Sunday, October 28, 2007

paterson ymca's new equestrian program for kids

Saturday, October 27, 2007 By DIANE HAINES, HERALD NEWS

N.J. after 3 at the Garret Mountain Equestrian Center: VIDEO, LESLIE BARBARO

click here for the video clip.

Let the horseplay begin. And so it did for kids from School 28 in Paterson.

About one year ago, Kristen Norgrove, a teacher at the school, wanted to teach her urban students about horses and riding. The dialogue started because she had recently purchased a horse.

It took a year of fundraising and planning but earlier this month, six third-grade students found themselves grooming and riding horses as part of the afterschool study and recreational program run by the YMCA at the Garret Mountain Equestrian Center in West Paterson. The center is located in the wooded, 569-acre Garret Mountain Reservation. The bucolic setting is in stark contrast to the school's congested neighborhood.

School 28 is on the city's densely populated north side, at 200 Presidential Blvd., across the street from Riverview Towers, a high-rise public housing development. Yet only a mile away there is plenty of open space and trails for riding and hiking. The reservation is patrolled by the mounted police of the Passaic County Sheriff's Department, which keeps its horses at the equestrian center.

A riding instructor recently taught Tyanna Wilson and Melody Vazquez, both 8, how to brush and groom Dusty, a fleabitten, gray quarter horse.

"I like to brush Dusty and get the dust and hair off his body. Now he's nice and shiny," says Tyanna. Curry combing is done first followed by a medium brushing and then a finishing brush to smooth the coat and bring up the shine.

Riding instructor Sarah Martinez explains that the brushing feels good to the horses and helps the children bond with them.

Dusty is one of four gentle training horses used for instruction at the stable. The other three are Reeses, a chestnut pony; Rocky, a chestnut quarter horse with a white blaze; and Peanut Butter, a chestnut dun with a white stripe. All are cross-tied with leads attached to the wood paneled aisle walls while the kids comb and brush them.

"Brush them gently; the horse can be a little nervous," says barn manager Krista Blomberg of Glen Rock.

She shows the students how to lift the hooves and use a pick to clean mud from around the horseshoe, avoiding the soft tissue at the center.

"If he edges over towards the stall just give him a gentle push with both hands. Do not grab the tail. Give him a pat on the hindquarters and then grab the tail all at once and pull it to the side," says Blomberg.

The instructors wear black polo shirts with a white equestrian logo. Many of the children wear School 28 T-shirts with jeans.

After learning about grooming, the kids help saddle the horses and fit them with bridles. They also learn how to use shovels and buckets to clean up after them. That's no fun but mandatory.
Now for the good part. The youngsters don helmets and take a slow walk around the ring. The facility has outdoor and indoor rings and hay-filled stalls. The kids use a step and are boosted into the saddle.

"Some were a little nervous, but they all had a good time," says Blomberg. The students hold the reins while handlers lead the horses with lines attached to the halter under the bridle.

"This is better than staying in school," says Rikayva Palmer, 8.

Jalea Gillespie, 8, adds, "I think Peanut Butter is fun."

Katrina Lewis, who works for the YMCA, says an attempt to obtain grant money for the program failed in 2006. That meant the students had to raise money through a bake sale and private donations.

Lewis, who also works for the school district, says six youngsters at a time will take part in a four-week program. A new group of six students will start Wednesday. Fundraising is ongoing to keep the program going for the remainder of the school year.

Frank Battipaglia, who operates the equestrian center on a lease basis from the county, says he greatly reduced the fees to give Paterson students the chance to learn how to ride. The regular half-hour instruction fee is $35. The YMCA is paying $15 per child for 90 minutes of instruction.
Raymond J. Wright Jr., director of the county parks department, says the stable was established in 1983 with Green Acres funds. For most of its history it has been run by a vendor under contract with the county.

It offers private and group riding lessons, and a camp program in the summer. Some privately owned horses are also boarded there.

Reach Diane Haines at 973-569-7046 or

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