Written by camper Tom S. and published in the 2017 winter edition of the Pine Needle.
I volunteer year-round with an organization called Horseability. My love for horses began at Horseability when I was a toddler recovering from a birth injury. My success in traditional physical and occupational therapy was slow and difficult. My parents, looking for something different to help with my strength and mobility, found a program offering hippotherapy. “Hippos” is the Greek word for horse. Hippotherapy translates as therapy with the use of a horse to promote motor planning abilities. It also stimulates the central nervous system and activates weak muscles. Therapy can be done with or without a saddle and is given by a physical or occupational therapist. The goal is to improve the rider’s posture, mobility and balance. The greatest gains in my recovery came from hippotherapy. For the first time, the therapy I needed did not hurt. My therapy horse, Henry, became a beloved teacher and I could not get enough time in hippotherapy.
As I healed, I moved into therapeutic riding (actual horseback riding instruction) and now I am an equestrian and compete on the IEA team for my home barn. I have never forgotten how it feels to be in hippotherapy. It takes a tremendous amount of courage. I work in any capacity needed at Horseability but I am always drawn to hippotherapy sessions. In my role as a sidewalker, I provide both physical and emotional support to the rider. If I am working as a leader, I am guiding the horse through the session.
There are of course many barn chores to be completed. Often my time is spent working in the barn grooming horses and tacking them for their lessons. One of my favorite chores is working when there is a 15-ton hay delivery to the barn. The hay is sent up to the loft on a conveyor belt from a tractor-trailer. The bales are very heavy and we work as a team to catch and stack the hay.
Horseability riders in the therapeutic riding program have the opportunity to showcase their skills in the Long Island Horse Show Series for Riders with Disabilities. I enjoy assisting at their competitions and celebrating their successes.
As soon as I return home from Pine Island in August, I volunteer at Horseability’s week-long camp for individuals with special needs. It’s a great week sharing the joy of horses through equine-centered activities!
I work at Horseability every weekend and during school vacations. My favorite horse in the herd is named Gunther. He’s a chestnut Belgian Draft horse born in 1992. In his past he was a jousting horse. He is a gentle soul and a blessing to everyone at Horseability.