By Jeremy Walsh
The Upper West Side is not the easiest place to get to from Queens, but a livery stable on West 48th Street is now a favorite destination for twin 4-year-olds from Sunnyside whose physical development is burgeoning, thanks to time in the saddle.
Ava and Leah Lederman, who were born prematurely, suffer from heart problems and weak torso muscles, said their mother, Michelle. After enrolling them in an occupational therapy program at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine in Manhattan, the staff highly recommended the New York Therapeutic Riding Center’s equestrian program. The girls entered the riding therapy as soon as they turned 4, the minimum age.
Ava, whose core strength has been improving, said the hardest part was staying upright when the horse breaks into a trot. Leah, who is 8 inches shorter than her sister, said the trotting was her favorite part of riding.
“We were so successful the first session that my husband and I continue to scrape up the money to do this each consecutive session,” Michelle Lederman said.
Ava and Leah are among 12 children who take part in the program, showing up for an hour on Saturdays at the Chateau Stables to mount carriage horses and Shetland ponies and ride in gentle circles around a sawdust-strewn room under the supervision of a riding therapy instructor. The lessons include equestrian staples like proper riding posture, commanding the horse and holding the reins, but instructors also ask the children to raise their arms and twirl them around and play games to hone their focus.
“The kids have no idea,” Michelle Lederman said. “They’re having a blast. They play Red Light/Green Light and the different one with the rings, and the riding backwards, which was a big hoot this summer.”
The program treats children with a number of disabilities, including cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, CVA/stroke, post-traumatic stress disorder, learning disabilities, Down syndrome, visual and hearing impairments, pervasive developmental disorder and autism.
“We get calls constantly for parents with children with autism,” said Richard Brodie, executive director of the riding center. “We could fill up the whole program just with that disability alone just because the demand is so great for it.”
Michelle Lederman said her daughters fall on the healthier end of the spectrum of children who the center treats.
“There’s this boy who comes, he’s so developmentally disabled, and this is the only time he smiles in the week,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking and it’s inspiring and it’s beautiful at the same time.”
The program is also an opportunity for volunteer and Whitestone resident Mary Gentile to get in touch with her own childhood memories of horseback riding.
“I love children and I love horses, so it’s a match,” she said, noting she did not know of any riding opportunities in Queens. “I try not to miss a schedule. I’m generally here very single Saturday.”
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.