Horses in need help people in need

| 30 Sep 2011 | 09:40

Equine center rescues horses that in turn provide therapy riding NEWTON — There will always be the conventional way of treating what ails you with Western medicine and, more recently, there’s been a movement towards alternative treatments like herbal concoctions and acupuncture. Colleen O’Dea practices using horses for healing at Equine Tranquility Wellness Center in Newton. After being in corporate sales in the automotive industry for 15 years, O’Dea was looking for a change. She always loved horses from afar and wanted one since she was three years old. But she had only taken a few riding lessons over the years, and her job did not allow for free time. “I wanted to find my passion. When I turned 30, I was living in Houston and decided buying a horse was going to be my birthday present. This horse, Pralines N Cream, changed my life,” said O’Dea. By owning a horse, she had the flexibility to train and ride when she wanted. She did not realize that buying a younger 4-year-old horse may not have been the best choice. “Horses need to learn their job. When they are young, they are unbalanced. An older horse can teach a rider,” she explained. “But I have had her now six years, and she has taught me everything. She relieves my stress,” said O’Dea. A job offer to work at Volvo took O’Dea from Texas to New Jersey. Naturally, she moved her horse with her and boarded it. As her love for horses grew, so did her desire to change careers. “I was looking to find a career that I could give back to people,” she said. Through research, she discovered the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) which promotes therapeutic riding and its motto is “Appreciating the power of the horse to change lives.” After attending a 10-week program at the NARHA affiliated school High Hopes in Connecticut, O’Dea passed both a written and riding exam and received her Level 1 Centered Riding® certification. “Centered Riding® is a body awareness technique that can help riders first to learn how human and equine bones relate to each other while in motion and how to direct their own bodies to go along with the horse’s natural way of moving; all of which increases effective communication and encourages the horse to discover better uses of himself. The resulting softness leads to power, energy and partnership that cannot be gained through effort or muscle alone,” explains O’Dea. Upon her return to New Jersey in October of 2009, she decided to open a local center because there were none. All she needed was the space and the horses. “I wanted to use rescue horses for the program. So many people cannot afford to keep their horses — the economy has played a role in this,” she said. Her first rescue was Zoura from a farm in upstate New York. “She was so happy to leave that she marched on the trailer.” This past February, she acquired Licorice, a pacer race horse. All horses are tested during trial periods. “Therapeutic riding horses have to tolerate movement. They have to be pretty calm. “ Equine Tranquility Wellness Center opened a year ago and received 501-C3 non-profit status in April of 2010. Its mission as stated on “To promote education, personal development, communication, and enhance emotional well being through equine assisted activities and therapies to everyone.” O’Dea’s clients range from ages 3 to 63. Therapeutic riding helps people with disabilities like autism and multiple sclerosis. Three volunteers assist each rider. The goal is for the rider to be independent. When a multiple sclerosis patient broke his leg, he used equine assisted riding to gain back strength to his core, legs and arms. O’Dea is proud to say that since attending Equine Wellness, the patient has not had to use his power wheelchair. “The horse’s movement in therapeutic riding is the closest you can mimic to the human gait. It gives emotional and physical power,” O’Dea said. Her next goal is to register for grants so she can provide scholarship money. “I recommend therapeutic riding for everybody, not just for those who have disabilities. We are promoting wellness.” Equine Tranquility Wellness Center at Windsor Astoria Farm, 45 Hamilton Rd., Newton. 201-970-3400.