Whenever Tianna Holmes of Conyers, Georgia wants to relieve herself of the daily stressors life brings, she makes her way into the SOOFA Ranch in Palmetto, Georgia. For the past four months she’s gotten to know 11-year-old Grace, a Clydesdale horse she rides for equine therapy.
“I discovered this place on Instagram, and I think one of their ads just came across my feed and it’s called SOOFA Ranch,” Holmes said. “SOOFA stands for Stepping Out on Faith Again, and just that alone, it really drew me into it. I wanted to learn more about the organization, and I saw it was Black owned, and I said, I wanted to be here.”
Daryl Fletcher is the founder and operator of SOOFA Ranch. He’s been riding horses since he was 7 years old on his grandparents’ farm in Englewood, Florida.
After working for years as a youth pastor, Fletcher decided to turn his part-time hobby into a full-time vocation and help other people along the way. Fletcher retired from youth ministry and became certified in equine therapy.
“We utilize our facilities for people to get introduced to horseback riding,” Fletcher said.
“There are not a lot of minority owned facilities, and there are not a lot of minority riders. Eighty percent of my customers are minorities or Black people, and 95 percent of those people have never been around a horse or never even experienced riding therapy.”
The SOOFA Ranch is a nonprofit that opened in 2019. Since then, Fletcher says he has provided more than 2,000 horseback riding sessions. He uses equine therapy to help people overcome anxiety, improve communication skills and build confidence.
“You know what, if I was able to get on a horse, and overcome my anxiety and overcome my fears then guess what, I can go after this promotion, I can go after this raise, I can start going after and start doing things I may not necessarily used to doing but I know how to place myself in order to make sure it happens,” said Fletcher.
Each of Daryl’s 10 horses have inspirational names, and breeds range from Clydesdale to Thoroughbreds.
SOOFA’s reach is growing quickly. Andrea Smith lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, and she traveled to Georgia for the horseback riding experience.
“It is not my first time riding a horse, but I would definitely classify myself as a beginner. Darryl is very patient and very knowledgeable about his craft. I’ve learned a lot just within the day that I’ve been here, I’ve learned some key important elements that will definitely help me in my horseback riding journey,” Smith said.
Fletcher says the pandemic has put added emphasis on mental health, and SOOFA Ranch has capitalized on the moment.
“Horses help people deal with a number of issues. If I teach you how to control or connect with a 1400-pound animal, you should have no problem overcoming bullying.
If I teach you how to connect and overcome challenging anxiety issues with an animal you have no control over, if I show you how to take that same principle and transfer it to your everyday life there’s nothing you should not be able to accomplish,” said Fletcher.
“These horses are very big once you get there in person, and I was scared, I was really scared, but now that I’ve been doing it for a while, I’m really comfortable and I’ve found that in my everyday life, it does help me be more confident, because Mr. Darryl tells me all the time, you have to control the horse, the horse doesn’t control you,” said Holmes.
The therapy sessions range in price from $75 up to $195. Fletcher hopes with the growth in business, he’s able to raise enough money to expand the SOOFA Ranch and buy more land and horses.