For Beau Queen, the past 45 minutes had galloped by. “It felt like 10,” she told her instructor, Elisheva Horowitz, while dismounting from Rosebud. Queen ambled over toward her walker but wouldn’t take her helmet off until just before her Access-a-Ride driver arrived, about 45 minutes after the lesson. Her cheeks were still flushed from cantering and keeping herself balanced on Rosebud — balance was her biggest hurdle after her second horse accident, in 2013, had left her with a spinal cord injury and nerve damage.
On this late Tuesday morning, the trio had had the indoor horse arena to themselves at GallopNYC Forest Hills, and they were moving clockwise almost at the speed of Queen’s jokes.
“Don’t be nervous — let her go, and ask her to just walk — shift to the right, shift your whole body to the right,” Horowitz instructed, following Queen and Eli’s trajectory with her whole bundled body.
“You won’t be happy ‘til you see me on the ground!” Queen said.
Horseback riding has been Queen’s happy place since age 5. The Upper West Side resident had been to countless riding schools — including her neighborhood’s Claremont Riding Academy, which closed in 2007. It had been the oldest continuously operated horse stable in New York City and the last public stable in the borough. For the last six years, Queen has taken weekly car rides from her Riverside Drive home to this Queens stable, tucked away a few blocks from Forest Park and past an old maintenance site. And the 81-year-old told Epicenter she has learned more at GallopNYC than anywhere else.
GallopNYC stables — with locations in Forest Hills and at Sunrise Stables in Howard Beach — is among the last in New York City. The Howard Beach site replaced the stables of the Federation of Black Cowboys after the group, which was devoted to sharing knowledge about the “Black West,” closed in 2016. (The federation had lost their operating license when six of their horses died under their care in 2012).
“One of the hardest things that we have to do is really maintain our horses and horsemanship and the work that goes into horses in New York City, which is one of the hardest places to do these kinds of things and where the city itself was a bustling horse mecca back in the day,” said GallopNYC executive director Marcos Stafne.
Amid inflation, increasing pressure from real estate developers and the threat of city budget cuts, which might affect council member appropriations and special initiative funding (GallopNYC’s majority funding source), some of the remaining stables in the city are relying on loyal ridership, volunteers and a little creativity in their community outreach efforts.
For GallopNYC, that means, in part, horsemanship shows like their Ride with Pride 2023 event happening on Sunday, Dec. 3, where riders will demonstrate their best efforts and visitors are welcome to family-friendly barn activities like tours and a sensory-friendly “buffet.”
A focus on the sensory is part of GallopNYC’s toolkit. The organization works with people across ages, abilities and backgrounds, including those who are neurodivergent and those, like Queen, with physical injuries. Their therapeutic horsemanship — which includes not only riding but also grooming and otherwise connecting with horses — and hippotherapy programs have a special focus on veterans, seniors and people with disabilities. Their trainers are PATH certified, which ensures they have adequate training for therapeutic equine work.
More and more studies have shown the benefits of therapeutic horseback riding on everything from executive functioning skills to social interaction among children with autism and expressive language issues. Vauli Kapeles, who has been taking lessons at GallopNYC for the past few years, told Epicenter she has noticed an improvement in her social skills since.
“I answer [others] in full sentences,” Kepeles said.
And with groups like veterans, who are much less likely than the general population to seek traditional psychotherapy or to see benefits from talking with therapists who might not seem to understand their trauma, less conventional therapies such as therapeutic horsemanship sessions offer hope.
For Jaipaul Singh, a veteran and Richmond Hill resident who started at GallopNYC in September after a months-long waiting list for its free veterans program, therapeutic horseback riding helped his anxiety: “to learn to trust something else and not depend on yourself was a big, big obstacle.”
“You have to let go to be one with the horse, to trust the horse,” Singh said. In tuning into his horse, he has also learned to better express himself and his needs, a tough lesson for someone used to navigating challenges on his own. Singh now passes on his lessons to his 13-year-old daughter, who sometimes FaceTimes him from Florida for help with math homework. He has taught her to advocate for herself, ask to set up a meeting with her teacher if she needs it and take responsibility if she doesn’t speak up. It also helps him with other aspects of his life, he told Epicenter.
“I imagine myself on a horse when I’m doing something now, and it helps me to let go a little bit,” Singh said.
This post has been updated.