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Polo Match to Benefit Saddle Rock Ranch

The First Annual Polo Match to benefit Saddle Rock Ranch, operated by Family Residences and Essential Enterprises, Inc. (FREE), was held at the Meadowbrook Polo Club in Old Westbury on Saturday, Aug. 7. The National Foundation for Human Potential raised just under $20,000 for the program and operation at Saddle Rock Ranch, and the Squadron A Foundation.

FREE, founded in 1977 and headquartered in Old Bethpage, benefits more than 3,000 individuals with developmental disabilities and/or mental illness or traumatic brain injury and their families each year on Long Island. Its mission is to help individuals of all abilities to realize their full potential and prevail over life’s challenges. Saddle Rock Ranch, a 15-acre property in Middle Island, operated by FREE, offers pet therapy and agriculture pursuits, in addition to equine therapy, among its many services for individuals with special needs. The ranch has a staff of 13 and 40 volunteer-staff members, with 100 therapeutic riding students currently enrolled. In addition, Saddle Rock Ranch is a training site for the Special Olympics, and has produced medal-winners in the equine categories.

Squadron A Foundation is a 501(c) organization that traces its ancestry back to The New York Hussars in 1884, and later became the first cavalry arm of the Guard of the State of New York. Today, the organization promotes activities related to equitation, horse therapeutic riding and cavalry traditions.

Robert S. Budd, chief executive officer of FREE, explained the relationship between the two organizations: “The synergy between Squadron A and FREE is that equine therapy has been shown to help not only people with cerebral palsy and other types of disabilities, but also be very therapeutic for veterans with post traumatic stress disorder, and we’re hoping to be able to offer a specialty riding program for our veterans,” he said. Some of the proceeds from the charity match will go towards the veterans’ riding program that Budd spoke of.

Budd took a moment to explain the concept of therapeutic riding to Anton Newspapers: “It’s really fascinating, because you have these ton-worth of muscle horses with these 30 to 40-pound kids, and it’s amazing that the horses seem to sense when someone is differently-abled, and they are so gentle and calm. There’s a very special connection- especially, often, with people who have minimal capability for speech.”

He went on to say that studies have shown the effectiveness of equine therapy for people with eating disorders, and especially for individuals with cerebral palsy, in which case the muscle relief provided by the natural motion of the horse can be superior to that provided by physical therapy.

At the event, Danny Kramer, a student at Saddle Rock Ranch, spoke enthusiastically about riding his therapy horse, Jam, and other activities he enjoys at the ranch, like working in the vegetable garden.

The family event included an Argentinean style BBQ, sponsored by Mojave, wine, a tango demonstration, the title polo match, and a therapeutic riding demonstration by Megan Hunter, Saddle Rock Ranch paddock assistant, Shannon Chant, therapeutic riding instructor, Susan Greenhalgh, offside sidewalker and Robbie Van Gurp, leader.

Initially, Kramer was slated to perform the therapeutic riding demonstration, however his therapy horse- a former racehorse- was overexcited due to the presence of the polo horses. Instead, Hunter went through the therapeutic riding exercises, which were explained to the crowd. The demonstration included several feats of horsemanship including walking over poles and weaving through cones.

For those interested in becoming involved, FREE has several events coming up on the horizon. On August 21, Saddle Rock Ranch will host an Evening Under the Stars, featuring a therapeutic riding demonstration as well as other entertainment. On August 23, the 19th Annual Golf and Tennis Tournament will be held at the Creek in Locust Valley. Finally, the Celebration of Life Gala at Crest Hollow Country Club, an important fundraiser, will take place on October 22. For more information about FREE, or any of these upcoming events, call 870-1622 or visit www.familyres.org.