By Nathalie Friedman
The Center for Therapeutic Riding of the East End (CTREE), a nonprofit organization that offers therapeutic riding lessons and equine assisted activities for children and adults with emotional, cognitive, and physical disabilities, has found a new home that promises to help the organization expand its services.
Formerly located at Wolffer Estate Stables in Sagaponack, CTREE recently relocated to a new barn at 93 Merchants Path in Sagaponack — and renovated the new space.
Subcontractors working on the project to renovate the barn donated their time, materials, and expertise, according to Karen Bocksel, CTREE’s managing director.
“The contractors told us, ‘Yes, yes, yes! We want to do this — this feels good, this is making us happy! We’re so happy to do this for you guys!’” Ms. Bocksel said.
Kevin Warren from John Hummel Associates, whose wife is involved with CTREE, gathered and led the group of enthusiastic contractors amid the statewide quarantine, she said.
Volunteering seemed to provide the workers with a possible escape from the despondency and lull of the quarantine, she said.
“These guys just got together out of the goodness of their heart, and we were so thankful,” Ms. Bocksel said. “Every day we brought them lunch.”
The contributing construction companies included C. Gaynor Construction Services, WGP Painting, East End Excavating, MOE Masonry, True Custom Electric, Pipemasters Plumbing and Heating, MULCO Inc., and John Hummel and Associates.
The team created an accessible “dream barn” in just three weeks, and the therapeutic riding center is infinitely grateful for these contractor’s generosity and hasty execution, Ms. Bocksel said.
Amalie Bandelier, a member of CTREE’s board of directors, added that the new barn has a slop sink, an indoor bathroom, hot and cold water, and a completely refurbished office. The entire indoor space has been opened up, and the riders and horses have access to a new riding ring.
The most significant aspect of CTREE’s big move, is the fact that they can broaden their local connections, and control their own riding schedules. Ultimately, the nonprofit will be able to support a larger clientele.
“I don’t know what we will grow to,” Ms. Bocksel said, “but we would definitely be able to double it [their outreach] for the year.”
Although CTREE’s clientele increases in the summer, the move represents a large opportunity for the nonprofit’s growth.
At Wolffer Stables, a groom cared for CTREE’s horses, and so this is the first time that they can care for their horses and maintain their riding ring themselves, Ms. Bocksel explained.
CTREE started off with only two students — Rachel, and a little boy named William — in 2009. The organization has grown significantly, and now serves 50-60 participants annually, with 25-30 program volunteers.
Now that the nonprofit has its own property, all students will be able to ride seven days a week, as often as possible, rather than during intermittent windows. The stable’s riding schedules will no longer be confined by their proprietor’s availability.
CTREE’s clientele eagerly awaits the riding center’s reopening in two weeks.
“They’re looking forward to it hugely,” Ms. Bocksel said. “It’s part of what was normal for them, and what was [a] weekly [routine] in their lives,” before COVID-19. “And being able to come back to this, even though they can’t go back to school, has been huge.”
“We had a rider who was fighting cancer, an adult rider, and during her chemo the only thing she could do was ride,” she said. “And she found such solace and joy in it. Sadly, she lost her fight to cancer during COVID, which was horrible because her husband wasn’t allowed to be with her. She rode Rocket and she loved him — and her husband Larry asked to come out during COVID, and to brush her horse, and he came with their dog and brushed Rocket.
“Larry came, and that horse stood on those cross-ties for over an hour with his ears up, and he doesn’t do that normally — but it’s like he knew that Larry needed to just brush him, and talk to him, and hang out with him.”
Ms. Bocksel also spoke of another adult rider, in her late 70s, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The woman brought her whole family to tears when she instinctively remembered how to get on her horse and hold its reins, as she always had. Clucking her tongue and speaking with the animals, she was truly present in that special moment, her family believed.
“‘She’s here,’ they said … It was emotional for all of us,” Ms. Bocksel recalled.
CTREE’s riding programs are highly personalized and diverse: in addition to therapeutic riding (TR) lessons and equine assisted activities (EEA), they also offer EEA to veterans through their CTREE Patriots Program, and equine assisted learning (EAL) programs to local school groups including special needs, at risk, leadership, and ESL students, according to the organization’s literature.
“A lot of what we do is based on what [students’] goals are in school. We work with their Individualized Education Programs (IEPS), and we’ll incorporate those goals into their riding lessons,” Ms. Bocksel said.
For example, she shared that if a student is working on math, or sequencing, they will create obstacle courses: “Number one, you’re going to ride around that pole, and number two, you’re going to weave through these cones.”
Horses Heal, a program CTREE is starting this summer, will invite members to come and brush the horses, or sit and have lunch with them. Overall, the new barn will enable these activities to take place more frequently, and with a larger range of opportunities, than at their previous location.
“Everyone is thrilled about [the move] so far,” Ms. Bocksel said. “They haven’t been here yet, but they’re thrilled. And moving into this neighborhood has been exciting for us, because everyone has stopped by.”
On Thursday, August 20, CTREE will hold its annual fundraiser, Horses Heal, at Sebonack Benefit, which centers around a silent auction. According to CTREE’s 2020 fact sheet, the nonprofit’s active scholarship program offered all riders and programs scholarship assistance in 2019 and more than a third of their riders received additional financial aid.
The August event will ideally be in-person, if health circumstances are permitting, but otherwise could be virtual. Additionally, the organization’s other major annual fundraiser, CTREE Giddy Up 5K, will likely be rescheduled for October.
“Things obviously may be a little different this year, with everything going on,” Ms. Bandelier said, “but we need to continue to do our benefit because we rely on that funding.”