September Volunteer of the Month

September Volunteer of the Month

Meet our “GO” Getter of the Month, Jacklyn Stone!

Jacky discovered Great Oak through an internet search after her previous center closed. Working with horses was a bucket list item for Jacky during her retirement. “As soon as I retired from teaching, I was ready to enjoy my retirement with horses and special people,” says Jacky.

Jacky loves all the “GO” Pones and their unique personalities, but is excited to work with the new “GO” Pony, Jack, as he has the same name as her father. 

Jacky summarizes her experience volunteering at Great Oak this way: “Great Oak is a wonderful place to volunteer! All the instructors, other volunteers, and students are very kind to each other! We all work together and everyone benefits. You get great exercise, wonderful friends, and feel like you had the chance to help someone else when you leave the barn at the end of the day! Also, the horses are always GREAT!”

Thanks, Jacky, we think you are pretty GREAT too.

Morrigan’s Blue Ribbon Moment

Morrigan’s Blue Ribbon Moment

At Great Oak, our primary task is to teach horseback riding, however, the learning goes far beyond that. Our students help to groom and care for the horses. They spend time with the horses bonding and learning to listen to them. We play socialization games and encourage mindfulness, patience, and kindness. Morrigan has ridden with us for four years and she loves to trot. Then, feed carrots to her horse after the ride (so does Dad).

Upon seeing that one of our newest students was a little unsure, Morrigan took hold of his hand and showed him compassion and understanding. She knows it can be tough to try something or meet someone new and it can be a little scary to be so close to a big animal. Her knowledge is first-hand as it was hard for her in the beginning, too.

Morrigan reached out her hand and kindly showing our student that he had a friend. In doing so, she gave the new student confidence to walk with her and the horse around the arena. It is during these times that personal growth blossoms. It is not always obvious how working with horses can teach leadership, but here at Great Oak, our students demonstrate leadership, compassion, and bravery every day. 

Morrigan rides “GO” Pony Boomer with confidence. She laughs with joy when Boomer is a bit cheeky and laughs even louder when he trots around the arena. Morrigan gets a thrill when they play games and Boomer picks up a ring to put it on a cone. She especially loves to play basketball either in the indoor arena or out on the sensory trail. Morrigan is an exceptional basketball player, so it is not often that she misses. Boomer is very happy to wait as long as he needs so that Morrigan can shoot as many balls as she can. 

We recognize Morrigan this month and every month for her developing patience and for her kindness to other students. 

Great Oak Celebrates a Graduate

Great Oak Celebrates a Graduate

Graduation is celebrated worldwide, honoring people who have successfully completed a course of study.  At Great Oak, we like to celebrate special occasions with Blue Ribbon moments. This month’s we are honoring our first official Graduate. 

In February of 2019, Lead Instructor, Eva Finnan, had the privilege of assessing a woman who had fallen from a horse which resulted in a severe concussion and a vestibular nerve injury.  During her assessment, she explained that twenty-four hours a day, her world swayed as though she were on a boat and she was unable to work or perform normal activities.  

She followed a Post Concussion Syndrome recovery protocol, which helped, but her goal was to go on a trail ride again. Her sense of position in space was no longer accurate and she constantly had to do checks and balances to locate her hands and feet.

When she first arrived at Great Oak, the plan was to start slow.  She worked hard and increased her riding time from once a week to twice a week.  She rode with and without stirrups and practiced a lot of exercises with eyes closed, relying on our dedicated volunteers to lead the horse.  Two-point exercises progressed to what Eva calls “The Titanic Position” – standing up in the stirrups balancing over the pommel with hands out wide, looking straight ahead.  She was so excited and fascinated to find that this exercise actually forced her to find her feet and the correct position in the saddle when she sat down.

It was this moment when she realized she could sense where her feet were was very emotional.  What she had experienced in the saddle gave her the confidence to navigate her way through an airport without her husband’s assistance. 

In June, our rider went on holiday to a dude ranch.  She and her husband enjoyed trail riding and at the end of our 2021 Summer Session, our hard-working and determined rider walked, trotted confidently, cantered, and “Graduated” from Great Oak! 

Great Oak’s Duchossois Indoor Riding Arena Undergoes Transformation

Great Oak’s Duchossois Indoor Riding Arena Undergoes Transformation

Thanks to the many generous community supporters, Great Oak’s Duchossois Indoor Riding Arena recently underwent a transformation.  In early August, the previous sand-clay footing mixture was removed to make room for a secure base of stone dust topped with a mixture of sand and GGT Equestrian Footing.

We are especially GREATful for the following businesses and individual contributors:

The new arena footing provides a comfortable and sturdy surface for our “GO” Ponies, “GO” Getters, and our Certified Instructors that serve our Aiken community.  During a typical therapeutic riding lesson a student riding a horse may have four people to support them during their ride and on a typical day a Great Oak Instructor may walk up to 5 miles!  From what we have heard, all 8 feet and 4 hooves are ecstatic to have such a wonderful arena to work in and walk on!

Support our Scholarships

Support our Scholarships

Written by Jensen Jennings, who started as a volunteer at Great Oak but recently became a member of our Board of Directors.

infographic with breakdown of cost for riders at great oak

I have been a volunteer with Great Oak for about two years now. In my time with Great Oak, I have seen life-changing experiences, and I have been brought to tears and humbled by our students.

Our students come from different backgrounds and have different challenges, but they all have a champion’s heart, and with the help of our “GO” Getters and “GO” Ponies, they meet and often far exceed their goals.

I have seen a student, who on day one would not get on the horse and was actually frightened by the horse, become an exceptional rider, who now trots with no fear at all.

I have seen a student, when they first came, was nonverbal, now that student is using words and phrases. And, I have seen a number of students who physically had a hard time staying balanced on their horse even with assistance by side walkers, build up their muscles and become stronger, and some even have become able to ride independently.

To say this program is worth your contribution, would be the biggest understatement. Your generous contribution spurs unbridled growth within our entire “GO” community, from helping a student pay for their lessons, to paying for horse care supplies for our amazing “GO” Ponies.

image of a happy young rider wearing a yellow dress and smiling

Monday teaches patience in July’s Blue Ribbon Moment

Monday teaches patience in July’s Blue Ribbon Moment

Patience is a virtue, and horses are fantastic teachers of patience.  This month’s Blue Ribbon Moment features one of our newest riders, Abigale.  She came to Great Oak to gain confidence, balance and become more balanced in both body and mind. 

image of a happy young rider wearing a yellow dress and smiling

Abigale came to the farm for several weeks before she decided to mount a horse.  During her time at Great Oak, she spent time building trust with Lead Instructor, Eva Finnan, and one of our resident donkeys, Pancake, before she was ready to meet a horse.

When Abigale said it was time, she chose her “GO” Pony, Monday, a 10-year-old Tennessee Walking Horse.  On a Thursday afternoon, Monday approached the ramp with Abigale waiting at the top and she swung her leg over, and off they went.

It was such a special moment!  Eva shared this photo with Abigale’s family, to which their response was:

“This is AMAZING!!! I can’t thank you enough for being so patient.”

Daily, we are reminded at Great Oak that Blue Ribbon moments come when we empower our students and allow them to show us when they are ready.  Abigale is all smiles and giggles when she is at Great Oak riding her horse Monday.  A very special relationship is in the making.

Abigale greets Monday each week with a horse handshake and then climbs on and reaches forward to tap him on his withers – her way of telling Monday “walk-on”.  The “GO” Getters get such a kick when we play red light green light because Abigale is very quick to tell Monday to “GO”!  No standing around for this girl and her pony.  

A Blue Ribbon for confidence, joy, and bravery.  Well done Abigale!

Great Oak Partners with The Gifting Tree

Great Oak Partners with The Gifting Tree

Great Oak and The Gifting Tree representatives.

Great Oak recently received a $4,800 donation from The Gifting Tree Foundation to fund its new equine-assisted program.

Great Oak Assisted Life Skills, or GOALS, was conceived after receiving feedback from Great Oak’s families and students that there was an opportunity to provide life skills and career preparation for young adults with disabilities.

GOALS aims to provide young adults with continuing education with meaningful life experiences to foster independence. GOALS will provide these students with experiential learning opportunities to build a foundation of life skills.

For the past three years, Great Oak has hosted local high school students through Aiken County Public School District’s Community Based Instruction program and is now a Work-Based Learning Experience Site for Vocational Rehabilitation.

“We are so excited to move forward with launching GOALS to help young adults in our community and thank The Gifting Tree for their generous gift. This money will support our students in their journey to lead independent and meaningful lives,” says, Nicole Pioli, executive director of Great Oak.

Great Oak provides equine-assisted activities that promote the physical, emotional and psychological health of individuals of all ages with disabilities. Current riders range in age from 4 to 80 years old.

To learn more about GOALS and Great Oak Equine Assisted Programs, visit To learn more about The Gifting Tree Foundation, visit

Tack Room Talk

Tack Room Talk

Great Oak has launched a new feature on YouTube called “Tack Room Talk”. Every week your favorite Great Oak staff and volunteers will have useful information. Tack Room Talk is sponsored by the Sullivan Turner Team at Meybohm Real Estate. Below is the most recent episode. You can catch up on all episodes on Great Oak’s YouTube channel.