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Marcos Stafne: Executive Director of GallopNYC

GallopNYC offers therapeutic horseback riding programs across New York City that work with those with disabilities, veterans, seniors, and more. GallopNYC empowers riders with disabilities to learn physical, emotional, and social skills that build confidence in all areas of life. Their programs create life-changing opportunities for riders to experience the power of being around and on horses. Learn more about their impactful work here!

Can you tell me about the need for GallopNYC’s work?


We want to have therapeutic riding available in every borough of New York City to help New Yorkers with disabilities walk, talk, learn, and empower them to be their best selves. We are one of the largest therapeutic equestrian programs in the country, which is amazing considering New York City isn’t the easiest place to get horses. Our opportunities allow people to experience the physical benefits of riding a horse and horsemanship, as well as the emotional benefits of connecting to horses. We have three locations right now that are incredible and so different from the typical New York City experience.


Who do your programs target?


We work with those with disabilities, veterans, and older adults. Our instructors have goals for each rider to ensure they are learning to ride independently without a lead or side walkers. Those who aren’t interested in being on the horse can learn horsemanship, which involves grooming, tacking, and other skills that go into caring for horses. For seniors, we do horse education programs and they become volunteers. Loneliness is a common theme among the populations that we serve, and one of our goals is to create a sense of community.


What are some of the benefits of therapeutic riding?


For those with physical disabilities, riding helps people engage their core, improve posture, unlock tension in parts of the body that they may not primarily use, and improve grip strength in hands from holding the reins. The connection between riders and horses is calming and can help regulate emotions. We work on practicing risk, which is something that people with disabilities can’t often do because their days are structured around their care. Riding fosters independence— it’s empowering when you’re able to control a 1,000 pound animal. There is a lot of sensory impact that happens in riding, which is helpful for those with sensory processing disorders. It’s important for riders to learn to take instruction, and they are able to practice social interactions with all the people they see at the barn.


What are some of the changes you’ve seen in GallopNYC riders?


Life changing things happen on a daily basis, and growth can happen so quickly. There are incredible milestones that happen all the time. We worked with a 4-year-old who had never spoken before, and they learned to say “walk on” to their horse. Communication is a major thing that we work on— physical communication, verbal communication, and mechanical communication. I also work with a child who walks with a crutch, and we didn’t think she would ever be able to lift herself out of the saddle. After focusing on her core strength in lessons, she was able to do it for the first time a couple weeks ago. As kids get stronger and we reinforce their behaviors, they are empowered to be strong in all areas of their lives. Seeing their confidence grow over time is truly amazing.

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