Hoofbeats Staff & Volunteers

Program Director and Head Instructor: Carol Branscome, has a degree from Radford University in Sociology. Ms. Branscome has been a horse owner, rider, and competitor since the age of nine, and brings to Hoofbeats more than 30 years experience in stable management and riding instruction for both disabled and able-bodied riders. Some of Ms. Branscome's specialties are dressage, musical freestyles, and drill team instruction.

Assistant Instructor: Maria Pennine, is a PATH Registered Instructor, and a Special Olympics coach. Before her move to Virginia, Maria was employed by the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, RI, as an elephant trainer, and caregiver for many kinds of animals. In 1995, Ms. Pennine joinedHoofbeats as a volunteer. She became a horse owner, and as a rider developed her skills in both Western and Dressage disciplines. In 1997, Hoofbeats hired her as an instructor, and since then she has been an invaluable member of the Hoofbeats staff. The many innovative games and educational tools she incorporates in her lessons continue to enrich her students' riding experience.

Volunteers: Hoofbeats is primarily a volunteer organization, starting right at the top. All of the officers and members of the Board of Directors donate their time to manage and direct the operation. Hoofbeats depends on the generosity and efforts of volunteers to lead and sidewalk horses, keep the barn and pastures in tip-top shape, update the website, help with our filing system, create scrapbooks, publish newsletters, fundraise, take photographs, and perform a multitude of other tasks. More importantly, our volunteers set a wonderful example as they provide a welcoming environment for all of our clients. Through their attitudes and actions, Hoofbeats' volunteers foster an atmosphere that promotes growth, progress, and enrichment. For more about volunteering, click here.

Four-Legged Staffers - The Horses: The ideal therapy horses should possess a combination of qualities: excellent ground manners, patience, tolerance, kindness, sensitivity without spookiness, obedience, a love of people, and the ability to give and receive affection. In addition to possessing the appropriate temperament, it is desirable if therapy horses have lost some the flightiness of youth, and yet are physically fit enough to maintain steady gaits, and to tolerate the sudden weight shifts from beginner or unsteady riders. The horses must be able to walk quietly with leaders and side-walkers; they must also be able to trot, canter, travel to shows, go on trail rides as part of the lesson program, and do lower level dressage and/or be part of a drill team.

Therapy horses can be almost any breed, shape, or size, and in fact, these differences can be very useful in achieving different therapy goals for the riders. For example, most therapeutic riding programs prefer to have at least one narrower or smoother-gaited horse for riders with tight muscles, a wider or bouncier horse for low muscle-tone riders, and perhaps a pony for smaller riders.

The horses at Hoofbeats are valued members of our therapy team, and we hope that as you read about them, or become involved with them as volunteers, you will become members of their fan clubs as well. Click here to meet our "four-legged staff".