In 2006, I started working on a documentary project I call
“Riding with disABILITIES.” It’s about a group of children with either physical
and/or emotional disabilities in a therapeutic horse program. The
program took place at the historic, now-closed, Claremont Riding Academy on Manhattan's Upper Westside.
Horses are such beautiful and sensitive animals. In Therapeutic
Horse Riding, they’re used to help participants exercise muscles, in the case
of physical disability, in a manner that can’t be duplicated in a typical
therapeutic setting. Participants with emotional problems gain confidence and
learn to control their emotions. It is a truly powerful modality that is life
changing, and life affirming. Like all good social programs, it effected and
improved the quality of life of everyone involved. Zack, an autistic child,
came out of his shell and started to communicate with and engage other
children. Josue, wracked with cerebral palsy, gained confidence and physical strength.
And the doctors, trainers, therapist, mounted police officers, and the many
volunteers were transformed by doing “God’s” work: work that was meaningful,
tangible and concrete.
The demand for Therapeutic Riding Programs far exceeds their
availability especially for low income, urban participants. Of the twelve
participating children, four were sponsored by the NYS Housing Authority. That
represents a tiny fraction of the hundreds of disabled children that could
benefit from the program. Why is there such a dearth of funds available for a
program with proven benefits? The United States spends more on defense than all
the countries of the world combined, but we pay lip-service to social programs
like Therapeutic Horse Riding that improve the lives of citizens, especially
the most vulnerable in society.
tendency in the United States to equate social programs with welfare and
“socialism,” rather than seeing them for what they are, programs that empower
people. It’s time to change the dialog and put the lie to the old Christian
maxim, “charity begins at home.” We, the government and society, need to
question our priorities. Funding programs like Therapeutic Horse Riding is an
investment in the “human capitol:” the families, communities, and schools of
our future. At a time of fiscal constraint, it actually saves money in terms of
the dollars returned to dollars spent, and lowers the debt, by helping to create
citizens that contribute to rather than burden society. Everyone benefits, even
the top 1% of society!
“Riding with disABILITIES,” is, I hope, like the great photo
essay and book by Jacob Riis at the turn of the century, a call to arms.
Please see Segment on the WEBSITE link_thank you, MH