Cat Thompson
Cat, founder of BDF and certified speech pathologist of 22 years, specializes in: autism, severe speech and language disorders, apraxia, cleft palate, feeding aversion and swallowing disorders. She is also certified by PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International) as a therapeutic riding instructor and with the American Hippotherapy Association. She has been using hippotherapy as a treatment modality since 1994, when she helped to build a hippotherapy center as an adjunct to traditional therapy services at St. Mary’s hospital in Athens.

Erika, a P.A.T.H Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor, has been teaching therapeutic riding at BDF since November 2019. She has been riding competitively since she was 8 years old and has a deep understanding of horse behavior and equitation skills which directly translate into her lessons. Erika is currently a student at the University of Georgia studying Risk Management and Insurance, with minors in Spanish and Religion.  Her hometown is Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Post-graduation, Erika hopes to begin her career in the business world while continuing to teach therapeutic riding. Developing the relationship between the horse and rider is of high importance to Erika as well. 

Benita Nelson Instructor
Before she could walk, she wanted to ride.  Benita’s very first exposure to a horse was when she was in her mother’s arms at a county fair in rural North Carolina.  She reached out for the horse, her mom put her on, and the rest was history. After four years of lessons, Benita got her first pony at the age of 11 and successfully competed through high school in the hunter/jumper arena.  After graduating from the University of Georgia, Benita married David Nelson, started a career, they raised two daughters, and sadly just didn’t have time for riding. But after a 37- year hiatus, she re-entered the riding world with the same passion and enthusiasm that she had as a young girl.  She is PATH Certified. Helping riders feel at ease with their equine partners is a high priority in her lesson plans.

Lauren Wassel Instructor
Lauren, a P.A.T.H Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor, has been volunteering at BDF since 2016 and has been teaching at BDF since May 2018. She grew up on a small horse farm in Gainesville, Georgia and has been on a horse alongside her mother and sister since she was born. Lauren graduated from the University of Georgia, where she studied genetics. She is currently gaining experience to pursue a career in medicine, so she can further her teaching and lessons. Lauren makes it a point to connect with each and every participant to ensure the best experience for the riders, volunteers, and horses.