Riding soothes souls of students saddled with hardships
By Nikki Dowling
In everyday life, they walk with leg braces, refuse to utter a word to anybody except their parents or are wracked with such anxiety that mundane tasks become insurmountable problems.
But on May 21, the students in the Flying Manes Therapeutic Riding program, a non-profit that operates out of the Riverdale Equestrian Centre in Van Cortlandt Park, sat upright in the saddle and steered their horses through green plastic cones. Under the early morning sun, they urged their steeds into a light trot, smiling at their parents as they rode past.
Flying Manes, which began in 2009, is open to children, teens and adults with autism, mutism, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, post-traumatic stress syndrome, severe anxiety and other cognitive, behavioral, emotional and physical challenges. Participants learn how to ride horses at various speeds, go through a variety of drills and steer. They also learn about horses’ diet and care.
Parents interviewed on the morning of May 21, said the program has improved their children’s posture, confidence and speech. Many said the activity offers a fun, soothing respite in lives riddled with hardships and obstacles.
“I think [the horses] are more therapeutic than some people because they understand and have that patience,” said Bronxite Florina Ionescu as her 18-year-old daughter, Mira, rode her chestnut horse in a slow circle.
Ms. Ionescu said when her daughter, who has obsessive compulsive disorder, selective mutism and severe anxiety, started Flying Manes three years ago, the hardness of the saddle upset her so much she couldn’t get on the horse. So the Flying Manes staff gave Mira a pad to sit on and she has been riding ever since. Ms. Ionescu said Mira even rode last year in 104-degree weather, despite her extreme dislike of heat.