BY BARRY WARNER
The nonprofit Camp Venture Equestrian Program, located in Stony Point, N.Y. is an indoor recreational riding activity for children and adults with special needs. Instruction is educational, hands-on and is geared to the learning style of each participant.
The indoor facility that was dedicated on October 8, 2010, is able to offer riding instruction year-round. It is named ‘The Senator Thomas Morahan-Ken Freson Therapeutic Equestrian Center’ to honor the Senator for his dedication and commitment to the people at Camp Venture and to honor Ken Freson, Director of the Equestrian Program, whose inspiration has enabled hundreds of participants to harvest the benefits of riding and caring for horses since 1992. Extremely hot summer heat and blustery cold winters with snow and ice pose safety hazards. Being able to exercise horses year-round is important to their well-being and fitness. Sound-absorbing acoustics provide a stress-free environment that creates comfort for both horses and riders.
According to the website, www.equestriantherapy.com, people with developmental disabilities have shown positive results with equine therapy, which aims for its participants to:
1 Build a sense of self worth.
2 Improve communication skills.
3 Build trust and self-sufficiency.
4 Develop socialization skills.
5 Learn impulse control and emotional management.
Horses are popularly used animals for therapy, because they have the ability to respond immediately and give feedback to the rider’s actions or behaviors. Many participants may feel intimidated by the horse’s size and features and take some time to develop trust when around a horse. Included in the therapy program are lessons on horse care, horse grooming and saddling. In all equine activities, safety is the primary concern, as therapists ensure that the participants are wearing helmets and other protective gear.
Mark Witte, Camp Venture Assistant Equine Instructor said, “Claudia Cohen has been a great help as a volunteer with the Equestrian Program. She is very relaxed, is great at interacting with the participants and helps with grooming and cleanup. In the arena as a Sidewalker, Claudia is responsible for the safety of the riders and helping the riders to focus on the commands of the instructor.”
Equine Volunteer Claudia Cohen stated, “My sister Nancy, who is a consumer with Camp Venture, got me interested in this activity. When she was introduced to her horse, her ‘face lit up’. Seeing faces light up on other riders has been a wonderful experience for me. By sidewalking a horse, it allows me to be more interactive with the riders. Safety is most important, therefore, I am focused to make sure the rider’s feet are in the stirrups, the horse is moving forward and the rider is balanced. I tell them that ‘I am here’ to give them confidence and not to worry. When the instructor gives a direction, I allow the student plenty of time to process it. I get to know the riders and learn when they need help and when they are not paying attention. It is important for me to maintain a position by the rider’s knee. Being too far forward or back will make it difficult for me to assist with instructions or provide security.”
For people with special needs, riding can provide a series of therapeutic benefits. Sitting in the saddle on a 1,000 pound horse and commanding it through its paces is a stirring feeling, especially for a person with disabilities. Riding improves physical strength, mobility, coordination and promotes better attention span and concentration. Whether steering through an obstacle course, getting the horse to respond to the reins or developing the posture to sit up straight- skill development is individual and appropriate for each student. The rhythmic motion of the horse acts as a powerful tool to improve the flexibility and balance of the rider.
The Rockland County Sheriff and The Rockland County Sheriff’s Deputies Association have supported the Camp Venture Equestrian Program and the County’s citizens with special needs.
Ken Freson indicated that the volunteers of the Camp Venture Equestrian Program offer their services in an altruistic way. They give from their hearts and expect nothing in return. Volunteers are accepted into the program starting at age 12. Training is given to all volunteers before working with the horses or riders.