Wayne T. Jackson is the co-founder and Executive Director of Ride Above Disability Therapeutic Riding Center. Wayne grew up on a small farm outside Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. It was there that his passion for horses was born and at age 13 he began breaking and training them.
In 1994, Wayne left home (and horses) to become a United States Marine. He had a lengthy and varied career in the Marine Corps where he learned to become a leader and train others who had varying abilities for the task being asked. Wayne was stationed throughout the United States during his career, but it was while he was assigned to San Diego as an aviation mechanic that his passion for horses was reignited when he adopted and trained a BLM Mustang.
Wayne began volunteering for Helen Woodward’s therapeutic riding program in 2010. It was while volunteering at Helen Woodward he began to consider this as a possible career after the military, combining both his love of horses and love of helping others. After his retirement from the Marines in 2014 as a gunnery sergeant, Wayne, along with riding instructors Katie Cram and Allie Sarnataro, founded Ride Above Disability Therapeutic Riding Center.
When Katie was 8 she got her first pony and joined the United States Pony Club. There she learned how to ride, care for and maintain horses, and teach the difference horses can make in the lives of others. She competed locally and nationally in 3 day eventing, show jumping and dressage. Once out of Pony Club, Katie dabbled in western disciplines such as western dressage, and horsemanship challenges but her true passion remains with eventing.
In 2005 Katie began working at Helen Woodward Animal Center cleaning stalls. Within 6 months, she began teaching therapeutic riding lessons and became PATH Intl certified in 2006. While working at Helen Woodward, Katie met both Wayne and Allie, co-founders of Ride Above. She also gained more in depth knowledge on managing the care and training of therapeutic riding horses instead of sport horses. In 2012, Katie began working at PoVa Therapeutic Riding Center, expanding her knowledge about running a therapeutic riding center and learning what it takes to make it successful. In 2014 Katie, Wayne and Allie opened the doors to Ride Above where she is able to share her passion for horses. She is a big believer in always learning more and educating yourself, in 2017 Katie became a PATH Mentor to train upcoming therapeutic riding instructors.
Allie’s passion for horses began when she was very young. At 12, Allie began taking riding lessons. She competed in the local jumping shows for a few years and then changed disciplines to dressage riding. Allie soon became a working student, helping and teaching others to care for and tack their horses.
At 16, Allie began volunteering for SPUR Therapeutic Riding Center in New Jersey. On her first day volunteering, Allie knew this was something she wanted to be involved with for a very long time. Allie continued to volunteer with SPUR for 8 years and was also camp director for the Girl Scouts of the Jersey Shore’s horseback riding program.
In 2008, Allie moved to California and began volunteering and eventually working at a therapeutic riding center in San Diego. Here she met fellow friend and colleague Katie Cram who shared the same passion for horses and therapeutic riding as she did. In 2010, Allie began her journey to become a PATH Intl. certified riding instructor and passed her certification that same year. In 2014, Katie, Allie, and fellow horse and therapeutic riding enthusiast Wayne Jackson, finally decided it was time to open a new therapeutic riding center for the community. Allie is always looking for ways to further her knowledge and help grow the therapeutic riding community, in 2017 she became a PATH Mentor to help teach others with a passion for therapeutic riding.
As a young girl Amanda had a passion for horses, with posters covering every wall in her bedroom. For Amanda’s 10th birthday, her parents surprised her with riding lessons and her passion grew from there. By the time Amanda was 15 she was an assistant instructor, and by 16, the camp director at the barn where she was riding. After graduating high school she moved to San Diego for college, and took a year off from riding and teaching.
Amanda realized quickly that horses were missing from her life, and began volunteering at PoVa Therapeutic Riding Center. Within two months, Amanda started teaching lessons and her passion for teaching riding lessons had been rekindled. There Amanda met Wayne, Katie, Allie, and Mary. When Amanda heard about the creation of Ride Above and the plan for the program, it was an obvious choice to join the team in doing what she loves so much.
It’s been almost five years since Mary and her daughter belonged to Pony Club. It was there she was introduced to therapy riding and it only took a few months of volunteering to know that she had found her passion. She was fortunate to begin her volunteer journey with students as young as 2 years old, who are still her students today. When they first started, those students were unable to walk and many people doubted they would ever be able to. But now, Mary watches them walk over from the car and hop on their horse. In some cases, students are even trotting and posting on their horses. Watching their growth and progression inspires Mary, and reminds her of the benefits that therapeutic horseback riding can offer.
Horses have been a part of Lexie’s life since the beginning. As an infant her parents owned three and she loved being around them. When she turned 6 and participated in summer camps naturally, she demanded to partake in the horse riding YMCA camp. By the age of 9, she asked for regular lessons. Having watched a jumping show on TV she immediately knew that was the style she wanted to try.
As a senior in High School she needed volunteer hours to graduate, she knew she would never be content with staying inside, so Lexie went onto volunteermatch.com, selected “animals” and was thrilled when the first option was Ride Above. Having had little experience with the disabled community, Lexie was excited to see how she could help out and learn more; the horses were an added bonus. Since the beginning she felt accepted by the RAD family, Lexie was safe to be herself and was more than happy to be there twice a week. As her skills progressed over the following year and a half, for the first time she looked forward to her future. The horses and student’s smiles had bought her happiness during a dark time and she wanted the program to become a regular part of her life. When Katie approached her asking if she wanted to try teaching because her skills progressed, she was so overcome with happiness and excitement she could barely say the word yes.
She was nervous at first, but the undying love she felt when witnessing the progress of each student was a constant reminder of why she loves what she was doing. Whether it’s having a student stretch for a high five or rooting for a child as she goes over her first jump, enjoying a trail ride with the awesome volunteers or learning more from our amazing instructors. Every day Lexie wakes up with a smile because of the opportunity she has to make a difference in the life of our students and horses.
Danica’s passion for horses started at 5; her mom gave her riding lessons for the summer as a graduation gift. To this day her mom jokes that it is the worse mistake she made, ever since then shes been obsessed with horses and begged to do anything with them. Every birthday and Christmas it was trail rides or lessons!
At 17, Danica found Ride Above through volunteermatch.com and after her first day she fell in love. For her it was the best of both worlds, she got to work with horses and with the special needs community. As she got more and more involved with the lessons and the care of the horses the more she kept coming around! Danica finds joy in seeing how the horses, their movement, and the “silly” games we play had such a great impact on all of our students, their parents, the instructors and volunteers.
RAD quickly became her happy place. About a year and a half after she started volunteering, Katie and Allie had her co-teach along with their lessons. She was nervous and quiet at first but loved it! She loves the connection you get to make with the students. Danica is in the process of getting certified to become a PATH Intl instructor and can’t wait to see what the future holds for herself in the therapeutic riding community. Danica’s hope is to be able to make it a big part of her career.
Growing up Rebecca always had a love for horses. When she was little she went to pony camp and read books on anything related to horses. She spent a few weeks each summer going on trail rides and learning to care for a horse but always wanted more horse and riding time.
In college, she majored in Psychology and Neuroscience with research focused on designing treatments on children with brain injuries. After graduating college she moved to the east coast to be a caretaker for a child with a brain injury. While caring for him she was introduced to therapeutic riding and began to see the many benefits.
After moving to San Diego, she quickly started volunteering at BETH for a year until taking a hiatus. Over the next 2 years, she spent her time working with kids with special needs in research and clinical settings, but she knew something was missing. In 2016, she reached out to RAD to combine her love for horses with her passion for working with kids with special needs. Rebecca is currently an instructor in training and is working towards her PATH Intl Certification!
Samantha has had a passion for horses and helping others for as long as she can remember. She grew up very familiar with the special needs community, as her mom, a Speech Language Pathologist, had a private practice in the house.
Samantha’s first real horse experience was a trail ride in Lake Tahoe at the age of 7, and she knew then that horses would always be an important part of her life. Her parents supported her interest in horses by taking her to horse summer camps, weekly lessons and investing in her equestrian education. She was a member of Saratoga Pony Club throughout high school and competed in the California Dressage Society Junior/Young Rider Championships, winning her division in 2005.
In 2008 she moved to San Diego from Northern California to attend San Diego State University. During her time in college she won two championships and was reserve champion in the United States Dressage Federation regional championships. After graduating in May 2012 with a bachelors degree in Anthropology, Samantha was looking for a career path that was fun, fulfilling, and something she could wake up every morning looking forward to. She completed Equinology’s Equine Body Worker (“sports massage” for horses) course, and became a certified Equine Body Worker in early 2013. That same year, she discovered Therapeutic Horseback Riding and began teaching at Partners Therapeutic Horsemanship. In 2014 she completed her PATH instructor certification, and in 2018 completed the PATH mentor course so she can help others as they work toward their certifications.
Samantha is so excited to be joining the team at RAD and help our riders reach their goals, while having fun riding and learning about horses!
Cyndie’s affinity for horses began after experiencing the pony rides her grand-dad took her on when she was a young child. From there, she grew up “horse crazy” and was fortunate to be able to ride and care for several different horses over the years, eventually owning a chestnut ex-race horse named D’lite. Taking lessons, jumping and trail riding around Poway became a favorite past time. Cyndie met Katie, Allie, Wayne, Mary and Amanda while volunteering at another therapeutic riding center. Inspired by RAD’s mission, it was natural for her to want to follow the team and be a part of the dream the founders had for RAD.
She may be passionate about horses, but she also has a heart for organization. Cyndie keeps the office running smoothly and provides administrative assistance to the Executive Director, Assistant Director and Program Director as well as lesson support working with the students and horses.
“I am so thankful to be a part of RAD. The dedication this team has for the students, their families, the volunteers, and the horses is a true example of love. I am inspired each week by the progress and pure joy I see in each student because of the selfless efforts of the staff and the volunteers of this organization.”