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Two Decades Of Riding, Healing At HorseAbility

Unique facility at SUNY Old Westbury
pairs horses and those with special needs

This year, HorseAbility, Long Island’s center for equine facilitated programs, is celebrating its 20th anniversary, helping those with special needs since 1993.

Kathleen Kilcommons McGowan founded HorseAbility in 1993 when she lent her horse to a friend who was also a physical therapist. Her friend used hippotherapy, which helps with motor disabilities by promoting motor-planning abilities, mobilizing the hips and lower spine and stimulating the central nervous system.  All of this is done in the presence of a horse.

McGowan watched the emotional connection between the horse and the child whom her friend treated and also noticed how the child’s progress accelerated through the use of the horse. It was in that moment that she found her calling.

“Katie McGowan, who is our founder and executive director, founded HorseAbility 20 years ago this year with only one horse, a couple of riders and two volunteers,” said Annie Follansbee, program pirector at HorseAbility. “Now, we’re up to seeing 450 clients annually, we have around 350 volunteers annually and our herd [of horses] is now 17 and growing.”

HorseAbility, located on the campus of SUNY College at Old Westbury, is the only premier accredited Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) center on Long Island, according to Follansbee.

The HorseAbility program accommodates those of all different ages and special needs. According to Follansbee, riders start as young as 2-and-a-half years of age and continue to those in the senior citizen age group.

HorseAbility treats riders with many different kinds of special needs, including Downs Syndrome, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, ADHD, learning disabilities and more.  “As long as their doctor clears them to ride, we can treat them here,” Follansbee remarked.

In 2001, HorseAbility created Camp HorseAbility, a weeklong event for those with special needs that includes riding, learning and enjoying the experience. Camp HorseAbility takes place during August and is located at Thomas School of Horsemanship in Melville, N.Y.

The program is also responsible for The Long Island Horse Show Series for Riders with Disabilities (LIHSSRD), which is the first of its kind. The finals are held at the prestigious, world-renowned Hampton Classic Horse Show each year.

HorseAbility would not be what it is today without its volunteers, who serve the program in many ways, including fundraising, horse and stable care and assisting with therapeutic riding and hippotherapy sessions.

“My first year volunteering was in the summer of 2004,” said volunteer Maria Piuggi, 19. “Clearly, I loved it and felt like I was making a difference, so I’ve been volunteering every year since then.”

HorseAbility hosts many fundraising events throughout the year, in addition to an annual appeal to raise $2.6 million for renovations an old barn on their property, which will allow more horses and riding space. The program is also hosting a gala celebrating 20 years, which was moved from Nov. 2 to Jan. 11 due to Hurricane Sandy, as well as the organization’s first golf outing in May at Wheatley Hills Golf Club.

“My favorite part about being a volunteer at HorseAbility is having the feeling that you are a part of another family and knowing you are making a difference in the world,” Piuggi said. “The experience is so fun and positive and that’s what I love about it.”

News

Due to what appears to be a colossal error on the part of the Nassau County Assessor’s office, or perhaps an errant interpretation of state law, more than 600 military veterans and Gold Star families in Hicksville will have to wait for their tax break until next year.

Hicksville is one of several local school districts that recently approved resolutions extending the exemption to local veterans, even though budgets and Albany’s tax cap make it a tough choice. On Feb. 26, with a contingency of veterans in the audience, the board voted to provide a school tax exemption for veterans living in the district, starting with the 2014-15 school year.

You’d expect volleyball, football and running the mile in gym class, but what about juggling, plate spinning, or riding a unicycle? For the past 30 years, The National Circus Project has been challenging typical notions of gym class by bringing skilled, trained circus artists into schools for performances and week-long workshops.

Every year, the Westbury based nonprofit goes into approximately 350 public and private schools all over the northeast, including a previous visit to Dutch Lane School in Hicksville. Teams of expert circus artists will come into a physical education class for either a day or week-long workshop. Students get a front row seat to a performance by some of the best in the business, as well as hands on experience with traditional circus skills such as juggling, wire walking or acrobatics. Students in the week-long workshop get to perfect a specific skill and show it off during a show at the end of the week for family members.


Sports

Cantiague Park Senior Men’s Golf League had its first tournament on Thursday April 4. Twenty golfers came out on on a crisp but sunny morning. Charlie Hong was the only man to score under a 40, with a 38 and won for low overall score. Jim O’ Brien  scored a 41, and won low overall net in a tie-breaker with Mike Guerriero.

Competition on the nine-hole course is divided into two divisions. Flight A is for players with a handicap of 13 or lower. Flight B is for players with a handicap of 14 or more. The league is a 100 percent handicap league. Any man 55 years or older is eligible for membership. We have many openings for this year, and you can sign up anytime throughout the the season.

This November, Hicksville resident Marlo Signoracci will head to Florida for Ironman, a demanding, long-distance triathlon that includes biking, running and swimming. Here, she shares her story as she prepares for one of the most physically challenging athletic events out there.

Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you. They are supposed to help you discover who you are.


Calendar

American Legion Meeting

April 21

HS Theater in the Round

April 24-26

Science Fair

April 26



Columns

Yellow Margarine And A Pitch For The Ages
Written by Michael A. Miller, mmillercolumn@gmail.com

Sustainable LI: Getting Good Things Done
Written by Mike Barry, MFBarry@optonline.net

LI’s ‘Most Prominent Lady In Politics’
Written by Michael A. Miller, mmillercolumn@gmail.com