Thursday, March 23, 2023

Mahwah—The power to physically help and relax those with profound physical disabilities is something that not many people have, but horses certainly do. Many studies have shown that therapeutic horseback riding and other interactive equine-assisted activities have the power to do just that.

Nancy Neff, who moved to Teaneck from New Rochelle, NY, seven years ago with her husband and four children, discovered Pony Power a year later when she was helping her son, Philip, now 19, find a chesed project as he approached his bar mitzvah.

“My son wasn’t able to volunteer during the school year, but he did volunteer for their camp experience which opened his eyes to the possibilities of this kind of volunteering, so much so that he went on to volunteer for other organizations, including working at Camp HASC,” she said. “I decided to become a volunteer at Pony Power, since I had been a rider as a teen, have a great affinity for animals and was looking to find a volunteer opportunity in my new neighborhood. Although I had volunteered for many different types of organizations, I had no background working with people with disabilities, nor had I done anything so ‘hands on,’” Neff said.

Located in Mahwah, NJ, Pony Power Therapies is a non-profit organization using interactive experiences with horses to improve the lives of special needs and at-risk children and adults. Pony Power provides therapeutic horseback riding and equine-assisted activities to children and adults facing a diverse array of challenges, including individuals with learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy and developmental, speech and language delays. Pony Power also works with at-risk teens and children exposed to domestic violence, young adults in recovery, medically fragile individuals and veterans living with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Their programs are designed to provide physical, social and emotional benefits. Physically riding helps participants to strengthen and develop their muscles, as well as to improve balance and motor control. On an emotional level, Pony Power programs help each rider develop a sense of responsibility and respect for an animal, learn problem-solving skills and develop an increased ability to focus. The experiential ground activities with the horses help participants develop self-awareness, identify areas of challenge and make positive behavioral changes.

Neff’s experience at Pony Power has been tremendously rewarding. “I have seen children with profound physical disabilities, who had to have their bodies bent to sit on the horse sideways, relax enough after one or two rides around the ring to be able to straddle the horse. I have seen non-verbal children and adults so excited to be riding the horse that they communicate with us to make the horse ‘walk on.’ I never tire at the sight of these kids, with smiles from ear to ear, using their bodies in ways they rarely can, and loving every minute,” Neff said.

Several young people from Bergen County have chosen Pony Power for their bar/bat mitzvah projects. After coming to the farm and learning about the programs, they have helped to raise needed funds. Some students from Ma’ayanot have done their senior work project at Pony Power, and there are committed Jewish volunteers from Teaneck, Fair Lawn, Englewood and beyond. But Pony Power is always looking for volunteers and donors.

Volunteers must be at least 14 years old, attend a mandatory training session and commit to at least 20 hours over the course of a semester. Volunteers can be “side walkers” for riders, or, if they have horse experience, “lead walkers” for horses. There are also opportunities for teens to volunteer in the summers in the camp program. Interested individuals should contact Jen Caffrey, Pony Power’s Volunteer Coordinator, at 201-934-1001 or jen_ponypowernj.org

There are opportunities to sponsor riders, horses, school groups, honorarium and memorial giving options, as well as customized corporate partnerships. Details for each option can be found at www.ponypowernj.org. The person to speak with regarding donation opportunities is Lauren Cotton, Director of Development at 201-934-1001 or Lauren_ponypowernj.org.

By Elizabeth Kratz

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