Eight wide-open acres of farmland is just a half-mile from the LIE... only in Islandia, NY, is Pal-O-Mine Equestrian, a therapeutic equine program that facilitates growth, learning and healing. For the hundreds of clients who visit weekly-children and adults with disabilities, those who have been abused or neglected, veterans and the economically compromised, Pal-O-Mine has become an oasis of hope.
Looking out her office window, Founder and Executive Director Lisa Gatti keeps a watchful eye on a 12-year-old rider trotting along in the arena. A car accident at age 2 left the girl in critical condition, and although her doctor advised "pulling the plug," her parents never gave up hope. Against overwhelming odds, this fighter of a child had overcome enormous struggles. Today, ten years later, she is out there on this beautiful field, navigating around obstacles with her trusted quarter horse that has become her best friend.
"The horses put her on a level playing field, an opportunity that so many kids with challenges never get," said Lisa. "It makes no difference to her horse that her feet are in adaptive stirrups or her hands are holding reins made especially for her. She's riding independently out there. Our clients experience that feeling of self-worth often for the first time in their lives."
A non-profit 501c3 organization, Pal-O-Mine is a safe haven for so many. "Their horses become their best friend, someone they can share their stories with, to cry to, to enjoy happiness with."
Lisa started Pal-O-Mine in 1995. The idea came from a Danielle Steel novel she read in college, when she realized she could combine her passions for horseback riding and teaching. After learning how her work inspired Lisa, Ms. Steel sent Pal-O-Mine an $8,000 check signed with "Good LUCK!", becoming one of Lisa's first financial backers.
Pal-O-Mine uses horses to help treat and heal physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities. The horses teach trust, responsibility and loyalty. Pal-O-Mine contracts with alternative schools to facilitate character education curricula for elementary through high school-aged students that encourage positive behaviors. The curricula meets academic standards, and all of Pal-O-Mine's teachers are certified.
For children with physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy or spina bifida, "The horse's movement gives input to a patient's vestibular system, improving hand-eye coordination, balance, gross motor control and trunk control," Lisa said. "Our horses help youth who want to believe in themselves. They help kids who can speak, see, or hear to find new ways to connect with the world and build confidence."
"These are incredible kids and adults with so much courage," said Lisa, talking about the difference Pal-O-Mine has made to the lives of their clients. "It could be that a student who was never able to hold up their own body for more than a minute, can now sit up for 15 minutes. That's huge," she said.
Pal-O-Mine works with a wide array of at-risk groups. For victims of domestic violence, the horses represent their freedom, and they learn confidence and how to set boundaries. The Horses Healing Veterans program is tailored for our military suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury. There are programs for children who have been bullied, for young adults with mental illness and for those who struggle with alcohol and substance abuse. Horses do not discriminate; they live in the moment and are acutely aware of their surroundings and environment, making them the perfect tool to address presenting issues.
Pal-O-Mine is not state-funded, which means they rely solely on donations. Anyone can adopt a horse, or a rider, or a school district to help keep Pal-O-Mine doing the wonderfully innovative and effective work they are doing. With 400 students working with 19 therapy horses weekly, Pal-O-Mine's 150 volunteers and six full-time paid staff are busy. But they are all dedicated to giving back. "Everyone wants to be here because of a love for the animals, the environment, and our clients. All of us get back so much more than we give," said Lisa. "It's so nice to make a difference."
Visit Pal-O-Mine.org, (631) 348-1389.
View the full article in GEM Magazine Winter 2013 Issue.
Equine Therapy Programs Encourage Communication and Build Character for Youth
By: The New York State Office of Children and Family Services
The young women at Brentwood Residential Center in Dix Hills on Long Island aren’t riding horses -- they are learning from them. For these 12-to 18-year-olds, placed in the custody of the state Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) by Family Courts, the horses offer a way of learning to handle their emotions.
The unique therapy is made possible by Pal-O-Mine Equestrian, Inc., a non-profit that offers equine recreational programs to address a variety of emotional and physical disabilities. Some of Pal-O-Mine’s programs utilize horseback riding, but others, like Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) and Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, incorporate horses differently for educational and emotional growth and learning.
Once a week, eight to ten residents travel to Pal-O-Mine in Islandia, where a treatment team of mental health professionals and equine specialists encourage conversation as they observe the horses’ activity. The benefits of such interaction are evident. Staff members said that at one session, a resident noticed one horse standing alone, away from the other horses, and commented, “I bet he’s in a bad mood and doesn’t want to be around the others today.” From that remark, the group talked about how their moods affect their own behaviors. The treatment team uses metaphoric and therapeutic learning techniques in each session, and sometimes incorporates art projects to encourage self-expression.
Over the next 12 weeks, the residents learn basic horsemanship using the Parelli method to walk, back up, and groom the horses. They end up developing a relationship with the animals: the horses don’t threaten them, and the girls feel empowered as they return trust through exercising, feeding, and brushing the animals. Steadily, as the girls take ownership of their actions and demonstrate responsibility, they gain self-confidence.
Ellen Lear, a certified Equine Assisted Learning instructor at Pal-O-Mine, says that despite the challenging lives many of the young women have had, they are gentle with the animals and end up greatly benefitting from the therapy.
“Our horses may be the first beings they have ever made a deep connection with,” Lear said.
Lear says some residents start out resistant to the program. For instance, one young woman, Zoe, was a frustrated 15-year-old when she first came to Pal-O-Mine. For weeks, she did not talk to the others; Zoe expressed herself through creative art work, but did not approach the horses. Gradually, she began opening up to the experience, and by the time the next ten-week session started, Zoe was helping teach the new group of young women.
According to Brentwood Facility Director Valerie Fitts, the equine therapy aligns with the facility’s Anger Regression Training. The lessons the young women learn about controlling emotions around the horses help them at the facility, where the residents practice what they’ve learned and are more thoughtful in communicating with their peers.
In the small Upstate New York town of South Kortright, horse therapy of a slightly different kind is helping young men assigned to OCFS’s Youth Leadership Academy (YLA). What began as a one-time recreational opportunity has developed into ongoing therapeutic program. Golden Gait Farms of Masonville now brings horses to YLA for riding instruction on a regular basis.
Many of the youth were apprehensive about participating; some had never seen a horse up close, let alone ridden one. Horses typically weigh between 800 and 2,500 pounds, and learning to trust such a large and often intimidating animal requires patience, skill, and confidence. However, after several months of weekly sessions, the program has blossomed into one of the most popular and beneficial therapy enhancement programs at the facility. YLA youth are participating in a variety of advanced activities, including riding off-lead in the ring and learning to master different gaits. The program provides a multi-dimensional partnership between the cognitive behavioral clinicians on campus, case managers, direct-care staff and the youth who seek to increase self-awareness, confidence and improved psychological health.
Looking to the Future
Through the equine therapy program at YLA, youth have the opportunity to connect with local programs like the Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Delaware County Fair Board to facilitate community involvement through exhibiting and competing. Many equine programs are statewide and can be continued when youth return to their home communities.
Written by: Susan J Steele
Assistant Director of Communications, NYS Office of Children and Family Services
For more about:
New York State Office of Children and Family Services, visit ocfs.ny.gov
Pal-O-Mine Equestrian, Inc., visit www.pal-o-mine.org
Parelli Method, visit www.parellinaturalhorsetraining.com/natural-horsemanship
Newsday, Long Island Business News, October 11-17, 2013 pg 53A
THAT'S WASSUP - PAL-O-MINE
Horse Therapeutic Program Changing Lives
By: Maria Robinson
Lisa Gatti is changing lives one hoof print at a time.
Twenty years ago Gatti, then a special education teacher, started a therapeutic riding program for individuals with disabilities. Today, her program Pal-O-Mine, which is a nonprofit organization, occupies 8 acres of land located in Islandia, NY (Long Island). When you enter the ranch for the first time you are taken by its’ tranquility. Although it is peaceful, there is plenty going on as the facility operates a full time program 7 days a week, 12 months a year, while serving close to 400 people on a weekly basis.
Utilizing their 19 horses, Pal-O-Mine offers Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP), for people suffering from trauma, abuse, depression or any type of disorder, In Motion Therapy, focusing on physical, occupational, speech or language and Character Education, by partnering with school staff to work with at-risk youth.
So, how can horses help both adults and children who suffer from either a physical or emotional disability? Gatti explains that although all animals are non-judgmental, horses in their natural environment are considered prey and very in tune with their surroundings. This is why Gatti has her horses live outside with no blankets and a run-in shelter. “As soon as we walk into their environment they know exactly what our intentions are,” she states. “They pick up on anxiety, confidence or lack of…They pick up what’s going on, whether we are very fearful of them…They pick up if we are very aggressive… If a kid walks in who has ADHD & is extremely hyper and wants to run around, that horse will very quickly start to run around. They mimic our behavior. By seeing the horse act this way, Gatti tells us, the child will then question it. Therefore, the “horse becomes like their projection.” This then helps the child better understand their own behavior and consequences of it.
For those with physical disabilities, riding on a horse puts them on a level playing field. “They can’t play [sports],” remarks Gatti, “but when they get on that horse that disability is non- existent. The horse has their legs for them…It doesn’t matter if they can’t see; the horse goes out and does it for them… When that happens their self esteem boosts.”
When asked what her greatest success story is, Gatti’s mind starts to shift as she says “there are so many.” But then her eyes light up as she tells me about Keith, who was 11 years old and in a wheelchair from having Cerebral Palsy when he started. “Cognitively he was typically developing, nothing wrong with his brain, just can’t walk.” Keith told Gatti immediately that his goal was not only to compete, but compete around the world. “Year after year he said he wanted to compete and did end up going all the way,” reflects Gatti now smiling ear to ear. “He traveled all around the world and was the youngest member of the United States Paralympic Equestrian Games, placing fourth. “When he gets on that horse you would never know he can’t walk.” Today Keith is “very successful” as the Executive Director of a Disability Sports Alliance in Philadelphia.
In addition to Keith, Gatti introduces me to Jason while touring the ranch. Now 19, Jason was formerly an at-risk youth who partook in their programs. After two years he was offered the opportunity to work at Pal-O-Mine. “It changed my life dramatically,” says Jason of his involvement. “I used to get in trouble (with law enforcement), but that has stopped ever since I have been here. It made me see life in a different perspective and you can’t take things for granted as you only live once.” Jason also credits the relationship he has developed with Gatti, who he refers to as a “mother figure,” for helping him to change his life around. “She treats me like a son,” he states, “anything I need I can go to her.” How do changing people’s lives such as Keith and Jason make Gatti feel? “It’s humbling,” she replies. “We live in such a cynical world today. I call this my little 8 acre bubble here where there is so much good that happens. I come to this place where miracles happen every day and it’s so easy to remember that, which not a lot of people get to experience.”
Getting to where the program is today was no easy task. Gatti, who was an avid horse rider growing up, got the idea to start a therapeutic program with horses after her father mailed her Danielle Steel’s novel, Palomino, while she was a freshman in college. After reading it, a story about a woman horse rider that became quadriplegic and opened up a ranch for kids with disabilities, Gatti knew what she was destined to do. “I always knew I wanted to teach,” she states, “but never thought about combining both of my passions. The moment I read it I said ‘this is it.’ I don’t have to give up my horseback riding, and I can teach [too].”
Having been a teacher for five years, Gatti came across a stable looking for something different to do. She worked with them to develop an after-school program for at-risk youth. As this program was successful, Gatti went back to school and got her Associates Degree in Business to help her with creating and running a not for profit organization which she launched in 1995. Although her programs had positive results, Gatti had to move seven times between 1995 and 2004 due to discrimination. She was told by residents of the various communities where she held her programs that “we can’t have this many kids with disabilities [here]” and “don’t put it in front of our faces.” However this did not stop her. “I’m the type of person when you tell me I can’t do something there’s no way I’m not going to do it.”
In 2004, Pal-O-Mine found its permanent home as Computer Associates was looking to lease land they had used as a summer day camp for children of their employees. Gatti signed a three year lease then got financing approved to purchase the 8 acre lot on February 7, 2007.
Presently Pal-O-Mine funds itself through set fees, but will work with individuals who can’t afford them on a sliding scale or by providing scholarships. These scholarships are funded by individual and corporate donations. Besides fees and donations, the organization hosts various fundraisers throughout the year.
Their next fundraiser will take place on Saturday, November 9th, as they host former NFL Safety and Houston Oiler Bo Eason’s play, Runt of the Litter, at Molloy College’s (Rockville Centre, NY) Madison Theater. For further information and to purchase tickets click here.
View this article at http://teennewsnet.com/That_s_Wassup_-_Pal-O-Mine.html.
View photo in the Friday, August 23rd Issue of Newsday on Page A22.
Ten volunteers from Pal-O-Mine Equestrian, a nonprofit therapeutic riding program, spent Wednesday morning kneeling in the dirt, picking and washing lettuce and cabbage at a new 1,400-square-foot community garden at Franklin Arthur Farms in Smithtown.
It’s a scene Kieran Lannon, executive director of the Smithtown Historical Society, which owns the farm and manages the garden, hopes to see repeated often by more groups and individuals. The garden officially launched on April 21 after five years of planning and starts and stops.
The garden, which will operate from early spring to late fall, will primarily provide organic produce to local food pantries and offer educational programs. It now serves the Smithtown Emergency Food Pantry and, with already a surplus of crops -- now only lettuce and cabbage but soon to include onions, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers -- is looking to add more clients.
“We’d hate to waste food,” Lannon said. “We have the surplus, we’ve got to spread the wealth.”
The historical society is also developing a pilot program it hopes will launch in the fall with the Smithtown Central School District. Through the program, students will volunteer to maintain the garden and learn about agriculture.
Historical society spokeswoman Kris Melvin-Denenberg said that among the goals of the community garden are to educate food pantry users about the benefits of growing vegetables at home and to teach them gardening methods.
“Local food pantries are in dire need of fresh produce,” she said. “Many food pantry clients can’t afford produce at the supermarkets, and a lot of the food that’s available at food pantries now is loaded with preservatives.”
Volunteer groups will undertake the brunt of the garden’s upkeep. In addition to Pal-O-Mine, local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops and other community groups have already volunteered, said Melvin-Denenberg.
“Volunteers will really keep this place going,” she said. “Right now, outside of volunteer groups, we get one or two volunteers a week. We have three staff members tending to the garden regularly.”
Kimm Schmitt, a job coach at Pal-O-Mine, said the experience for the group’s volunteers -- which included six disabled adults in its Job Security Through Equine Partnership program -- was “great.”
Lannon said he is confident about the garden’s future. “We have enough community support, volunteer group buy-in and passion. That’s all we need. That goes a long way.”
Please view the article at Newsday Online at: http://www.newsday.com/long-island/towns/long-island-now-1.1732330/volunteers-help-new-smithtown-community-garden-harvest-early-crops-1.5474414
Read more in the July 5-11, 2013 issue of Long Island Business News page 26A.
View the full article in the July 5-11, 2013 issue of Long Island Business News page 44A.
Article taken from The Commack Courier: page 10
Please view this article in full in the WINTER 2013 issue of GEM Magazine.