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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

You could say Darren Butler has quite the entrepreneurial disposition. The Hicksville resident not only founded a church, but invented a doorstop that does not require screwing any holes into your wall or door. The device simply clamps on to the bottom of any sized door without requiring tools.

“I never envisioned myself as being an inventor,” explained Butler. “I became one by accident and out of frustration.”

After Butler and his wife purchased their home, they wanted to decorate and maintain it.  “We have four children and at the time we wanted to minimize the damage that occurs from doors slamming into walls because as young children do; they have a tendency to aggressively open doors, and as a result the door knob created holes in our wall,” said Butler. “We purchased conventional doorstops so at the very least we could minimize that reality if not eliminate it all together.”

The Hicksville Fire Department hosted the Nassau County Parade and Drill Championships this past Saturday, an event that was entertaining for both guests and participants.

The Motorized Drill competition held in the morning had 16 participating fire departments. The drill included eight events and each racing team was judged based on how fast they completed each event. Events included the Three Man Ladder, Motor Hook and Ladder, Motor Hose, Efficiency, Motor Pump, and Buckets. The Hicksville Hicks came in fifth place and received a trophy.


Sports

Madeline Huffman, a fourth grade student at Our Lady of Mercy School in Hicksville, recently became the New York State Free Throw Champion in the Knights of Columbus Free Throw Competition, 9 Year Old Girls Division at the United States Military Academy, West Point.

Huffman’s journey to the state championship began at her home parish, Our Lady of Mercy Roman Catholic Church in January. The local qualifier was sponsored by the Knights of Columbus Joseph F. Lamb Council #5723. Boys and girls ages 9 through 14 competed, each receiving three warm up shots and 15 free throw attempts.

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.

“I meet my goals and maintain my health. I stay mindful of what is important to me and seek balance in all endeavors. With gratitude, I am fully present to this moment in time.”


Calendar

Hicksville Street Fair

July 20

Blood Drive

July 23

Our Lady Of Mercy Family Festival

July 30 - August 3



Columns

1959: The Year The Music Stopped Playing
Written by Michael A. Miller, mmillercolumn@gmail.com

The Eccentric Heiress Of ‘Empty Mansions’
Written by Mike Barry, MFBarry@optonline.net

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