2006-07-06 / Other News

Horse Therapy - Something Soothing For Disabled Kids

By Eric Goodman

Challenged boy gets horse therapy.
Challenged boy gets horse therapy. Last year, a small room at a Sheepshead Bay restaurant was more than enough to accommodate the fundraising event commemorating the first anniversary of the Seaside Therapeutic Riding Center at Jamaica Bay Riding Academy just off the Belt Parkway east of the Mill Basin drawbridge. This year, however, a much larger venue was required.

Program founder Dan Cutler led the second anniversary celebration, along with about 250 students, volunteers and parents, last Thursday.

The program is designed to provide therapy through horseback riding for youths who suffer from various mental and physical disabilities.

The program was founded in September 2004 by Cutler, a former special education teacher with the city's Department of Education, and his close friend Anthony Danza, who owns the riding academy.

It began with only three volunteers and three students but has since expanded to 50 volunteers and 46 students. Because Cutler is also a professional horse riding instructor and self-proclaimed horse lover, he wanted to spread the joy and calming effects horses have had on his life with those that he felt needed it most.

"These young men and women are stricken with diseases that are absolutely beyond their control, but when they are afforded the opportunity to mount a 1,000-pound horse they all get to feel what it's like to actually be in control for that brief moment. It is truly an emotional experience to see the smiles on these kids' faces when they pull on the horse's reins and direct them where to go," Cutler said.

He pointed out the fundraising event was designed to cover the expenses for the yearlong program, but estimated that this year's event has brought in needed additional funds.

Awards were handed out to the students and volunteers. An inspirational speech was given by News 12 Brooklyn sports anchor Adam Babits.

Cutler said he is certainly happy with the overwhelming support for such a worthwhile cause and stressed that the horses are there so these children can experience the world from a new vantage point.

"We have a little saying here, and that is: 'when we ride a horse, we are borrowing freedom'," said Cutler. "What this means is that these kids are not forever locked into their wheelchairs, because when they get on top of that horse their spirits are temporarily freed."

Perhaps the most touching story told by Cutler was that of a 20-year-old young man with autism who was non-verbal for his entire life, despite years of speech therapy. One day, Cutler and the young man's mother approached him while he was cleaning his horse, Snapshot, and asked him what his horse's name was. Without looking up from his duties of cleaning the horse's hooves, the young man blurted out excitedly: "Snapshot!" The mother left crying tears of joy after hearing her son utter his first words at 20-years-old and has reported back to Cutler with the good news that he is continuing to verbalize and make progress at speech therapy.

The Seaside Therapeutic Riding Center benefits from being part of the North American Riding Handicap Association, which boasts over 600 locations throughout the United States. Cutler is proud to point out that the Jamaica Bay location is the only place where there is actually a waiting list for prospective students. The program runs 11 months a year on Sunday, Monday and Thursday mornings as well as after school on Wednesday afternoons but is closed for the month of August.

If anyone is interested in volunteering, they should contact Dan Cutler at 1-718-812-8466.

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