Shepard Meadows’ history dates from 2004, when Janis Clifton, a horsewoman who had experience working in therapeutic riding and a concern for people with special needs, became aware of the potential availability of the property on which Shepard Meadows is located. Janis shared her vision with three friends: Jacqui Brooks, David Desmarais and Anne Perreault. Together, the four of them envisioned Shepard Meadows Therapeutic Riding Center (SMTRC), a therapeutic riding facility to serve the community of Bristol and the surrounding towns, for the benefit of challenged individuals, especially children, fulfilling a lifelong dream of the property’s late owner, Katharine Shepard. These four individuals, joined by Sherry Lockhart, became the founding directors of SMTRC and developed a business plan to start this venture, presented the plan to the custodians of the property under Miss Shepard’s will, and in December of 2004 obtained permission to use it as the home of SMTRC.

Working with John M. Horak as legal counsel, the founding directors recruited eight additional Board members. On July 26, 2005, Attorney Horak, as Sole Incorporator, filed for incorporation with the Secretary of the State for Connecticut and with the Internal Revenue Service for 501(c)3 non-profit status. Concurrently, during the period from January-July 2005 and then on through August 2005-April 2006, dozens of volunteers worked to get the property ready for the riding program. Three parts of the property were targeted for this work – the stable that would house the equine staff and provide hay storage, the field to the north of the property which was to serve as the riding arena, and the house located on the property which was to provide a caretaker’s apartment and office space.

The work of the volunteers was awesome! In May of 2006, with horses housed in the stable, a caretaker living on premises and office staff working in the house, a pilot program for three children with special needs signaled the official opening of Shepard Meadows Therapeutic Riding Center, Inc. KC Burton was the instructor for this program; KC was certified by NARHA, the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association with which SMTRC had become affiliated. The equines who worked with the human staff in this program included Calvin, the first horse owned by Shepard Meadows, and two ponies, Blueberry and Huckleberry who were free leased to Shepard Meadows.

Since the fall of 2006, Shepard Meadows’ has offered its programs on a semester basis. Initially held only in the fall and spring, these semesters have been 8 or 9 weeks in length, depending on the weather because all programs are held outside. A 4-week summer program became part of the curriculum in 2009. In 2011, “Summer Fun” was added, a 4-day program encompassing a wide range of equine related activities. Enrollment has grown to 30-35 participants for the fall and spring sessions. Smaller numbers take part in the summer offerings. SMTRC also offers an instructor mentoring program for persons seeking certification.

As was the case with the pilot program, instructors for Shepard Meadows are certified, through a credentialing process of PATH, INTL (previously NARHA- Professional Association for Therapeutic Horsemanship International).

In 2012, a Horses for Heroes Pilot Program was held to extend services to the veterans in the area; research into how this program may be expanded and best serve veterans is underway. Shepard Meadows is a member of the Bristol Early Childhood Alliance and intends to develop programs to serve this population in the near future.

As growth and change have occurred in its program offerings, Shepard Meadows staff has also grown. All staff positions are currently part-time. In 2014 there is a staff of 11, including an Executive Director (Volunteer), Program Director and three instructors, an Equine Manager/Caretaker and two barn assistants, a Volunteer Coordinator, a Facility Manager (Volunteer) and Grounds Assistant (Volunteer). Board membership has been maintained at 12-15 members.

The number of horses working with the staff increased from the original three to seven very special equines now in the herd. Calvin still serves; working with him are Charmed, Cowboy, Daphne, Frodo, Lola and Red. With the increase in the number of horses has come the addition of field stalls to provide shelter for four of them.

The facility has been developed considerably. An outdoor arena was created in 2008. In the spring of 2010, we realized that Shepard Meadows’ long term survival and growth requires a facility that includes a covered arena. Those who believe in our mission have been supportive of this realization from the start. In May 2010, David Mills spearheaded a joint effort of the Bristol Sports Hall of Fame and the Bristol Tramps to initiate the fundraising for this purpose. UCONN men’s basketball coach Jim Calhoun and other sports notables came forth to help. Just over a year later, as the result of foresight and hard work by State Senator Thomas Colapietro, Shepard Meadows was awarded a $120,000 grant toward the cost of providing ADA accessibility to the house and Raising the Roof.

Inspired by community faith in its mission and to enhance the professionalism and effectiveness of Shepard Meadows’ programs, a year-long effort was initiated in the summer of 2011 to achieve accreditation by PATH INTL. This effort culminated in a site visit on June 22, 2012, during which the facility, practices and procedures were examined and observed by members of the PATH International Accreditation Committee. The outcome of this visit was the awarding of accreditation status to Shepard Meadows as a PATH International Premier Accredited Center. In Connecticut, of 10 Path-affiliated riding centers, only Shepard Meadows and two of the other 10 ten centers have achieved this status.

Concurrent with the preparation for accreditation came the transformation of Shepard Meadows’ facility goals into plans going beyond a simple roof over the outdoor arena to those for an indoor arena. A group of local business people came forward to help form a Capital Campaign Committee. With this encouragement, steps were taken to gain the municipal approval needed to proceed. On February 22, 2012, the Bristol Zoning Commission approved our site plan to construct a 200’ by 80’ building with an attached stable. Since then, efforts have been underway to ensure the viability of operating an indoor arena and to identify sources of both capital and operating revenue.   In January, 2013, a Strategic Plan was published to provide a road map for moving toward the opening of the indoor arena in the Fall of 2015. However, because of the economic downturn, the plans to build the indoor arena were placed on hold and remain there as of January 2014.

In the meantime, Shepard Meadows has continued to serve its participants in its existing facility, with ADA accessibility to the house to be made in 2014. And the original “Raise the Roof” idea, to cover the existing outdoor arena, is once again being considered. With the existing arena covered, the number of weeks during which programs are offered is projected to expand from 20 to 30 and the number of participants served per semester is projected to double to 60 by the fall of 2015.

None of this history would exist were it not for the dedicated paid and volunteer staff and dozens of volunteers who to this day support Shepard Meadows. They do any job you can imagine for this organization: serve on the Board of Directors, greet and sidewalk with participants, lead and care for horses and farm pets, care for the building and grounds, assist the office staff, go forth as community ambassadors. Volunteers tirelessly fundraise to provide the funds to sustain operations. An annual gala has been held since 2006 to support the program; countless other events have occurred on behalf of Shepard Meadows – bowl-a-thons, tag sales, motorcycle gatherings, courtesy nights/days in area restaurants. Charitable foundations, both local and national – have stepped up to keep Shepard Meadows in operation and moving forward. Some very special people are working to establish the plans and raise the funds necessary to cover the outdoor arena via our new capital campaign, “A Roof for All Seasons”, kicked off in April 2014.

Also vital to this history is the support given by an increasing number of foundations and donors who have come forth to provide the funds to sustain the operation of Shepard Meadows. Their financial help has kept Shepard Meadows’ participants “riding on,” true to the nature of a well-known command given in a therapeutic riding lesson.

This history will be current for only a few months. In 2005 Shepard Meadows not only became a place where miracles happen, it became and continues to be…

a place for unfolding miracles.