Riding soothes souls of students saddled with hardships
(Page 2 of 3)
By Nikki Dowling
The half-hour Saturday-morning classes are able to provide individualized attention because they are small, with only about four children in each of them. Participants are paired with one of the stable’s calmer, slower horses and three volunteers. One stands in front and helps lead the horse while the other two walk on either side, helping the rider focus, maintain posture or help the children steer. An instructor, certified through the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, a non-profit that promotes equine-related therapies, stands in the middle of the outdoor ring, giving pointers, setting up drills and offering encouraging words.
“It’s just … really cool because you can tell a lot of them really love it,” said one of the program’s volunteers, Emma Banasiak, a freshman at the Bronx High School of Science.
The current Flying Manes session has 27 participants, grouped with similar ages and personalities to encourage them to make friends, and 70 volunteers, who learn about the program via word-of-mouth, the Internet, listservs or disability organizations. Each of the three, eight-week sessions, which begin in the spring and run through the summer, cost $600 but many families qualify for financial assistance.
Queens resident Hector Rivera said the program helped his 7-year-old son, Daniel, communicate better.
“This makes him happy and he whispers a little louder,” Mr. Rivera said.
Although Daniel has mild autism and doesn’t like to speak, he shook his head vigorously and smiled when his father asked if he enjoys the program.