The life of any human being can be touched and changed forever by the soul of a horse. The quiet, comforting presence of an equine companion has the ability to reach places within our hearts and minds that can, for too long, remain untouched. In the depth of their bright gazes a person can explore their own heart and the gentle roll and swell of their movement under a rider can encourage an awakening within body, mind and soul.
Dana Spett, founder and Executive Director of Pony Power, knows this all too well. Dana's biggest loves in life have always been horses and social work, two aspects of her life that used to exist separately from one another. As a social worker she reached out and helped special needs families through the school system but felt that there had to be a better way to connect. While searching for a solution to this problem Dana was struck with the inspiration to combine her two life's passions. She felt that equine therapy would provide disabled children a higher level of engagement and growth and that she might more effectively reach these children with the help of the animals she had grown up loving.
Dana's idea took root and began to grow and in October 2000 Pony Power Therapies officially opened at a small barn in Paramus, New Jersey. Pony Power was created to assist children and adults with disabilities including autism, cerebral palsy, developmental delays, and brain injuries from stroke or trauma. The program also planned to serve people who had suffered trauma, abuse, mental health issues, or multiple handicaps.
Two years after its start, the program grew to the point that Dana and her husband decided to sell their house and buy a farm. The Spetts now live in Mahwah, New Jersey on Three Sisters Farm (named after their daughters) where Pony Power is based. There is also a satellite location at the Bergen Equestrian Center in Leonia, New Jersey near Manhattan, making the program convenient to residents of New York City. Since its beginning, Pony Power has become a 24-hour-a-day job for Dana. She describes it as "an unbelievable way to get involved in something you love." Loving her work helps, as her commitment involves a workday that begins at five in the morning and does not end until eight o'clock at night. For all its demanding hours, the inspiration and empowerment that Pony Power has facilitated is still a constant source of pleasure for Dana.
For therapy students, just driving onto the farm has an immediate transforming effect. The sounds, smells and sights of the horses and barns absorb attention and keep them aware and in the moment. Many of the students at Pony Power are unable to walk but being on horseback gives them the ability to move through space as if walking, an unparalleled experience and first-time perspective for most. Riding the therapy horses is a fantastic physical benefit to the students as well. The balance and movement required during riding help to increase muscle strength and control, as well as flexibility and coordination. And it all happens while riding in a safe, constructive environment. Students are of all ages, from 3-90, and are paired with a horse that best suits their size and therapy needs. When students are paired with their horses they are able to develop a close bond throughout their lessons. This trust and familiarity with the therapy horses help students to feel more confident and foster the development of emotional connections. The independence, joy and pride they gain from their lessons empower the students, drawing them out of their shells and helping them grow in countless ways.
Pony Power is run by only four full-time and eight part-time employees, meaning that volunteers play a huge role in keeping the program up to speed. There are currently 250 very active and giving volunteers who help in classes as horse leaders and sidewalkers, work in the barns or even at special fundraising events. Southern States Feed Sales and Technical Representative Malinda Ferko is also the resident Pony Power Equine Nutrition Specialist and instructor. The joy that the program brings to students still never ceases to amaze her. Malinda feels that "seeing a child arrive in a wheelchair and moments later be on the back of a horse is amazing." It's something that makes the program truly special.
There are currently 22 horses on the farm. Twelve are designated as therapy horses and ten are boarders but all are also used in the program. The horses used in therapy are Quarter Horses, Welsh ponies, a Halflinger, Warmbloods and a Shetland, with ages ranging from 3-37.
All 22 of the Pony Power therapy horses are fed Southern States Triple Crown feed delivered by Warwick Valley Feed and Grains in Warwick, New York. After having worked with other feed companies without satisfaction, Pony Power switched exclusively to Triple Crown and everyone was delighted with the results. Dana Spett sings the praises of Triple Crown and says that since putting their horses on the Southern States feed they have had "no issues with colic, their coats are beautiful and shiny and the older therapy horses that usually don't have a top line are holding their weight beautifully."
Like other non-profits, Pony Power is heavily reliant upon donations. Students are asked to pay a small fee for their therapy sessions but this does not cover the entire cost of lessons. And for those students who just aren't able to pay the lesson fee, generous donors have made scholarships possible. All donations go toward covering the cost of horse care, continuing the therapy programs and piloting new programs.
Pony Power is a proud member of the Southern States SHOW (Special Horse Organization Winners) program that provides 400 non-profit horse associations and clubs with their very own sponsorship tool. And, it's possible because of generous, compassionate, and caring horse lovers like you. If you've been moved by this article and would like to support Pony Power, it's as easy as submitting your Southern States feed bag proof-of-purchase seals. These seals are found on the back of each bag of your favorite Southern States feed. Send your Southern States horse feed proof-of-purchases to: Power Power Therapies c/o Three Sisters Farm, 1170 Ramapo Valley Rd., Mahwah, New Jersey 07430.