Horse therapy program for special needs students comes to an end after 34 years

MARION COUNTY. Fla., (WCJB) --- A therapeutic horseback riding program in Marion County has come to an end after providing sessions to special needs students in public schools since 1985.

Hurricane damage and a lack of funding have forced the partnership between the Marion Therapeutic Riding Association and the Marion County School District to bring the equine program to end.

"It did start with Hurricane Irma during the hurricane we had two sinkholes open on the property, fortunately, we didn't have any horses here because they were in one of the pastures, they were able to fix the sinkhole but then two other sinkholes opened up," stated Karen Cunningham, MTRA President.

MTRA's Executive Director, Pamela Morrison, runs the daily operation and has been conducting sessions over the years. Morrison said the decision to end the partnership between MTRA and the school district was a tough one.

"There's a lot of sorrow, there's a lot of broken hearts involved, this was not easy for any of us, our hearts are here with these kids, they really need us so it was really tough, and hopefully I'm hoping that the school board will realize how important this is," stated Morrison.

"When I first started volunteering for this organization I saw a young girl who had never said one word before tell her horse to woah, first word she ever spoke in her life, so it's pretty impactful for what it can do," said Cunningham.

Cunningham says that MTRA leaders have been discussing ways to make the program work with the school district but it all comes down to money. Even if they had a large amount of money donated, Cunningham sais it still wouldn't be enough to sustain the program through the year.

"It was really hard we started here in 1985, this has been the heart and soul of our program so for it to end its the end of an era," said Cunningham.

Cunningham says that MTRA has opened up their Greenway location to any student from Hillcrest to ride as long as they have their own transportation.

" It's an emotional time for all of us we put our heart and soul into this program we want it to continue and to find some way to get those kids to us at Greenway," said Cunningham.

The Greenway location won't be closing but it isn't just dedicated to just public school students. If you'd like to donate that outreach their website is: https://mtraocala.org/