Sandy Webster — the new program director at Dream Riders of Kentucky — can’t remember a time when she wasn’t around horses.
Webster grew up in Toronto, Canada, on a 200-acre farm that specialized in training a variety of horses, including jumpers and dressage.
She started working with horses as a preschooler. By the time she was 16, Webster was a jockey. During a 13-year racing career, she competed in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and England.
For the past 35 years, Webster has been teaching therapeutic riding and building equine-assisted therapy programs for disabled people.
She holds many credentials.
For example, she’s one of only 10 master instructors with the Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association and one of only 28 master instructors with the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International. She’s the only master instructor with multiple other certifications, such as interactive vaulting and therapeutic carriage driving.
In addition, she is an equine specialist in mental health and learning trainer.
On Wednesday, Webster flew to North Carolina to teach instructors about programs for people with mental health challenges, addictions and post-traumatic stress disorder.
In December 2019, Dream Riders of Kentucky hired Webster, and she took the reins as the nonprofit’s program director earlier this month.
“With the addition of Sandy Webster ..., Dream Riders will be able to expand its program base, increase the number of certified instructors and possibly become a premier accredited PATH International training facility,” said Kelly Flick, executive director.
Webster came to Owensboro from Santa Barbara, California.
She has started therapeutic riding programs in four countries and 13 states.
“Sandy brings so much to the table with her credentials,” said Benny Clark, one of Dream Riders’ founders and president of the board.
At Dream Riders, Webster will assess and train horses. She plans to strengthen existing programs and add new services.
Webster said several things drew her to the Daviess County nonprofit.
“I believed in the transparency and excitement of the board,” she said. “ ... I wanted to partner with a board of directors that wanted to grow and develop to align with the needs of the community.”
And Webster was impressed with Dream Riders’ facility near the Daviess County Fairgrounds in Philpot.
Moving from California to Kentucky wasn’t an issue. For a decade, Webster competed at the Kentucky Horse Park.
“I’ve lived in a lot of places and adapt to their cultures,” she said.
Recently, Webster met with a group of parents, volunteers, board members and riders. She wanted their input before developing a strategic plan.
The group discussed seven categories: horses, leadership, fundraising, facilities, opportunities for volunteers, programs and outreach.
Hiring Webster late last year proved to be the perfect capstone for Dream Riders’ 2019 season, Flick said.
Last year, the nonprofit expanded its riding program an extra month, going into November instead of ending the season in October. Dream Riders also expanded its riding program to Saturdays.
“We had twice as many volunteer hours last year,” Flick said, “and about twice as many volunteers.”
And the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels gave Dream Riders a $7,000 grant to build a hay barn, which may be ready in March.
With Webster joining the team, the 2020 season promises to be even better, Flick said.
As always, volunteers are essential to strengthening existing programs and starting new ones. Anyone interested in donating time and talent to Dream Riders should email Webster at email@example.com or call 270-883-1418.
Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, firstname.lastname@example.org