few days, with all 12 stalls occupied.

Equine Assisted Therapy of South Florida Helps Empower those with Special Needs
Anthony McLelland on Beauty during the 2020 Broward County during the Special Olympics. {Teyla Darce}

The program, including the purchase of horses, is funded entirely through donations.

Murphy, who has cerebral palsy, has been involved with the organization for over 20 years, first as a participant in the program, where she quickly realized the benefits of riding.

“Riding, for me, provided a way to feel empowered. It also gave relief to my muscles and helped build muscles that I don’t normally get to use.”

Anthony McLelland, a program participant for over 30 years, is now riding independently at all three gaits.

“He even participated in the Special Olympics, held in Ocala,” she said.

oung participant, Matthew Lima on Jose being assisted by his mom and a horse leader wearing red.
September volunteer of the month, Fred W., stands with a chestnut horse named Fire. {Teyla Darce}

ATSF is a premier accredited center with the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International. Their one-hour sessions at Tradewinds Park at Coconut Creek include grooming, then riding —all assisted by an experienced volunteer.

Because of the pandemic, EATSF limited the number of participants in its group but now sees 68 people per week. The cost for a ten-week session, which includes weekly lessons, is $550. EATSF offers scholarships to participants covering up to 75% of the price.

While most of the participants join through words of mouth, there have recently been more referrals from pediatricians and doctors. “It is wonderful that we are getting the word out,” said Murphy.

Held at Tradewinds Park, at 3601 W Sample Rd, Coconut Creek 33073. EATSF is open Wed-Sat from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. They are now offering open enrollment for their spring session, beginning in March. For more information, contact Program Operations Director Juliette Holden at 954-974-2007.

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Author Profile

Claire Nana
Claire Nana
Claire Nana, LMFT, has written over thirty continuing education courses on nutrition and Mental Health, Post-Traumatic Growth, Motivation, Stigma. Claire has written articles for Trail Runner, Her Sports, and Horse Network is the author of Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards.