Charlie Kosina, who has Down syndrome, started attending HorseAbility when he was about 4 years old.
Now nearly 18, he has grown from the small child afraid of all animals thanks to his years of year-round programs at the therapeutic riding center, his mother, Donna Kosina, said.
Kosina, formerly of Flower Hill, said she would take Charlie to the center, which was located at Thomas School of Horsemanship in Melville before moving to the SUNY Old Westbury campus in 2012, about once a week to look at the horses and begin conquering his fear.
“There was a group of girls and they brought one of their little ponies, and without him even realizing it, they picked him up and got him on this pony, and he was so proud of himself,” she said. “Since then, he’s been riding. He has his moments where he has no fear, and he has other moments where he’s very fearful.”
HorseAbility Founder Katie McGowan said she began the organization after loaning her horse to a friend and physical therapist in 1992 to use as a treatment option for a child with cerebral palsy.
“I saw this amazing miracle, this little girl who was walking with crutches before she got on the horse. After her physical therapy session, she got off and was able to hold her mother’s hand and walk,” McGowan said.
Soon after, McGowan became certified to offer therapeutic riding and opened HorseAbility in 1993.
On Saturday, HorseAbility cut the ribbon on its newest facility, an 81-by-200-foot indoor riding arena that McGowan said will allow the programs to continue regardless of weather conditions.
McGowan said the farm’s year-round programs include teaching horseback riding skills with a therapeutic value, school field trips, physical therapy, occupational therapy, vocational training and speech therapy. McGowan said the facility has seen thousands of people in its years of operation, working with about 300 families per week for those with special needs, Alzheimer’s disease and veterans.
“We’ve seen everything from people saying their first words and taking their first steps on a physical level,” McGowan said. “On the emotional and social level, we’ve seen people becoming more engaged, people gaining abilities and skills that they’ve learned here and apply into their world.”
During the summer, HorseAbility offers a one-week camp, drawing about 90 campers and 200 volunteers. Volunteers start at age 14, and Donna Kosina said her older son, Michael, organized his hockey team to volunteer at the camp for multiple summers.
“I saw these boys interact with these kids, and it was very powerful,” she said. “I got to hear them chat about their experiences, and I think it gave them the opportunity to see how blessed they are but how blessed they were to be able to give to people who didn’t quite have what they had.”
Though Charlie has started attending a full summer camp and will miss the Camp HorseAbility week, Kosina said the experience helped mold her child forever.
“The volunteers at the camp were so kind and generous,” she said. “They really gave our kids a very typical, integrated summer camp experience. I’d pull into that rotunda, and all the kids would come running to him. It made him feel like he belonged somewhere.”