Find out about the new horse at GAIT Therapeutic Riding Center in Milford, where children and adults with special needs can receive help to lead a more independent life in society.

DINGMANS FERRY -The community and beyond rallied for a local cause and won. Recently, GAIT Therapeutic Riding Center hosted a celebration at Akenac Park in Dingmans Ferry to present Breeze, a Gypsy Vanner horse that they received as a result of people near and afar voting in the LexLin Gypsy Ranch Gypsy Gift™ contest, that placed the center at second in the annual competition.

This was the fourth year for the program, where 30 Lexlin Gypsy Horses were given to Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) accredited centers across the United States.

The founder and Executive Director of GAIT, Martha Dubensky was all smiles as she spoke of Breeze and expressed her appreciation to all who voted. Dubensky called Breeze a “dream” that will be a great asset to the nonprofit organization that assists people with disabilities by using equine activities to help the individual’s needs.    

When the idea of participating in the contest was proposed, at first Dubensky said she was unsure since the organization already has several horses, but then thinking of the time needed to train a new horse and the possibility of winning a national competition seemed farfetched.   

All total 81 centers were nominated to be in the contest and with a laugh, Dubensky said GAIT, which was one of the smallest programs involved, placed second. Friends contacted friends, veterans communicated with fellow veterans, New York City detectives voted and so on and in the end, GAIT received 26,272 votes; ending with a mere 4,000 behind the first place finisher. As the contest went on, Dubensky said everyone was “sweating bullets.” The support from everyone was “unbelievable,” since so many people voting for GAIT made it “unreal.”

Breeze, Dubensky said was chosen since she was a little taller than the other horses available, as well as being 7-years-old, so she was more mature, because the other available horses were 2 to 5 years old. Primarily though, her size was the key and she had already received some training.

Breeze’s temperament, Dubensky said is “awesome” as she is a “lovely animal” that doesn’t appear to get stressed with people giving her attention, which was the case at the celebration. Breeze joined the GAIT family a month ago and it seems like she’s been there her whole life.  

All of the horses at GAIT have been donated, but before they join the herd, Dubensky has had a chance to ride them and see how they would be. She didn’t get to do that with Breeze, although she did choose her and have to travel to Tennessee to bring her to her new home in Milford. Breeze, Dubensky said, is worth $18,000, in part because gypsy horses aren’t common in the United States, since they weren’t allowed in the country until 1996.

Joining the herd July 24, Breeze has had 30 days of training by GAIT instructors and simply, Dubensky said she is “amazing” as two riders, each with conditions that may have startled a horse, didn’t scare Breeze as she stood there like she had been working with the students forever.  

Throughout the competition, GAIT was vying between second and third place, and it was the many veterans and New York City detectives that Dubensky believes helped the nonprofit organization place second.

A Certified Instructor Nancy Van Wykhas been with GAIT for 10 years. She said that Breeze will be a wonderful addition because the nine other horses are older. Since Breeze is smaller, it will make her easier to maintain and work with, especially for the students. Breeze is the only Gypsy Vanner horse GAIT has.

With GAIT’s other horses “aging out,” Van Wky said there is one that is over 30 years old and a pony that’s just used for grooming and such ground lessons, that is also over 30 years old. The rest are in their late 20’s.

Since riders’ conditions and sizes vary, Van Wky said because Breeze is a smaller yet “bulkier” horse, she will be better for riders. Students at GAIT range from 4-years-old to 80, but they don’t necessarily ride since there is equine facilitated psychotherapy, equine assisted teaching and more that may mean they are working with the horse from the ground since all traumas, whether cognitive, emotional or physical can be treated at GAIT.

Waiting and watching as the contest went on, Van Wky said everyone was happy when it was over because people could only vote once a day. This was the first time GAIT received a horse through a contest and now, they have to wait two years before participating again. 

Van Wky called Breeze “quiet” and “observational” as she watches and isn’t “ruffled by much.” Since PATH has required standards for centers to follow, such as considering a horse’s age and the number of hours they work in a day, GAIT is lessening some of their horses’ schedules since they are older.

With studies showing the positive effects of equine involvement, Van Wky said she believes a horse’s presence and size “empowers people” and makes them think “I can” rather than cannot. And so, at GAIT riders do more than learn riding skills so they are then able to implement their lessons to their everyday lives, which aids in their individual needs.

An army veteran, Tom Witter was with his daughter Sue Landers at the celebration and both were excited and ready to meet Breeze who they voted for daily. Witter had fellow veterans voting because of his own personal love of horses. Landers, who had friends in Philadelphia voting, said she voted because she wanted to support GAIT as the center helps to improve peoples’ lives.

Justin Anderson, who had a traumatic brain injury and is a student at GAIT, was at the event to meet Breeze with his mother Sherrie. Since Justin started riding three years ago, Sherrie said in addition to his core strength improving and being able to sit up straight now, he also has more confident. Meeting Breeze, Justin said made him “happy.”  

For more information about GAIT visit http://gaittrc.org/.