Standing Ovation by Ovation Riding

Today’s honoree: Centaur Stride, Inc.

Each Friday, Horse Nation teams up with Ovation Riding to spotlight an individual or organization doing good work in the horse industry. Today, we’re recognizing Centaur Stride Inc., a therapeutic riding center in Westfield, New York.

Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

I walked in the front door of Centaur Stride in the rural outskirts of Westfield, western New York state, and right into what felt like a small-scale post-holiday party. I had arrived between lessons, and clients, their families, volunteers and staff were all gathered between the indoor arena and the office to hang out, chat, hug and catch up, their voices blending in the familiar happy chatter of a tight-knit barn community. This theme of community set the tone for my entire visit, with everyone — from clients to volunteers to the staff to the parents — enjoying the fellowship of each other’s company and time spent with horses.

Centaur Stride is a therapeutic riding program located in Chautauqua County, the westernmost county in New York State. Claudia Monroe, the co-founder, toured me around the facility and explained the program’s story.

Nate Gavin, student, on Gypsy the pony with instructor Tyler Muka and sidewalker Becky White and Jordan Freeman. Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

Nate Gavin, student, on Gypsy the pony with instructor Tyler Muka and sidewalker Becky White and Jordan Freeman. Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

Claudia has provided physical therapy in public schools since 1994, seeing firsthand how much difference physical exercises made in the lives of students with disabilites. She describes herself as “not a born horse person,” but someone who has witnessed firsthand the amazing things that working with horses and horseback riding can do for people.

Claudia and her husband built the facility at which Centaur Stride operates, adding the spacious indoor arena thanks to grant money. Most of the funding, she mentioned as we stood in the arena, comes from donations and fundraisers, and the families pay their own way the rest of the time. Lesson fees are $30 or a package deal of 6 for $120. Families may be eligible for partial reimbursement from state funding through the Resource Center if they qualify (a diagnosis of a physical disability).

Volunteer Becky White assisting a rider to mount at the lift. Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

Volunteer Becky White assisting a rider to mount at the lift. Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

Centaur Stride does get some support at times from the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, especially for pilot programs, and from the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation for special projects. However, grantors do not like to fund operating expenses. Recent cuts in state funding mean that therapeutic riding is now the only therapy that some of the students receive.

Part of the mission of Centaur Stride is to offer an an integrated program — meaning riders with or without disabilities. Those riders without disabilities learn what it’s like to ride alongside those who have them, as well as the needs of the population. The integrated program also gives a rider with a disability the opportunity to learn to build social relationships and to practice social behaviors. The program can’t survive without volunteers; some students require an instructor as well as two volunteer side-walkers as well as help in the barn.

Centaur Stride's indoor includes plenty of additional activities. Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

Centaur Stride’s indoor includes plenty of additional activities. Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

Centaur Stride students come from all over the county and from as far away as Erie, which can be about a 45-minute drive one way. The winter is the slow season, but during the summer busy period Claudia estimates that Centaur Stride teaches 50 to 75 lessons a week.

That’s a strong statistic for such a small, intimate-feeling program. One of the reasons that Centaur Stride has such a strong community at its core is the program’s efforts to support the entire family, not just the individual student: riding lessons are available for family members, and Centaur Stride hopes to someday utilize the facility to capacity. That dream includes summer camp for people with disabilities, and family camps for families with a member with a disability.

Centaur Stride’s next big fundraiser is its annual “Healing With Horses” walk-a-thon on Sunday, March 13, 2016. Interested participants can sign up here or make a donation without walking.

Centaur Stride also offers horse or rider sponsorships to accept donations — for more information about donating, please click here.

As I departed Centaur Stride, the folks still hanging around watching the last of the day’s lessons bid me farewell as though I were a regular around the barn, imparting one last time a real feeling of community.

Instructor with direct close-by supervision and instruction. Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

Instructor with direct close-by supervision and instruction. Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

If you are interested in learning more about Centaur Stride, we encourage you to check out the organization’s website and to “like” them on Facebook for more updates.

Many thanks thanks to Ovation Riding for their support of both Horse Nation and individuals and organizations that are doing good work in the horse world. If you know someone who deserves a Standing Ovation, we would love to recognize them in a future post. Email the name of the person or organization along with a message about the good work they do to [email protected] Photos/videos are always welcome, and include a link to their website if applicable.

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