University of Delaware alumna Brooke Waldron always had a passion for horses and for teaching, and she has combined the two interests by founding Sprout Therapeutic Riding and Education Center in Aldie, Virginia. Sprout, a non-profit organization, offers therapeutic riding to those in need of improving their physical, mental, and emotional health. Waldron, who graduated from UD in 2005 with a degree in the animal science pre-veterinary program in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and in biology and biotechnology, initially wanted to become an equine vet. As a child and teen, Waldron rode and competed horses and said she cherished her relationship with the animals. During her time at UD, she was on the equestrian team and served as president of the Agriculture College Council and Sigma Alpha professional sorority. She took many animal science classes, including an equine management and reproduction class that specialized in studying the University’s Haflingers. She also participated in a study abroad program to New Zealand with Lesa Griffiths, T.A. Baker Professor of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “Dr. Griffiths was an incredibly influential person in my life,” said Waldron. While at UD, Waldron worked as a lab assistant for Robert Dyer, associate professor of animal and food sciences, where she assisted in teaching anatomy and physiology lab. This experience fostered a love for teaching in addition to her love for horses, and Waldron went on to get a master’s degree in education at Marymount University in Virginia and to begin teaching life sciences at a middle school. Waldron was settling in to her teaching career when a surprise opportunity to start a farm came upon her and her family. As a proponent of inclusion, she had many students with special needs in her classes and wanted to do something where she could combine her passions. “When the opportunity to start a center came along, I jumped at it. Now my job combines the best of all worlds – kids, horses and teaching,” Waldron said. According to Waldron, Sprout was a soybean farm when her family bought it in 2009. The farm had no barn, arena, fields or even grass for horses. With what she learned during her time at UD, Waldron was able to transform the old soybean farm into a horse sanctuary. “Being prepared by what I learned in college and having the know-how to take a care of a farm was very beneficial to me,” she said. “We planted grass seed according to what the horses required, designed the facility, secured the necessary horses, tack and volunteers, and started running in 2011.” During the farm conversion, Waldron also became a certified therapeutic riding instructor through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH International) and worked to make Sprout a PATH center, which requires strict adherence to administrative, facility, program and equine care standards. Waldron said she is proud of the professionalism of the industry and is now an advanced instructor and certified mentor. In five years, Sprout has grown from that soybean farm to an organization that serves an average of 125 individuals each week, from an organization with a budget of $0 to $424,000 annually, from empty stalls, and a farm with no horses or equipment to 14 horses in service, bountiful lesson materials, tack and adaptive options. The growth validates the community’s need for this form of support, Waldon said. Sprout offers several areas of programming that meet the various needs of riders with disabilities:
- Therapeutic riding, the largest program, teaches riding skills that relate to the life goals of the participants.
- Therapeutic carriage driving utilizes the same goals but is a preferred program for individuals that fall below or above the size restrictions for riding, in addition to people who have equipment that cannot fit on the back of a horse, such as ventilators.
- Equine movement therapy is designed to support physical improvement for muscles, joints and systems, which is done with the help of a physical therapist.