Just two weeks ago, American Pharoah gave the City That Doesn’t Sleep the most exciting horse race New York has seen in 37 years when he captured the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown. Today, though, I witnessed the power of horses here that had nothing to do with money or glory, but instead focused on wellness, pride and love. I was invited to the GallopNYC horse show; the charity is a New York City-based organization that connects special needs riders with horses to provide therapeutic riding lessons. GallopNYC arranges riding lessons for 325 students every week, helping riders gain physical strength as well as confidence on and off of horseback.
GallopNYC not only helps humans, it helps the equines in their care as well. The GallopNYC family of horses includes a retired racehorse, a retired dressage show horse and several recue horses. While the ex-racehorse wasn’t on duty for the show I saw today, there were plenty of lovely horses and ponies who were clearly the perfect mounts for their riders.
When I arrived at the barn for the horse show, I was seriously impressed – there was a lively crowd in attendance as well as a documentary film crew and scores of volunteers. I walked up to the side of the arena where the GallopNYC riders were showing off their skills, and I was lucky enough to be introduced to Daya and Sanjeev Puri , whose son Neil was showing a horse in the ring.
Daya told me that Neil’s time with GallopNYC has been hugely beneficial to him. “When Neil first started the program, he was a little bit hunched over. His core muscles weren’t strong enough and he used to have balance issues. Look at him now – how he’s sitting. That’s the proof.” Neil’s father Sanjeev added, “He’s sitting like a prince – like a king!” And it was true: like any accomplished horseman, Neil sat with impeccable posture as he guided his mount around cones throughout his part of the horse show.
Sanjeev told me that his son’s way with equines runs in the family: Neil’s grandfather’s job in Northern India was to patrol about 500 acres of land on horseback, so a love of riding is truly generational for Neil.
I also got to watch the sibling duo of Juno and Oisin Cox perform; they’ve been with GallopNYC for about five years, and they both have taken a serious shine to the horses. Their mom Juliette Moir told me that they’ve both improved with their ability to multitask, and that skill became very obvious as I watched Oisin stretch to place a ring around a cone while maintaining his balance while perched atop a pony. It was a very impressive feat, considering how far he had to stretch just to reach the top of the cone!
He knew he nailed it, too – check out his smile of pride after he demonstrated his skill:
Juno is a totally dedicated rider: she’s fallen so in love with the sport and become so skilled that she’s now taking lessons outside of GallopNYC to improve her horsemanship. She’s really good, too – I have a major envy of her equitation; she gets her heels down far when she’s riding!
When it came time to dole out the ribbons, each rider had their name and their best skills announced to tumultuous applause. There was so much happiness and excitement in the awards ceremony that it was impossible not to sit there with a huge smile on my face.
When I spoke to GallopNYC’s Executive Director Alicia Kershaw after the show, she summed up the experience perfectly. “The message we want to give with our horse show – Ride with Pride – is how very able our riders are and how much they get from riding and how much they enjoy it. There’s still a lot of stigma around people with disabilities, and we hope this is a small way to show that our riders really can ride.”
I’m here to tell you that the GallopNYC students definitely showcased their skills today, and it was such an honor to see these horses and riders perform. Throughout recorded history, horses have been a part of the human story; and whether people fall in love with them for feats like American Pharoah’s thrilling Triple Crown win or if it’s a humble ex-racehorse who teaches a special needs child balance, control and confidence, it’s wonderful to see horses and people making each other’s lives better.