Who Are We?
STARR is led by a team of equine experts and physical therapists who are dedicated to enriching the lives of children with special needs in Central Illinois. We have been featured on Illinois Stories, WAND TV, Mount Zion Tribune, and the Decatur Herald & Review. Safety is our number one priority and we are proud to say we have been honored with annual safety awards since 1997. Our volunteers are the most dedicated around; many of our teenage volunteers have been inspired to go into health care fields.
We have two therapy horses that reside at STARR. While waiting to ride, children can watch the horses or walk on a short trail through our woods. We also have some playground equipment and plenty of seats in the shade.
Chief is a 14 year old paint horse, who joined us in 2021. Paint horses have beautiful and unique coat patterns, and were bred for their friendliness, calm demeanor, intelligence, athleticism, and trainability. Due to their strength, speed, agility, and stamina, they were traditionally used for transportation and work. Chief came to us from Missouri and was formerly a trick horse, his young rider often standing upright on his bare back while galloping through an arena. He is a spirited horse, and can be quite ornery but he's finding his stride in our program.
Opie is a 19 year old quarter horse who came to us from Macon, IL. The Quarter horse is known for its calm, docile, intelligent, and highly trainable nature, making them a great choice for riders of all levels including beginners; and as a family horse. They are hard working and eager to please, which has contributed to their success as a work horse throughout the years. Opie has been with us since 2019 and is beloved by all our riders that have had the pleasure of working with him.
In 1996, the founders of the STARR program moved outside Central Illinois and our current Owner/President Cheryl Smith and her husband, F.D. Smith, took over the program, relocating it to its current location at 3180 S. Mt. Zion Road, Decatur, IL. Cheryl volunteered for STARR since the program began and recognized what a special organization it was for the community so she convinced her husband to build horse stalls in their barn and move the four therapy horses so the program could continue.
Originally, classes were held in the pasture but over time Cheryl and F.D. were able to get enough donations to add an arena and sprinklers (because summer riding classes are HOT). Fans were eventually added to the arena to keep the riders, volunteers, and horses cooler. Using donations and extra materials around the farm, a fence was added for safety.
Roane & Cheryl
STARR has owned more than 10 horses throughout the years. Horses come to use when they "retire" from their previous jobs, and stay with us until they have to leave due to age, illness, injury, or death. Our program began with using four horses for therapy riding, but we eventually decreased to two horses. This was due to several factors: shortage of volunteers (we need three volunteers per horse per session), funds (horses aren't cheap!), and space (safety is our top priority). Horses require quite a bit of upkeep: food and bedding, annual vaccinations, teeth cleanings, and hoof care, as well as veterinary visits when ill.
As a not-for-profit organization, we are staffed entirely by volunteers and rely on donations to maintain our horses and our facilities. Our therapy program runs for a few months out of the year but our horses still eat year round! We have volunteers that come and clean stalls and care for our horses as well as volunteers who do special projects around the farm. It takes a lot to maintain and we are so thankful for all that help us.
In our 26+ years of operation, we have serviced more than 1000 children in the Central Illinois area. Our eligibility for riding has changed throughout the years due to safety requirements, and children typically "age out" of our program around 12 years old. Every year, participants receive a trophy at their final session but when they graduate from the program is when the emotions really come out. The pride we feel for all of our riders is immense, but seeing the pride they have in themselves is immeasurable.
In addition to therapy classes, STARR also offered birthday parties and school field trips. Unfortunately COVID derailed some of these additional services and a shortage of volunteers forced us to shift to therapy classes only.
Our Executive Board meets monthly to discuss finances, maintenance and care of our horses and facilities, and program needs. If you have questions, please feel free to call us at 217-864-2463 or email us.