June 15, 2016

Mane Stream Riding Center Offers “Unbridled Possibilities” for Special Needs


A CALMING INFLUENCE: The beneficial effect of horseback riding is the focus of summer activities at Mane Stream in Oldwick. The organization is looking for volunteers for its summer camp, which starts Monday.

There is something relaxing about horseback riding. For individuals with disabilities, sitting astride a majestic animal and being led, gently, down a path or around a ring can have calming effects. 

The practice known as Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies is one of the programs offered at Mane Stream, a 44-year-old riding center in Oldwick that advertises “unbridled possibilities” for those with special needs. Mane Stream’s annual summer camp starts Monday, June 20, and needs volunteers aged 14 and up to work alongside their camp counselors and help with the campers throughout the day.

“We’re trying to build up our army for the camp,” said Melanie Dominko-Richards, a speech and language pathologist, equine specialist, and adaptive riding instructor at the facility. “It runs five days a week for eight weeks, and we would love for them to come for a full day, though we only ask for a weekly commitment of one to four hours for the duration of the eight-week session. You don’t need horse experience. A love for kids is helpful, of course. But other than that, we can work with anybody as long as they are willing to get a little dirty!”

Typically, students from nearby high schools volunteer in order to get the community service hours they need in order to graduate. “We have great horses here. Even if they have never worked with them before, they leave with a love of horses,” Ms. Dominko-Richards said. “It never fails.”

There are two basic programs central to Mane Stream. Equine Assisted Therapy is medical, provided by a licensed occupational therapist, physical therapist, speech-language pathologist, or mental health professional. Adaptive Riding teaches children and adults with special needs how to ride.

“Adaptive Riding is successful because it provides someone with a disability the opportunity to participate in an activity alongside their peers,” Ms. Dominko-Richards explained. “It’s a recreational activity, a way for them to be part of an exciting sport. It puts them at eye level with their peers. It takes teamwork, and a whole bunch of patience.”

Equine Assisted Therapy utilizes the horse’s movement as a treatment strategy. “It’s like when a person sits on a ball for physical therapy,” Ms. Dominko-Richards continued. “We do the same thing. It’s about how the movement of the horse affects the human body. They aren’t learning riding skills. The horse’s movement is used as a kind of tool to elicit a response.” The center also has an on-site therapy clinic, “because a lot of what we do has to be translated into the real world,” Ms. Dominko-Richards said. “Therapy sessions run about 45 minutes, half of which is with the horse and half in the clinic.”

Two newer programs started last year are “Take the Reins,” for veterans, and “Horses for Healing,” geared toward cancer patients. Mane Stream participants range in age from three years old to veterans in their 90s.

Known previously as Somerset Hills Handicapped Riding Center, the organization was founded four decades ago at a farm in Bedminster. The current property was purchased in 1996. “All that was there was a big field and a pole barn,” Ms. Dominko-Richards recalled. “They ran the Adapting Riding program there for a few years. Then in 2000, there was a capital campaign for the new facility.”

That complex includes an indoor and outdoor riding ring with special mounting areas for those who have special needs. Fourteen horses live in a 14-stall barn, situated on 12 acres. Some 15 full and part-time employees are on staff, not counting the camp volunteers. Mane Stream operates year round. The summer camp is for riders both with and without disabilities. Volunteers assist in grooming and tacking horses prior to sessions, and will either lead therapy horses or support clients during those sessions.

Ms. Dominko-Richards came to Mane Stream as a camper 20 years ago. She has been involved ever since, and currently lives on the property. “It’s a lot of work, six days a week,” she said. “Then on Sundays, we rest.”

For information about volunteering, visit www.manestreamnj.org/volunteeropportunities.