The prognosis was pretty bleak for Virginia Dean’s great-granddaughter.
Born with cerebral palsy, doctor’s and other specialist were almost certain she would never walk.
“World famous doctors said she would never walk,” Ms. Dean said. “She came here, and she walks. If we didn’t start her here when we did, she wouldn’t be where she is.”
That “here” Ms. Dean is referring to is Centaur Stride, a therapeutic horseback riding facility in Westfield.
“It was amazing what happened to her,” Ms. Dean said. “It works.”
Founded in 1991 by Claudia and Harry Monroe, Centaur Stride is a not-for-profit organization which works with children with disabilities. Participants ride horses at the center and work to improve their motor skills, balance and sensory skills amongst others.
“We keep it strictly recreational,” said Mrs. Monroe, who is also a physical therapist. “It’s just basic therapeutic recreational riding. It’s an awesome therapy session, and that’s why it’s called therapeutic horseback riding.”
The center is also something which Mrs. Monroe had no idea she would be operating. She said her husband had read about therapeutic horseback riding in of her physical therapy magazines and suggested she go to a seminar on the subject.
The family also had several horses.
“We actually had horses, and I wanted to sell them because it was so much work and I didn’t have the time,” Mrs. Monroe said. “My daughter did not want to sell her horse.”
Then, things soon started to fall into place.
“The only seminar there at that time just happened to be the week I didn’t have to go to work,” Mrs. Monroe said. “All the puzzle pieces were there. I just didn’t want to look at them and put them together.”
During and after the seminar, Mrs. Monroe said she knew she had to do something.
“I was just in awe when I left there,” she said. “I couldn’t believe how beneficial it was. People that were in wheel chairs for years from extreme pain from multiple sclerosis, no balance system at all, had benefited so much from the movement of the horse that their pain had gone down to a level one or two instead of a nine or 10.
“That’s because the less you move, the more intense your pain is,” she continued. “You have to move. The horse makes you move. The horse makes you use muscles that you haven’t used. I was so incredible, and I was so moved by it.”
Working at that time as a physical therapist in the Jamestown Public Schools system, Mrs. Monroe said she approached the district’s director of special education about sending students with disabilities to the facility. She said the director was excited about the opportunity.
But, due to the large amount of time needed to properly organize and form the organization, it took awhile before things finally got going.
“They (the district) set money aside in the budget and were all set to do that,” Mrs. Monroe said. “From that point, it took us four years to get this going.”
However, Mrs. Monroe said the organization is still trying to build relationships with area schools.
“We’re still not at the point where we have school systems sending people,” she said. “They do in other parts of the country. In other parts of our state, school buses come to these therapeutic riding centers because they’re so great and the benefits are so much that it’s really cost-effective for the schools to send their kids there.”
Now, most of the participants in Centaur Stride’s program come from referrals from caseworkers, Mrs. Monroe said. There are also grants available, she added.
“All of the caseworkers know we’re here, so that’s basically where we get most of our referrals from,” she said. “They don’t all recommend us, but every once and a while the light goes on and they go, ‘Oh yeah, I forgot about this.’”
Even though she didn’t see herself doing what she is now, Mrs. Monroe said she’s glad she took her husband’s advice.
“It’s very fulfilling, just spiritually and emotionally, to see the reaction of the riders and the families,” she said, “just to see the family come up and be so happy to see their rider having such a great time and getting so much benefit out of coming here.
Centaur Stride is located at 8488 Jones Road in Westfield and can be reached by calling 326-4318 or visiting www.centaurstride.org. The facility offers individuals with disabilities the opportunity to participate in therapeutic horseback riding and to improve motor skills, balance and other areas.
Claudia Monroe, center, Centaur Stride co-founder and president of the organization’s Board of Directors, talks with visitors during a recent open house for the center.