I cannot walk, or run, or play a game of tennis everyday….
But I CAN ride through the forest trails…
when carried high, my feet take wings…
John A. Davis
“My feet take wings” is such an apt and beautiful description of the spirit-buoying freedom that many physically and developmentally disabled people experience on the back of a horse. When she started the Therapeutic Equestrian Center (TEC) in Cold Spring, New York, in 2009, Leslie Heanue left the corporate world to share her love of horses and riding with people who might never know that freedom. In an interview with Alison Rooney in 2009, she said when she was working in private banking, she always turned toward horses in times of stress, adding, “I realized this is what I really wanted to do, and I decided to pursue it.”
Rooney tells the story of the steps Heanue followed to first learn from PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) International how to go about setting up a facility and then finding land, funding, staff, volunteers, all the gear and, of course, the right horses. The dream was enormous, and so was Heanue’s willingness to jump through any hoops and cross any barriers to make it come true.
The people who come to the Therapeutic Equestrian Center are profoundly touched by the experience. In an interview with Neighborhood Journal, Heanue said:
You are teaching a person with disabilities how to ride, and with that teaching comes an emotional bond, comes physical strength, comes self-esteem. We use the horse as a tool, to have the client balance themselves, to have them develop strength in their core, in their legs, and the emotional part of it—that they can go home saying that they trotted a horse today. That’s pretty cool.
Cool indeed. Heanue’s therapeutic riding program is extraordinary. In creating the video below, Andrew Revkin focused on Jess, a young woman with ataxic cerebral palsy, whose father told him,
…Leslie’s TEC program is clearly the best one we’ve ever encountered….At other programs, Jess would complain for most of the time she was on the horse, but at TEC, she actually looks forward to her lessons.
Watch Revkin’s video, and you will see how much care, skill and attention surround the young woman and her mount. The supportive warmth shows in every frame. TEC really does offer “a path to healing and hope for the disabled”, and that gives me hope.
You can follow the Therapeutic Equestrian Center on Facebook.