For more than 20 years, a therapeutic resource has been hidden in the hills of Chautauqua County.
Centaur Stride is a therapeutic and recreational horseback riding facility for children and adults with and without disabilities. It is a place where area residents can immerse themselves in love and respect for horses and nature, while also nurturing a healthy mind and body.
Claudia Monroe, co-founder of Centaur Stride, first opened the nonprofit to the community in 1993 after her husband, Harry Monroe, suggested the idea. Monroe, who was working as a physical therapist for the Jamestown Public Schools before the creation of Centaur Stride, saw a need for more therapy than what was being provided.
According to Monroe, a lot of the children she was working with had no opportunity for any external physical exercise other than their therapy. So, to meet that need, Centaur Stride was created. Monroe attributes the concept to Harry, who was inspired after reading an article in one of her physical therapy magazines about how horses can help people.
“I wasn’t really open to the idea because I thought it was going to be way too much work, but Harry encouraged me to go to a seminar to learn more about it,” Monroe said. “I came home so excited because I could not believe the results of animal-assisted therapy – especially with horses.”
The inspiration caught like wildfire, and helped Monroe overcome her fear of failure. She knew the project would entail a significant amount of work and expense with little return on investment, but with community support the dream could potentially become a reality.
“If I knew then what I know now I probably never would have done it – so it’s a good thing I didn’t know all this,” Monroe said. “But, what we did not make in financial gain, we gained in such personal fulfillment that it’s beyond explanation.”
According to Chris Murphy, a Centaur Stride volunteer of three years who works as a receptionist for The Post-Journal, volunteering her time during the spring, summer and fall is a great way to satisfy her love for horses and helping people.
“I went out there because I really love horses,” Murphy said. “I’ve met some really wonderful parents and their children – it’s really great to see the smiles on the kids faces when they are on the horses.”
After her first visit to Centaur Stride Murphy said she was hooked. Merlin, her favorite Centaur Stride horse, walked right up to her to rest his head on her chest, and now they look forward to seeing each other. Merlin recognizes Murphy’s voice, and gets excited whenever she visits.
“I’m absolutely crazy about Merlin,” Murphy said. “He is the largest horse out there, and he is part shire and thoroughbred. I love him to pieces, and I’ve kind of made him my little project. But, all of the horses are very nice and gentle.”
An unintentional result of her time volunteering and taking riding lessons is that the experience has been therapeutic, Murphy continued.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and I have the time of my life when I go out there,” Murphy said.
With 16 well-trained therapy horses, an indoor riding arena that includes games for children and outdoor trails, there’s always something to do at Centaur Stride.
Be it grooming the horses, maintaining the grounds or walking side-by-side with an animal and its rider, volunteers can take on a variety of responsibilities at varying levels of difficulty. Because it can take up to three people to help with each rider, volunteers must be recruited before scheduling lessons. Volunteers are trained by other volunteers or by staff. They must be at least 14 years old, and able to walk for at least one hour.
One of the first volunteers for the program was Claudia and Harry’s son, Simon. But more and more people have involved themselves in the project over the years, diminishing the heavy burden of the operation from its founders and board of directors. Without community support and volunteerism, the efforts of Centaur Stride would not be possible.
As a nonprofit, Centaur Stride must raise the funds needed to sustain the operation through creative means and by receiving donations. It hosts fundraisers throughout the year, including a “Healing with Horses” walk-a-thon held in March that celebrates the program and the generosity of the families who contribute. During the event, 21 families raised more than $13,000 for Centaur Stride, which is one-third of its total annual goal. Area residents may still contribute by visiting www.crowdrise.com/2014healingwithhorses. Other Centaur Stride fundraisers include: a fertilizer sale in April, a Memorial Day themed basket auction in May, a super drawing event in August, a comedy night and basket auction in October, and a cheers drawing in December.
The cost of supporting each horse at Centaur Stride is approximately $3,000, which has made operation a difficult task. And, because lessons are subsidized by fundraisers, donations and sponsors, the $20 charge per lesson doesn’t cover operating costs. The actual cost per lesson varies from $37-168 depending on the rider’s needs and abilities. However, the organization is currently on a path toward sustainability, and an endowment fund at Chautauqua Region Community Foundation is one way to accomplish that goal.
The community’s support in the form of endowment fund donations, as well as at Centaur Stride’s fundraisers, are critical in ensuring the organization’s ability to offer services to the more than 150 area residents with disabilities who participate. Open to the public year-round, Centaur Stride provides opportunities for everyone who wishes to get involved.
Centaur Stride is located on 63.5 acres at 8488 Jones Road in Sherman. Its mailing address is P.O. Box 174, Westfield, NY 14787. For more information, call 326-4318 or visit www.centaurstride.org.