Alison Weissman has always found freedom on the back of a horse. Since fourth grade, the 50-year-old Wellington mom has found refuge and peace in the barn.
About five years ago, Weissman met Tommy, a starving, angry Hanoverian gelding left to fend for himself in a muddy paddock. She started visiting him at the barn, spending her own money on feed and vet care while trying to be diplomatic with his owner. Weissman was forced to leave Tommy behind when his owner would not give him up.
Wiessman runs a small nonprofit organization named Freedom Riders Academy in Wellington. She teaches lessons and uses the fees to keep the nonprofit running.
A year and a half later, Weissman got a phone call that she had 45 minutes to pick up the horse. Tommy was her first rescue, and the inspiration behind Weissman’s unique nonprofit, Freedom Riders Academy .
“I realized there were other horses that needed help,” Weissman said. “I leased a 25-acre property. I had to figure out a way to afford everything and not have the horses go back to the same situation they came from. That’s how Freedom Riders Academy developed. My daughter Cassidy and I started with a spring break camp. Then we started teaching lessons. The word started to get out a little bit. Five years later, we have 23 students and we have great people volunteering for us. It’s growing.”
Weissman was determined to sustain her rescue responsibly. Instead of relying solely on donations and grants, she teaches lessons and funnels every cent she makes back into the nonprofit. Weissman charges a monthly rate of $225 for one hour-long lesson per week, allowing for a reliable source of income to care for the horses.
“I don’t believe in weekly lessons because people will come and go as they please,” she said. “I want them to commit to a month at a time. It also helps our budget. We need a certain amount of money each month to stay afloat. I’d be irresponsible if I didn’t make sure that money came in.”
Unlike most trainers, Weissman adamantly refuses to go to horse shows.
“I’ve had people hound me to show,” she said. “I’ve had parents leave my barn because they want to chase that blue ribbon. It has financially hurt my barn, but it’s about being with the horses and caring for them. We have nothing to do with shows. We’re simply trying to make a difference.”
The “freedom” in the organization’s moniker comes from the feeling of liberation while horseback riding, and the freedom the horses experience once they’ve left an abusive situation. Seven horses live at the Freedom Riders Academy barn in Wellington. One of them is up for adoption. Weissman is very careful when choosing a new home for one of her horses. She is determined to make a difference, one horse at a time.
“Tommy was shown at WEF for many years and lots of money was made from him,” she said. “When he was no longer viable for them, they cast him off to the side. It happens on a daily basis. He gave his whole heart and soul and was treated like trash. I decided that was not going to exist as long as I could do anything about it.”
For more information or to donate to Freedom Riders Academy, call 561-201-7884 or visit www.freedomridersacademy.org.