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At HorseAbility, Horsing Around Is What They Do

(Occhiogrosso is a Professional Communications Student at Farmingdale State College)

Camp Gives People With Special Needs a Reason to Smile

There are many up and coming programs all around Long Island for the special needs community but HorseAbility at the Thomas School of Horsemanship in Melville has been around for 18 years, serving the special needs community.

HorseAbility, a unique, fun-filled program that offers therapeutic horseback riding for people with special needs, is not only fun, but also offers emotional and physical therapies to those in need of therapy.  Many people with special needs do not receive the assistance they require and oftentimes, having fun is put on the back burner to necessity.

Horseback riding is not something that most people get to enjoy every day so for those with special needs it is something even more exciting.

Hippotherapy, a technique that HorseAbility employs, uses horses for physical, occupational, or speech therapy. Katie Kilcommons McGowan began HorseAbility in 1993 when a physical therapist borrowed her horse, Bandit, in a hippotherapy session with one of her cerebral palsy clients. McGowan, with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a master’s degree in education, saw firsthand the benefits of a child’s connection to a horse, helping in therapy and bringing about a child’s smile.

HorseAbility runs several programs throughout the year.  Riding lessons take place in seasonal series (spring, winter, fall, and summer) with a spring and fall horse show. There are also equine studies camps where students can spend a day learning about horses and taking a riding lesson. HorseAbility also hosts field trips for schools and other organizations and runs camps that involve riding and learning horse care. An annual bowl-a-thon, Texas Hold’em fundraising tournament, a wine-tasting fundraiser and formal gala are among the events held to raise money and awareness for the program.

There is always something going on to bring together riders, their families, and volunteers at HorseAbility, one of the few North American Riding for the Handicapped Association accredited centers on Long Island.

Long Island Horse Show Series for Riders with Disabilities is another program created by HorseAbility and is a team of riders with special needs that show off their skills every year in a series of horse shows which ends with the Hampton Classic Horse Show in Bridgehampton, NY.

LIHSSRD is made up of some of HorseAbility’s most dedicated riders.

HorseAbility is always looking for new volunteers. Volunteers do not need to have any previous horse experience and are given an orientation on their first day of volunteering to go over the basics of safety, helping instructors with lessons, and taking care of the horses.  Hours are flexible because lessons take place daily.  Volunteers are the backbone of HorseAbility and their programs could not be run without their loyal volunteers. Volunteers do everything from office work to cleaning up after the horses to helping with lessons and therapy sessions; there is something to do for everyone.

Every summer HorseAbility holds a weeklong summer camp at the end of August. Camp includes a daily horseback riding lesson, swimming lesson, arts and crafts period, a lunch/playground period, and indoor and outdoor sports periods for people aged 4 years to adult.

A screening is required for a child to attend the camp and can be scheduled any time through the HorseAbility office.

Every week of Camp HorseAbility has been a success and staff, volunteers, and campers end the week with new memories to last until the next year.  This year camp takes place August 23-27 from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily.

Not only does the camp offer a very special equine centered experience but every day there is a new fun activity including a magic show, karaoke, circus, and an end-of-the-week horse show and barbeque for family and friends.  Parents can be at ease knowing that there is a 2:1 staff-to-camper ratio and most of the staff is comprised of people volunteering their week to help others.  

Check out HorseAbility at for lessons, therapy, camp info or call (631) 367-1646.