Healing Horses

These majestic creatures help humans—children and adults alike—heal.



For one hour each week, 29-year-old Ridgewood resident Marcus Workman heads to a farm nestled in the foothills of the Ramapo Mountains and gets to be a rancher. He brushes and grooms his horse, puts on a saddle and a bridle, then mounts up for a ride.

Workman isn’t just enjoying fresh air and horsing around. He has autism and is participating in equestrian therapy—a combination of animal-assisted physical, occupational and emotional therapy—at Pony Power Therapies in Mahwah.

Pony Power is a nonprofit that provides horse-assisted activities to kids and adults with a range of developmental, physical and emotional challenges. Horses make good therapists—like people, horses are are sensitive to nonverbal cues. They mirror people’s behaviors and emotions. If a therapy participant approaches a horse with fear, the animal will respond similarly. Therapists work with horses to teach social connectedness, non-verbal communication skills and even mindfulness.

“Therapy on the farm is quieter, less hurried and not noisy like a classroom or a sports activity,” says John Workman, Marcus’ father. “It’s a relaxing atmosphere, and at the same time, he is getting a form of physical and occupational therapy while perched up 3 or 4 feet above his usual vantage point.”

 According to Workman, his son struggles to communicate, but when focused on the horse, he feels less pressure to speak. “In therapy, Marcus was taught to pay attention to the animal and a bond develops very quickly between him and the animal he is caring for,” Workman says. “He was taught that if he grooms a horse in a particular way, the horse will relax. And it’s remarkable because you can see both the animal and Marcus relaxing at the same time.”

Socialization is another component of Marcus’ treatment. “In some cases there is another young man with autism on the other side of the horse while Marcus is grooming, and the two will interact,” says Workman. “Now, you have two young men who don’t really communicate and the horse is facilitating interaction. The therapist is trained to use grooming to coax these guys to come outside of themselves and be more communicative. That is a big deal in the autistic community.”


Dana Spett, a lifelong Bergen County horsewoman who grew up in Old Tappan, established Pony Power. Spett’s had horses since age 5, started the New York University equestrian team and competed internationally. When one of her three daughters displayed signs of sensory challenges as a 4-year-old, Spett tried a type of therapy that made crystal-clear sense to her—riding.

“Right off the bat, my daughter made a connection with the horse that seemed to coordinate the challenges she was having,” Spett says. “Being on the horse gave her calmness and mastery. It was the right ingredient for her to put everything together and stimulate a brain change to coordinate her sensory experience. And, she felt proud and happy.”

That experience had such an impact on Spett, that in 2000, she decided to transition from her career in social work to creating Pony Power. Spett started with a rented stall in Paramus, four riders and a donated horse named Mat. Within three years, demand for both riding and non-riding therapy was so high, Pony Power moved to an old farm in Mahwah.

All riders work with an equestrian therapist, two volunteers and a horse, of course. For little ones at Pony Power Therapies, big smiles can mean big breakthroughs.

Today, nearly 180 participants, who range in age from 2 to 84, work with 24 horses that roam more than 13 acres with the inspiring mountain backdrop.

Pony Power is a fully dedicated year-round Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship member center. A slew of volunteers and 13 full-time staff members work with a range of special needs populations including autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, seizure disorders, developmental disabilities, mental health challenges, Alzheimer’s and dementia, addiction and recovery, visual impairments and traumatic brain injury.

One of those volunteers is Jaime Patriarca. Two years ago, the former Lyndhurst resident, now living in Essex County, became involved with Pony Power through a corporate community outreach program her employer offers. Because Patriarca’s son has autism, she felt emotionally drawn to the organization. Her one-day commitment turned into two years of devoting time to the farm. “Because my son is autistic and non-verbal, it was such a good opportunity for me,” says Patriarca. “When I interact with a special needs or autistic rider, and I get a smile or simple hello, I understand how much of an accomplishment that is.”


Patriarca’s 6-year-old son Jeremy participates in riding therapy and she sees the experience through a mother’s eyes. “Jeremy lacks the ability to communicate, so to see him able to interact with his instructor and [volunteers] is an indescribable feeling,” she says. “We have a dog at home; but my son does not interact with the dog at all. Horses have been the only thing Jeremy has been able to bond with. He gets right on them and doesn’t stop smiling until he gets off.” Therapeutic riding also can benefit participants with physical limitations.

For a rider with paralysis, the movement of the horse gives the rider the feeling of the appropriate human gait. Muscles throughout the rider’s body can feel the horse make adjustments for bumps, inclines and declines in the landscape, creating sensations the rider won’t feel in a wheelchair.

Not all participants at Pony Power ride the horses. By simply grooming, feeding and learning about veterinary needs, participants gain an understanding of following step-by-step processes. They observe the horse and become more aware of body language. Leading a horse helps participants regulate anxiety and stress as well as improve their spatial awareness.

Horse-assisted activities and their benefits differ for every participant. Both Patriarca and Workman have noticed their children have improved posture, increased eye contact and better communication skills after working with the animals.

This September, Patriarca’s 3-year-old daughter will join her big brother at the farm for a sibling ride. “Because my son is non-verbal and the age difference between them, my children don’t interact at all,” says Patriarca. “I’m hopeful a sibling ride will spark interaction between them and I’m really looking forward to seeing that.”

Edit Module

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Find Events

November 2018

Solo exhibition of new work: November 5, 2018 - November 20, 2018 Opening reception Saturday, November 17, 2018, 4:00-8:00 pm At Art Lines Gallery 121 Railroad Ave, Hackensack, NJ 07601...

Cost: Free

Where:
Art Lines Gallery
121 Railroad Ave
Hackensack, NJ  07601
View map »

More information

Every year, hundreds of artisans and crafters from around the country offer unique holiday decorations and unusual gifts items for sale. Many of these are one of a kind and cannot be found...

Cost: $8

Where:
The Hermitage Museum
335 North Franklin Turnpike
Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ  07423
View map »


Sponsor: The Hermitage Museum
Telephone: 201-445-8311
Contact Name: Leslie Naghshineh
Website »

More information

A national jazz treasure, Jimmy Heath joins the powerful WP Jazz Orchestra in a program of his arrangements of his original compositions. The ageless virtuoso tenor and...

Cost: $15 General Public, $12 WP community/seniors, $8 Non-WP students, Free WP Studen

Where:
Shea Center for the Performing Arts
300 Pompton Road
Wayne, NJ  07470
View map »


Sponsor: WP Presents!
Telephone: 973-720-2371
Contact Name: Phillip Sprayberry
Website »

More information

THE LEGENDARY GROUP WILL OFFER MORE THAN 20 CONCERTS IN DIFFERENT CITIES IN THE U.S., INCLUDING ANAHEIM, WHERE THEY WILL PERFORM AT THE HONDA CENTER ON SEPTEMBER 28.  LOS TEMERARIOS WILL RELEASE...

Cost: $39 - $149

Where:
NJPAC
1 Center Street
Prudential Hall
Newark, NJ  07102
View map »


Telephone: 800-466-5722
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Solo exhibition of new work: November 5, 2018 - November 20, 2018 Opening reception Saturday, November 17, 2018, 4:00-8:00 pm At Art Lines Gallery 121 Railroad Ave, Hackensack, NJ 07601...

Cost: Free

Where:
Art Lines Gallery
121 Railroad Ave
Hackensack, NJ  07601
View map »

More information

You don't want to miss this! For one night we are bringing Broadway to Bergen PAC. Tickets are on sale now! Our Elite Broadway stars will dazzle you with popular show tunes from many...

Cost: Ticket Prices range from $29 - $99

Where:
Bergen Performing Arts Center
30 N. Brunt Street
Englewood, NJ  07631
View map »


Sponsor: Van Dyk Health Care
Telephone: 973-897-6014
Contact Name: Kasia Bohaterewicz
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Solo exhibition of new work: November 5, 2018 - November 20, 2018 Opening reception Saturday, November 17, 2018, 4:00-8:00 pm At Art Lines Gallery 121 Railroad Ave, Hackensack, NJ 07601...

Cost: Free

Where:
Art Lines Gallery
121 Railroad Ave
Hackensack, NJ  07601
View map »

More information

Based on testimony of Newtown, Connecticut community members, Ulloa's play explores gun violence and a small town shaken by horrific event.  November 13-18 Tuesday-Saturday @ 7:00 pm Saturday...

Cost: Admission: $15, $10 students, senior citzens, WP faculty, staff, alumni

Where:
Hunziker Black Box Theater
Wayne , NJ


Telephone: 973.720.2371
Contact Name: Phillip Sprayberry
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Every year, hundreds of artisans and crafters from around the country offer unique holiday decorations and unusual gifts items for sale. Many of these are one of a kind and cannot be found...

Cost: $8

Where:
The Hermitage Museum
335 North Franklin Turnpike
Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ  07423
View map »


Sponsor: The Hermitage Museum
Telephone: 201-445-8311
Contact Name: Leslie Naghshineh
Website »

More information

Solo exhibition of new work: November 5, 2018 - November 20, 2018 Opening reception Saturday, November 17, 2018, 4:00-8:00 pm At Art Lines Gallery 121 Railroad Ave, Hackensack, NJ 07601...

Cost: Free

Where:
Art Lines Gallery
121 Railroad Ave
Hackensack, NJ  07601
View map »

More information

Watch the monks create a mandala, a symbol of the universe, from sand. From all the artistic traditions of Tantric Buddhism, that of painting with colored sand ranks as one of the most unique and...

Cost: Free

Where:
William Paterson University:University Hall
300 Pompton Road
Wayne, NJ  07470
View map »


Sponsor: WP Presents!
Telephone: 973-720-2371
Contact Name: Phillip Sprayberry
Website »

More information

The monks preside at a ceremony that includes a consecration of the mandala sand painting site with chats and music. 

Cost: Free

Where:
William Paterson University:University Hall
300 Pompton Road
Wayne, NJ  07470
View map »


Sponsor: WP Presents!
Telephone: 973-720-2371
Contact Name: Phillip Sprayberry
Website »

More information

The monks preside at a ceremony that includes a consecration of the mandala sand painting site with chants and music. 

Cost: Free Admission

Where:
University Hall, William Paterson University
Wayne , NJ


Telephone: 973.720.2371
Contact Name: Phillip Sprayberry
Website »

More information

Based on testimony of Newtown, Connecticut community members, Ulloa's play explores gun violence and a small town shaken by horrific event.  November 13-18 Tuesday-Saturday @ 7:00 pm Saturday...

Cost: Admission: $15, $10 students, senior citzens, WP faculty, staff, alumni

Where:
Hunziker Black Box Theater
Wayne , NJ


Telephone: 973.720.2371
Contact Name: Phillip Sprayberry
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Solo exhibition of new work: November 5, 2018 - November 20, 2018 Opening reception Saturday, November 17, 2018, 4:00-8:00 pm At Art Lines Gallery 121 Railroad Ave, Hackensack, NJ 07601...

Cost: Free

Where:
Art Lines Gallery
121 Railroad Ave
Hackensack, NJ  07601
View map »

More information

Every year, hundreds of artisans and crafters from around the country offer unique holiday decorations and unusual gifts items for sale. Many of these are one of a kind and cannot be found...

Cost: $8

Where:
The Hermitage Museum
335 North Franklin Turnpike
Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ  07423
View map »


Sponsor: The Hermitage Museum
Telephone: 201-445-8311
Contact Name: Leslie Naghshineh
Website »

More information

Watch the monks create a mandala, a symbol of the universe, from sand. From all the artistic traditions of Tantric Buddhism, that of painting with colored sand ranks as one of the most unique and...

Cost: Free

Where:
William Paterson University:University Hall
300 Pompton Road
Wayne, NJ  07470
View map »


Sponsor: WP Presents!
Telephone: 973-720-2371
Contact Name: Phillip Sprayberry
Website »

More information

Meditation for Focus and Stress Relief The Ancient Art of Healing: The Tibetan Buddhist Approach

Cost: Free

Where:
William Paterson University Shea Center Recital Ha
300 Pompton Road
Wayne, NJ  07470
View map »


Sponsor: WP Presents!
Telephone: 973-720-2371
Contact Name: Phillip Sprayberry
Website »

More information

12:30 pm Meditation for Focus and Stress Relief 4:00 pm The Ancient Art of Healing: The Tibetan Buddhist Approach 

Cost: Free Admission

Where:
Shea Center Recital, William Paterson University
Wayne , NJ


Telephone: 973.720.2371
Contact Name: Phillip Sprayberry
Website »

More information

Based on testimony of Newtown, Connecticut community members, Ulloa's play explores gun violence and a small town shaken by horrific event.  November 13-18 Tuesday-Saturday @ 7:00 pm Saturday...

Cost: Admission: $15, $10 students, senior citzens, WP faculty, staff, alumni

Where:
Hunziker Black Box Theater
Wayne , NJ


Telephone: 973.720.2371
Contact Name: Phillip Sprayberry
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Every year, hundreds of artisans and crafters from around the country offer unique holiday decorations and unusual gifts items for sale. Many of these are one of a kind and cannot be found...

Cost: $8

Where:
The Hermitage Museum
335 North Franklin Turnpike
Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ  07423
View map »


Sponsor: The Hermitage Museum
Telephone: 201-445-8311
Contact Name: Leslie Naghshineh
Website »

More information

Solo exhibition of new work: November 5, 2018 - November 20, 2018 Opening reception Saturday, November 17, 2018, 4:00-8:00 pm At Art Lines Gallery 121 Railroad Ave, Hackensack, NJ 07601...

Cost: Free

Where:
Art Lines Gallery
121 Railroad Ave
Hackensack, NJ  07601
View map »

More information

Watch the monks create a mandala, a symbol of the universe, from sand. From all the artistic traditions of Tantric Buddhism, that of painting with colored sand ranks as one of the most unique and...

Cost: Free

Where:
William Paterson University:University Hall
300 Pompton Road
Wayne, NJ  07470
View map »


Sponsor: WP Presents!
Telephone: 973-720-2371
Contact Name: Phillip Sprayberry
Website »

More information

Based on testimony of Newtown, Connecticut community members, Ulloa's play explores gun violence and a small town shaken by horrific event.  November 13-18 Tuesday-Saturday @ 7:00 pm Saturday...

Cost: Admission: $15, $10 students, senior citzens, WP faculty, staff, alumni

Where:
Hunziker Black Box Theater
Wayne , NJ


Telephone: 973.720.2371
Contact Name: Phillip Sprayberry
Website »

More information

WP Opera presents students in captivating and delightful scenes from diverse opera and musical theater works.  Friday, November 16 @ 7:30 pm Saturday, November 17 @ 7:30 pm

Cost: Free Admission

Where:
Shea Center Recital, William Paterson University
Wayne , NJ


Telephone: 973.720.2371
Contact Name: Phillip Sprayberry
Website »

More information

New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) presents Steve Martin & Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life on Friday, November 16, 2018 at 8:00...

Cost: $59 - $249

Where:
New Jersey Performing Arts Center
One Center Street
Prudential Hall
Newark, NJ  07102
View map »


Telephone: 888-466-5722
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Every year, hundreds of artisans and crafters from around the country offer unique holiday decorations and unusual gifts items for sale. Many of these are one of a kind and cannot be found...

Cost: $8

Where:
The Hermitage Museum
335 North Franklin Turnpike
Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ  07423
View map »


Sponsor: The Hermitage Museum
Telephone: 201-445-8311
Contact Name: Leslie Naghshineh
Website »

More information

Solo exhibition of new work: November 5, 2018 - November 20, 2018 Opening reception Saturday, November 17, 2018, 4:00-8:00 pm At Art Lines Gallery 121 Railroad Ave, Hackensack, NJ 07601...

Cost: Free

Where:
Art Lines Gallery
121 Railroad Ave
Hackensack, NJ  07601
View map »

More information

Watch the monks create a mandala, a symbol of the universe, from sand. From all the artistic traditions of Tantric Buddhism, that of painting with colored sand ranks as one of the most unique and...

Cost: Free

Where:
William Paterson University:University Hall
300 Pompton Road
Wayne, NJ  07470
View map »


Sponsor: WP Presents!
Telephone: 973-720-2371
Contact Name: Phillip Sprayberry
Website »

More information

Traditionally, most sand mandalas are deconstructed shortly after their completion as a metaphor of the impermanence of life. The sands are swept and placed in an urn to fulfill the function...

Cost: Free Admission

Where:
University Hall, William Paterson University
Wayne , NJ


Telephone: 973.720.2371
Contact Name: Phillip Sprayberry
Website »

More information

Traditionally, most sand mandalas are deconstructed shortly after their completion as a metaphor of the impermanence of life. The sands are swept and placed in an urn-to fulfill the function of...

Cost: Free

Where:
William Paterson University:University Hall
300 Pompton Road
Wayne, NJ  07470
View map »


Sponsor: WP Presents!
Telephone: 973-720-2371
Contact Name: Phillip Sprayberry
Website »

More information

Based on testimony of Newtown, Connecticut community members, Ulloa's play explores gun violence and a small town shaken by horrific event.  November 13-18 Tuesday-Saturday @ 7:00 pm Saturday...

Cost: Admission: $15, $10 students, senior citzens, WP faculty, staff, alumni

Where:
Hunziker Black Box Theater
Wayne , NJ


Telephone: 973.720.2371
Contact Name: Phillip Sprayberry
Website »

More information

The Bergen Philharmonic and Maestro Yoon Sang Timothy Cho present “Beethoven Re-Invented” with Little Ears Collective on Nov 17th, 7:30 PM at the Syriac Community Hall, 55 W. Midland...

Cost: Adults: $25, Seniors: $20, Students: $10. Under 11 – free.

Where:
Syriac Community Hall
55W. Midland Ave
Paramus, NJ  07652
View map »


Sponsor: Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Telephone: 201 578-4169
Contact Name: Randi Spaeth
Website »

More information

WP Opera presents students in captivating and delightful scenes from diverse opera and musical theater works.  Friday, November 16 @ 7:30 pm Saturday, November 17 @ 7:30 pm

Cost: Free Admission

Where:
Shea Center Recital, William Paterson University
Wayne , NJ


Telephone: 973.720.2371
Contact Name: Phillip Sprayberry
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit Module