From a riders perspective:
“Riding a horse gives me a sense of freedom that I normally don’t have. I love the horses because they are so gentle yet they make me feel strong.”
From a siblings perspective:
“It’s astounding to see what this center can do for other children. It’s a dream that has become a reality for some people, the center even offers opportunities to participate for siblings, like me. Everyone is involved and engaged.”
From a mother’s perspective:
“As a mother of a special needs child, Centaur Stride has given me a sense of hope. Hope that my child can achieve milestones that the experts thought were unobtainable. I am truly grateful that this warm, friendly, and revolutionary center exists.”
I Saw A Child
I saw a child who couldn't walk,
Then ride it through a field of daisies
I saw a child, no legs below,
I saw a child who could not crawl
Put it through degrees of paces and laugh at the wonder in our faces.
I saw a child born into strife,
By John Anthony Davies
Spotlight Rider 2010: Chryssie Rose
Chryssie Rose is 11 years old and has been riding at Centaur Stride for the past 6 years. It has been an amazingly positive experience for her, both physically and mentally. It has boosted her self-esteem and taught her independence, perseverance, discipline. It has positively impacted all aspects of her life.
Chryssie Rose was born with Trisomy 21, commonly referred to as Down Syndrome. One of the major characteristics of this genetic disease is hypotonia, or low muscle tone. She has received Physical Therapy since she was born, to address her low tone and her loose joints. The rhythmical action of bouncing on the horse stimulates her muscles and continues to improve her tone, helps with her balance, trunk strength and general well- being.
Chryssie is currently a fourth grade student at CC Ring Elementary School in Jamestown, NY. She also attends The Jamestown YMCA as a participant in their after school program. At the YMCA, she participates in swimming several afternoons per week. She also likes to ice skate and was a member of the Lakers Sled Hockey Team this past year. Her other hobbies are dancing and music.
Chryssie Rose started riding the day after her 5th birthday, May 8, 2004. In the early days ,she rode the ponies, Tina & Maple and Rosie the mule. The ponies were gentle giants and enabled her to be comfortable with her new experience. Although she is often hesitant, when faced with new situations, this never seemed to be the case at Centaur Stride. She was fascinated and curious in this new environment.
The horses responded to her by giving her confidence and a sense of accomplishment.
Chryssie is a very social child. She immediately took to the environment at The Centaur Stride barn and has become friends with all the people and the animals . She can often be found roaming the stables in search of her favorite cats. Two of them, Bob the Cat and Furball allowed her to lavish them with lots of love and hugs. The current group of furry felines, are less huggable, but you will still find Chryssie Rose hunting them down as soon as she enters the building. I believe the animals give her unconditional acceptance, which she sometimes misses out in the world.
The horses have also given her the same kind of acceptance and understanding.
It is amazing to watch any of the kids, regardless of their disabilities, and how they react with their horses. There is a magical connection with these kids and their horses, who seem to intuitively understand their unlimited potentials and are blind to their disabilities.
Chryssie has ridden many of the horses in the barn, a total of 10 all together. She has also ridden both English and Western. When she first started riding, she needed a leader and two side walkers, one of which was always me, her Mom, to assist and guide her.
In the past few years she has graduated to a full sized horse, which she is learning to ride and guide independently. I can’t begin to describe the sense of accomplishment for a disabled child to be able to do something as difficult as riding a horse, with little outside help. It gives her great sense of pride and joy to be able to groom and ride her horse all by herself.
It also makes us very proud to see her circling the arena with her trusty steed Dusty and to know that for today, she is an awesome kid, doing some awesome stuff all by herself.
So many thanks to all our friends at Centaur Stride, especially Claudia, Savanna, Tyler and Jean, who have been with us since the very beginning and with gentle hands have helped guide and mold Chryssie Rose into the feisty, independent young lady she has become. And to our trusted horses, Cocoa, Raven, Eli, Deke, Whiskey, Merrie Sue, Cinnamon and Dusty, who have taught her about trust, discipline, loyalty and most importantly, a sense of self-worth and accomplishment.
Chryssie Rose lives in Jamestown, NY with her Mom, Linda, Dad, Pantelis and 23 year old twin brothers, Kyp and Jan.
Spotlight Rider 2010: Matthew Tomassini
Matthew Tomassini is 20 years old and has been riding for almost two years at Centaur Stride. Matt, along with his mom or dad, travel 35 miles one way every Saturday for his lesson. Not only does he ride, but he has learned how to care for the horses by grooming and saddling them as well.
Matt needed a very gentle narrow horse since he has very limited range of motion in the hip area. Matt first began riding Rosie, a mule, because she is much narrower than most of the horses there. In May, the center received a donation of a new horse, named Dude.
Dude is a beautiful chestnut gelding who easily passed all the special testing and training to become a therapy horse. Soon after Matt began riding Dude, he volunteered to be one of the exhibition riders for the visitors at the Open House for the facility. Matt showed everyone how to do figure eights, walk backwards, place the rings on the appropriate hooks on the wall of the arena and how he could stand up in the stirrups, all independently. These tasks may have looked easy to the visitors, but were huge achievements and quite difficult for Matt. Matt’s family, as well as Matt, were truly amazed and extremely proud of what he had accomplished even in that short time.
Matt is a senior at Jamestown High School. Beth Spitzer has been Matt’s aide since kindergarten. She and Matthew have a wonderful relationship and his family has been extremely fortunate and blessed to have her as a part of the family. Matt attends Ashville BOCES for a portion of his school day. He is enrolled in the woodworking program. Last year he made beautiful projects for many members of his family. Matt spends the afternoons after school with his Grandpa (Jeff Tomassini).
Matthew has an extremely rare disorder called Trichothiodystrophy (TDD). This is a DNA repair deficiency disease. For Matthew, it affects the skin (Ichthyosis and Photosensitivity), hair, bones (Osteosclerosis & Osteopenia), a compromised immune system, blood (chronic neutropenia & beta-thalassomia trait), dysmyelination in the brain, short stature, low-frequency hearing loss, and is mentally challenged. Matt has been in a protocol for this disorder at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland since August 2003. He is one of their oldest patients.
Because this disorder is so rare, the doctors and nurses have studied Matthew and have learned so much from Matt, and have been able to help approximately 15 other children and their families. There is no cure for TTD.
Matthew has a wonderful disposition and always has a smile on his face. It’s no wonder that he was given the Optimist Award in 8th grade at Jefferson Middle School!
Matt volunteers for the Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign every year. When he can, Matt will accompany his Grandpa Bob (Ortendahl) to deliver meals for Meals on Wheels. He has always helped his sister with her numerous school fundraisers and sporting events, serving food or selling tickets. Megan is now studying to become a physical therapist.
Matthew first came to Centaur Stride several years ago for a class field trip with the Jamestown School. He was very excited about seeing the horses but was unable to ride due to his medical limitations, specifically, unable to get his legs apart to sit on the horse. Now, with his two new hips, Matt is thoroughly enjoying this experience. This is something he can actually do by himself – with some assistance of course – but it’s something he can call his own. And it is therapeutic, physically, emotionally and socially.
Matt lives in Jamestown, NY, at home with his dad (Ray), mom (Claire), sister (Megan), and Megan’s puppy (Lily). Matt’s mom, Claire, has recently joined the Board of Directors at Centaur Stride. She is dedicated to making sure this very special place stays around for Matthew and many others.
Spotlight Rider 2009
My son Connor McGarry has been coming to Centaur Stride for about three years now. Along with the friendship he has made with the staff and horses at Centaur Stride (especially Dyeak and Rosie), he has also developed another very close bond with another four legged friend, his service dog Emma. Both these bonds have helped Connor make great strides and accomplish many things that his doctors and therapist stated that he would never be able to accomplish.
When Connor was born we thought maybe something was wrong. He had trouble with his suck reflex. He was not eating very well. When we got home we figured that it was that he was a little behind developmentally, still never realizing that he may have a serious disability. When Connor was 18 months old he had a serious grand mal seizure and he was life flighted to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh in a drug induced coma and stayed there for nine days. We were not sure if he was going to come home from that trip. Shortly after that we had genetic testing completed and found out that Connor had a deletion on his 15th chromosome from the maternal side that causes a syndrome called Angelman.
This disorder is characterized by serious seizures, lack of speech, poor gate control, mental retardation and an overall happy demeanor. The kids who live with this disease are called “Angels”. The genetic testing also discovered that Connor had a 12 and 13 unbalanced trans location. The combination of these two genetic disorders is called “Connors Syndrome” because Connor’s doctors are unaware of anybody else that has these two issues. From that point on we were aware of Connor’s disorder, but not sure what it meant. Because he was the first and only, there was not a lot of detail on expectations. The doctors and genetic counselors that met with us to explain the disorder started the discussion with “we do not know what to expect”. I started to realize that Connor would not be like the other kids, yet did not quite understand how. I never knew how blessed we were to be the parents of an Angel.
Connor continued to struggle with serious seizures that were difficult to control and we tried to find a way to be able to predict his seizures. That is where Emma came into the picture. Emma is Connor’s Seizure Alert Dog from New Hope Assistance Dogs. Emma has been with Connor since she was a year old and they have been together for about three years. The bond between these two has been quite enjoyable. As with Connor living with a disability, we have had our good and bad times, but overall having Emma has been a great part of our life. We have a cordless door bell in our home that Emma can hit with her nose to tell us that Connor needs help. She has signaled some of Connor’s seizures and the intensity and frequency of his seizures have decreased drastically. Connor was having serious seizures every six months and has had only two major episodes in three years with Emma. In November, Emma unexpectedly came down with grand mal seizures herself. We had to take her to the emergency ER and the vet stated that “there was no medical reason for her to be having seizures”. Less than forty eight hours later, Connor fell into a grand mal episode. Whether it is coincident or not, we feel that our Angel has been blessed with a true friend and a real guardian. Our four legged friends from Centaur Stride and New Hope have been a blessing and we are glad they are a part of our life and that they have helped Connor in accomplishing so much.
- Brad McGarry
Spotlight Horse: Rosie
Rosie is a mule. That’s half horse and half donkey. Rosie is our second smallest “horse” at Centaur Stride. With her long ears and horsy tail she is a favorite of most of our smaller riders. She is also narrower in her ribcage than the horses so she can be ridden by someone who has less range of motion in their hips. She has even been affectionately called “black beauty” by one of her riders due to her dark color. You can always tell when Rosie is not happy, because she will swish her tail. If she feels that you are brushing her too hard she will start swooshing that tail back and forth in her “not a happy tail” attitude, which is a good indicator to our riders of how to properly brush a horse. That is so good at teaching students to watch the body language (or non-verbal communication skills). True to her mule nature she can sometimes have a mule attitude. If she doesn’t want to go somewhere, she will plant all four feet firmly until you can sweet talk her along. That also really helps build communication skills. A little sugar goes a long way!
Rosie has a very quiet disposition. She has great patience and she is priceless in her no-fear nature. The other horses respect her confidence. They also let her go first in line if she wants to!