Clients at the Trudeau Center are learning how to giddy up. This summer, 20 of them have been taking horseback riding lessons and participating in wagon rides at Clouds Hill twice a week.
“It’s so much fun,” said client, Elizabeth Pelkey. “The horse I rode last week was named Rosie.”
Another client, Jeff Christie, who is visually impaired, also said he is enjoying his time with the horses. At the age of 32, he has been riding since he was 9.
“I like it because it’s good exercise,” said Christie. “You can feel it in your legs and shoulders. I didn’t know if I wanted to do it at first, but then I thought about it and said, ‘Why not?’”
Vanessa Zotti agreed and said, “I like the horses a lot. They are very pretty.”
Bob Okerholm’s daughter, Lorie, who suffers from osteoporosis, also takes lessons.
“The lessons are beneficial to her because they help with her stability,” said Okerholm. “She was afraid at first, but now she loves it. The horses are great and they provide good therapy for the kids.”
Okerholm is right. According to Allyson LaGreca, the Director of Recreation and Social Services at the Trudeau Center, horseback riding is beneficial to clients.
“Some of the clients don’t have good balance when they walk and horseback riding helps to improve their posture and core muscles,” LaGreca said. “You have to squeeze your legs a little bit when you’re on the horse, so it forces you to get a little stronger. It especially helps people who can’t ambulate the same way you and I can. It’s an amazing, therapeutic experience.”
For clients like Christie, LaGreca said the horses serve as guides.
“He’s relied on people to help him get around his whole life, and it’s nice for the horse to be able to do the work for him,” she said.
Pearl and Irwin Jacobowitz, whose son, Arizona, is a client in the Pathways program at Trudeau, also said horseback riding helps calm clients. In fact, they believe animals, including dogs, can bring a positive impact to people with developmental disabilities and own a service dog to aid Arizona.
“He was trained to work with our son,” said Pearl. “The animals are good for people with autism.”
On Wednesdays and Saturdays, the clients visit the horse farm at Clouds Hill, a historic Victorian museum and home at 4157 Post Road, for lessons. In total, 20 clients participate, with 10 visiting the farm on Wednesdays and the remaining 10 stopping by on Saturdays. The program has been going on since mid-June and will continue through the end of August.
“The clients do everything that somebody who would own a horse would do,” LaGreca said. “They groom the horse, clean out the [stables] and learn how to ride. They learn the postures, the commands, how to hold the reigns, and they feed the horses after, too.”
While many of the clients have been taking lessons for several years, as LaGreca formerly took them to a barn in Foster, this is the first year at Clouds Hill.
“We used to do it at a farm in Foster but it was a far ride,” said LaGreca. “It wasn’t running the way I wanted it to so I started looking for a new one.”
LaGreca said the program is funded through a grant, which is why they limit each session to 10 people. Without the grant, she said it would not be possible.
“Horseback riding lessons are expensive, and this is an opportunity our athletes would never be able to have if it wasn’t for the grant,” she said.
The idea to bring the program to Clouds Hill was initiated by Trudeau’s Shared Living Coordinator Diane Duffy. Duffy, whose brother, Rod Pascual, is a client at the center, said because the facility in Foster was a trek from the center, she figured it would be nice to hold the lessons somewhere closer.
“I think it’s great for the community and everyone involved,” she said. “It’s wonderful for the kids and it’s a great opportunity for two community-based organizations to come together and do this for special individuals.”
The horses are co-owned by Andra Collins and her friend, Joe DiPietro. Collins said five horses are regularly involved.
“This is always something he wanted to volunteer for, so we said, ‘Let’s do it,’” said Collins. “The horses really seem to enjoy the students and everyone is having fun.”
Collins said it is important to note that the barn is not affiliated with the museum. Rather, it was previously owned and operated by Anne Holst, and now Collins and DiPietro take care of it.
“I’ve known Anne for 40 years, and when she wanted to run the museum she asked if I could run the barn,” she said. “It’s not a business by any means and it really has nothing to do with the museum. We pay for all of our own materials and we keep things separate. But it’s really nice of her to open up the property for us.”
LaGreca agreed and said, “I’m very pleased with our partnership with Clouds Hill. They have been very generous. In the future, we hope to utilize more of their grounds. I’m happy we’re getting more folks at the Trudeau Center to experience this location. One of my main jobs is community development, and making partnerships like this is so important for our folks.”
To learn more about the program, contact LaGreca at the Trudeau Center at 739-2700, ext. 225.