Donate used shoes to help keep kids on horseback

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Good grooming: T’asia Thomas, 27, foreground, and Lisa Bellaire, 24, prepare Winnie for a ride on Tuesday at Victoria Acres Equine Facility on Western Turnpike in Altamont. “The program has been life-changing for everyone involved,” said the director of Victoria Acres, Erin Pashley, of a program that offers therapy through horseback riding.

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Riding high: Casey Cole, 10, of Voorheesville strikes a stoic pose on her very first horseback ride. She is astride a large horse named Barnaby, who lost its left eye to cancer. When the ride was over, Casey smiled widely and said, “That was so much fun.”

ALTAMONT — A new local horseback-riding facility is asking neighbors to donate shoes to raise funds for therapeutic programming for Schenectady ARC participants.

“We need to collect 300 bags of 25 pairs,” said Erin Pashley, the executive director of Victoria Acres Equine Facility on Western Turnpike in Altamont.

A 9-year-old boy trembled the first time he rode a horse, but told his father afterward, “I was brave! I was brave!” Pashley said.

Victoria Acres is working with Funds2orgs to raise money to pay for six individuals to participate in a six-week program that includes class portions on and off horseback.

The shoe collection will garner $3,000 for the program if donors gather the full amount. If Victoria Acres fall short, the facility will receive 40 cents per pound of shoes, but will be charged $200 for a truck to pick up the shoes for Funds2orgs.

Victoria Acres is currently completing its first program with six Schenectady ARC participants over 10 weeks. When ARC was founded nationally in the 1950s, it stood for Association for Retarded Children, which was changed in the 1970s to Association for Retarded Citizens. The Schenectady ARC, which calls itself simply that, has changed the meaning behind its letters to stand for Advocacy Resources and Choices for people with developmental disabilities.

Victoria Acres uses an EAGALA-certified instructor for horseback, and another instructor on the ground to teach horse safety, respect, and responsibility.

“We’ve been here two years. The program went into effect at the end of August,” Pashley said.

The facility offers horseback riding to anyone, but has added a mental-health component with the addition of an EAGALA-certified instructor, Pashley said.

EAGALA, which stands for Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Equine Assisted Learning, was founded in 1999 and uses equine therapy for mental health and human development, according to www.eagala.org. EAGALA offers similar services to those developed by PATH International, which formed in 1969. PATH Int., or Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International, is the name chosen by the National American Riding for the Handicapped Association when NARHA updated its mission within the last decade.

The acronym-filled organizations overlap in their missions, with EAGALA focused on mental health and development, and PATH Int. encompassing mental and physical health, hippotherapy, vaulting, driving, and leadership, and team building, according to www.eagala.org and www.pathintl.org.

Victoria Acres is the newest facility in the region to offer therapeutic services, joining organizations in Voorheesville, Syracuse, Gilboa, Chatham, and Ghent. Victoria Acres hopes to offer the program to Schenectady ARC participants, again, and expand to schools or other groups in need.

“We also want to expand out to the military and their families,” Pashley said. Those suffering with post-traumatic stress syndrome could benefit, she said.

“That’s where the mental health comes into it with the EAGALA,” she said. The facility does not offer therapeutic lessons beyond the program length due to a lack of funding, she said.

“It’s been amazing to watch the growth of the individuals working with the equines,” Pashley said. “There’s a lot more self-confidence.” Some riders were leery of horses and had no awareness of safety around them, she said.

“Now, you put them on the back of a horse — there are big smiles,” she said.

The grant for the current program is annual and can be renewed for next year, she said, when the riders now might be able to return.

“Nobody wants it to end,” she said.

Gently used shoes and boots can be delivered to the Victoria Acres Equine Facility at 3771 Western Turnpike in Altamont on Oct. 19 and Nov. 2 from 2 to 5 p.m.

 “We’ve had an overwhelming response, so far,” Pashley said.

Victoria Acres fund-raiser supporters can follow the facility on Facebook.

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