SIRE’s Shayna Bolton considers being named 2020’s Credentialed Professional of the Year for Region 8 by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.) more than a personal accomplishment. On a broader scale, the accolade celebrates the program quality at the Spring facility where she is the site manager and an instructor and has helped expand SIRE’s impact in the community.

“Personally, you don’t go into a field like this looking for an award,” Shayna explained. “This has been an amazing surprise, and I’m so honored to be recognized in this way. I’ve always wanted my work here to help create a positive, fun place and to make therapeutic horsemanship available to as many people as possible. Our team has really come together over the last few years, and there’s no way any of this would be possible without them. Receiving this award just helps to confirm that.”

The annual award recognizes outstanding certified professionals who serve at PATH Intl. member centers like SIRE for outstanding work in using equine-assisted activities and therapies to enrich the quality of life and horsemanship skills of equestrians with special needs. Along with Texas, Region 8 encompasses Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mexico, Central America and South America. One credentialed professional is chosen annually from each of PATH’s 11 regions.

Under Shayna’s leadership, SIRE’s Spring site has grown from hosting three weekly classes for about 45 riders to more than 30 classes serving 90 clients, who participate in therapeutic horsemanship and equine-assisted learning (EAL) programs.

“We are all very proud of Shayna for representing herself and SIRE in such manner as to merit this award,” said Joe Wappelhorst, SIRE executive director. “She has expanded the scope of SIRE programming to include a new veterans’ program and an EAL program for Houston Independent School District, all the while demonstrating exceptional interest in and caring for participants, volunteers, staff and equines. She plays a leadership role in community outreach and SIRE’s strategic planning. She maintains a spirit of collaboration among the many therapeutic riding programs in the Houston area and Special Olympics.”

A Second Career and Life Chapter

While on an early career path in human resources recruiting, Shayna’s journey at SIRE started with her volunteering one day a week in 2000. Already well acquainted in working with horses and enjoying her experience at SIRE, Shayna decided to pursue certification as an instructor, in part, because her good friend and former neighbor has a son with special needs. They agreed riding would be beneficial for him, and it would be helpful for him to learn with Shayna. She received her certification in 2001 and began working part time at SIRE. Her friend’s son rode with SIRE for years until his family relocated.

Twenty years ago, SIRE’s facility resources were still bare bones. Spring’s site had an arena but no lighting. Staff and volunteers wielded flashlights in case darkness descended quickly, and riders’ families would pull their cars up to the edge of the arena and turn on their headlights to illuminate the space. They had no tack room for horse equipment and supplies, so the team utilized an old trailer they’d unpack and repack every day after classes.

By 2009, Shayna left her HR job and accepted a full-time position at SIRE as site manager.

“My work in HR trained me to see the big picture and think creatively when searching for a solution that provides a positive outcome,” she recalled. “I was accustomed to working with and managing a diverse group of people.”

As is characteristic for many SIRE team members, Shayna receives high praise from riders and families for her expertise, patience and kindness. Her colleague Joelle Devlin, a master instructor who works part time at SIRE, nominated Shayna for the award.

“In her quiet way, Shayna has greatly enhanced the relationship among the three SIRE sites as well as the other therapeutic riding programs in the Houston area,” Joelle pointed out. “She simply cares about the people and maintains that priority while expanding the thinking and the scope of services SIRE offers. She’s a very impressive lady.”

Shayna will receive her award at the PATH Intl. regional conference in August in Georgetown, Texas. She is also a finalist for the 2020 PATH Intl. Credentialed Professional of the Year, which will be announced at the PATH International Conference in St. Louis in late October.

On behalf of everyone at SIRE, “Congratulations to Shayna on this prestigious recognition,” said SIRE Board President, Charlotte McIntyre.