Murray Neale teaches riding at Hearts Therapeutic Center
Murray S. Neale credits her mother with her love for horses at an early age. It continues today at the age of 66.
“I’m really lucky to have found my passion so young, and it’s still here. I have always ridden and always taught, not as much as in the past, but it remains a constant joy in my life,” she told the News-Press.
In addition to riding several times a week, she can be found instructing developmentally disabled clients in horsemanship skills Friday afternoons at the Hearts Therapeutic Equestrian Center on Calle Real.
“My mother, the late Ann Stanton, grew up in Atlanta riding horses, and I started riding when I was 8 years old, along with my older sister Retta. We
rode in horse shows and competed in eventing, which includes dressage, cross-country and show jumping,” said Ms. Neale.
She began teaching people with disabilities at the age of 14 when one of her mother’s friends brought a young girl who was blind to visit the stable.
“I helped introduce her to the world of horses and was amazed by the girl’s reaction. I continued to work with her throughout high school. It was the beginning of my lifelong passion for connecting horses and people with disabilities,” said Ms. Neale.
During her time at La Pietra Hawai’i School for Girls in Honolulu and Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Ms. Neale earned her A rating from the United States Pony Club and became a riding teacher.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in physical education at Skidmore and her master’s degree in P.E. at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, she worked with various pony clubs and was an instructor at Smith College in Northampton, Mass. She also spent four summers as the head of riding at Brown Ledge Camp in Colchester, Vt.
Ms. Neale earned her certification as a therapeutic riding instructor at the Cheff Therapeutic Riding Center in Augusta, Mich. While working on her master’s degree in physical education at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, she developed a therapeutic riding program for United Cerebral Palsy of New York City.
“Lessons took place at the historic Claremont Stables on West 89th Street,” said Ms. Neale. “I continued developing programs and teaching therapeutic riding while working at the United Cerebral Palsy Center in Sullivan County and in Manhattan and also Winslow Therapeutic Riding Center in Warwick, N.Y.”
In 1996, she and her family moved to Charleston, S.C., where she began teaching for a small therapeutic riding program and in 1997 became executive director of Charleston Area Therapeutic Riding.
“During my 23 years at CATR, the program grew from 12 students at a borrowed facility to serving more than 175 students on a 30-acre farm with two dozen horses and a staff of 20,” said Ms. Neale. “I wrote grants, mentored novice instructors, trained and cared for horses, developed programs and in 2016 led a successful capital campaign to build a large covered arena.”
After retiring from CATR in 2020, she and her husband, Randy, moved to Santa Barbara to be closer to their family. Their son Al and his wife Betsy live in Santa Barbara, and James lives in Portland.
“Our first grandchild is on the way,” said Ms. Neale.
Soon after settling in her new home in downtown Santa Barbara, she contacted the Hearts Therapeutic Center.
“Even though I had a wonderful experience at CATR, much of my time was spent on administrative duties. I wanted to teach riding. It’s what I love most. It’s my passion, especially therapeutic riding, which is a wonderful way to get disabled individuals outdoors and moving.
“Being physically active is so important, and working with horses adds another dimension for those who aren’t ambulatory. The horse’s movement mimics the same dynamics as when a person walks.
“It also helps with circulation and stimulation of the person’s trunk muscles. It’s very empowering for the disabled person to sit on top of a horse.”