Photo Gallery | Equus Therapeutic open house at Whispering Pines
LANESBOROUGH — Gina Marszalek has wanted to mount a horse ever since her twin brother Jakub, who has autism, began riding 18 months ago.
On Sunday, the eight-year-old Windsor girl, who also has autism, got her wish when she rode Phil at the new home of Equus Therapeutic, Inc.
After a couple of laps inside the riding barn at Whispering Pines Farm on Miner Road — instructors by her side — Gina dismounted the 22-year-old Morgan horse, thrilled by the equine experience.
"It was nice going on the horse," she said. "I learned how to tell the horse to walk and to whoa."
Ellen Marszalek wasn't surprised by her daughter quickly taking to horse backing riding.
"She's fearless," mom said.
In Jakub, Marszalek has seen the calming effect of horseback riding.
"He gets on the horse, he's more relaxed," she said. "This is big thing for him to do as he doesn't do sports."
Marszalek was among the dozens of parents, instructors and volunteers who touted the physical and emotional benefits of equine therapy during Equus' open house at their new home. Two months ago, the nonprofit moved to Whispering Pine Farms owned by Chad and Lori Wojtkowski, mainly to grow the program, according to Equus board president Jean Rotti.
The organization looks to increase its stable of four horses, add instructors and boost the regular clientele from 50 to 70 riders year round. Equus also conducts summer camps with hundreds more — mainly children and young adults — learning the joys of being one with a horse.
"The looks on those kids faces on majestic animals says it all," Rotti said.
Equus Therapeutic Inc. originated as a 4H project in 1982 at Oakhollow Farm in Williamstown under the guidance of farm owners Marcia and Larry gross. In 2012, Equus relocated to Wedgewood Stable at Wirtes Farm in Lanesborough prior to settling in at Whispering Pine Farms.
Equus is funded through donations, private grants, fundraisers and riding fees — the latter covered by some health insurance companies, according to Rotti.
Mark Paquette has been involved with Equus almost from the beginning, whose late son Christopher was a regular rider and competed as a Special Olympian in horseback riding, winning gold at the World Game a year before he died at the age of 14.
Paquette smiled as he watched some of the children mount Phil, please by Sunday's open house turnout of about 200 people.
"Being here today, and all through the years, it's great to look at all these riders," he said.
Equus riders range from toddlers to adults in their 40s, with two-and-a-half year old Jaycee Harris among the youngest.
The young girl with Rett Syndrome — a rare genetic neurological disorder — is at her best when on a Equus horse, according to her parent.
"She laughs, she giggles and she loves petting them — she smiles every time she hear's 'horsey,'" Garry Harris said.
"Riding helps with her posture, strength and stability," noted Brandi Harris.
While the children stole the hearts of adults at the open house, Phil was the star of the show. As Equus' new program director, Lori Wojtkowski views the Morgan horse as ideal for equine therapy given the breeds temperament.
"They are level-headed and compassionate," she said. "Phil is so good, if you lose your balance he will scoot under you to keep you up."
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413 496-6233