HARVEYS LAKE — Four-year-old Johnny Bryk didn’t say much as he rode a horse named Piper around an indoor arena last week, but his smile spoke volumes.
“It’s almost miraculous,” his mother, Kelly Bryk, of Dallas, said, explaining her son’s muscle strength, speech and fine motor skills have improved since he began riding six months ago with the Serendipity Therapeutic Riding Program.
Best of all, she said, his scoliosis has not progressed since he began riding and she is hopeful the exercise might decrease the curvature of his spine.
Also riding on a recent Friday afternoon was 23-year-old Damon Szatkowski, of Shavertown, who suffered a brain injury in a car accident six years ago.
“At first I thought, ‘these people are crazy,’” said his mother, Karen Pyros, remembering her reaction when she received a gift certificate to Serendipity. “He couldn’t even sit up, and they wanted him to ride a horse? But he can ride, and we can see his core strength improving.”
“I feel like I’m on top of the world,” Szatkowski said as his recent ride on a spotted, or “paint,” horse named Zoey, came to an end.
“There are so many people it (riding) can help,” said Serendipity owner Sarah Russoniello, who is certified as an instructor by the Colorado-based Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International, explaining she has seen horses help people who have conditions raising from autism, ADHD and anxiety issues to post-traumatic stress, addictions and muscle weakness.
“He’s getting to an age where he resists ‘work,’ Bryk said of her 4-year-old son. “But for him this is fun. I love it because it’s work, and he loves it because it’s fun.”
Russoniello will host an open house from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday at the Serendipity stables, so the public can see demonstrations of therapeutic riding and learn about the program, which she is working to register as a non-profit.
She’s hopeful people will become interested in volunteering or in making donations to sponsor ridership. “If people get behind it, it could be awesome,” she said.
Yoga instructor Lisa Galica will also be on hand Sunday to demonstrate equine yoga, which can be practiced on horseback or just in the vicinity of a horse.
While visitors are at Serendipity, which is located at 300 Route 29, Harveys Lake, they’re sure to enjoy meeting the gentle horses and learning their varied histories — how Zoey, for example, took part in barrel racing competitions and Daisy had two babies during her “career” as a brood mare.
A sadder story belongs to a horse named Victory, who apparently worked hard plowing fields and later was found starving in a barn with no food or water. “Veterans love him, and they love Phoenix,” Russoniello said, describing Phoenix as “a thoroughbred who was born with a cleft hoof. They raced him anyway and he won $90,000, but when he broke his leg, he was ‘useless.’”
Phoenix was a rescue too, Russoniello said, stroking the animal’s silky nose. “I feel good about giving them a home.”
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT.