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Nov 7, 2008 11:41 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Horses provide new hope for brothers, family

Nov 7, 2008 11:41 AM

The brothers may be on different paths, but they still share very similar prints. Hoofprints, to be exact.

For Kyle and Lucas Freddi of East Quogue, attending weekly horseback riding lessons at Pal-O-Mine Equestrian Inc. in Islandia has given both boys boosts of confidence and a joy that has spread beyond their smiles, making their parents proud and enriching their trainers’ experiences.

As parents whose children have diagnosed disorders, Mike and Ann-Marie Freddi felt a strong need to find activities that engaged their sons, while fostering a sense of accomplishment. Different diagnoses for each threatened to complicate matters. Kyle, 14, was diagnosed with ADHD in fourth grade.

“We tried a lot of things,” said Ann-Marie of Kyle. “He’s not big on teams, so he didn’t really stick with anything.”

At the age of 4, Lucas, now 10, was diagnosed with autism.

His need for greater supervision was another consideration. Being on the East End left the family comparatively isolated from resources for people with autism, his mother said.

“There’s not a lot of stuff out here for him,” she said.

Sacrificing a raise to be closer to his family, Mike Freddi said he traded a managerial post at the Riverhead Building Supply in Montauk for an assistant manager job at the Hampton Bays location. Freddi added that he was grateful to his boss, Russell Goodale, for easing the transition.

“My commute has changed tremendously,” he said with a smile.

In March 2007, Ann-Marie Freddi saw an ad for Pal-O-Mine in Newsday. The program, begun over 10 years ago, aims to improve the hopes and lives of people with disabilities through therapeutic horseback riding. The Islandia facility was established in 2004. It is equipped with a 20-stall barn on 8 acres of property formerly owned by Computer Associates.

Her curiosity piqued, Ann-Marie Freddi brought the boys to the facility, where Kyle was the first to saddle up.

“He took to riding right away,” said Caroline Nordstrom, 27, of Huntington, a therapeutic riding instructor who trains Kyle and has been with Pal-O-Mine since 1999. “I think it gives him something that’s his own.”

Lucas would take his turn last September, when the family attended a horse show at Pal-O-Mine for Kyle. For Lucas, Ann-Marie Freddi said his motivation stemmed more from the discovery of something that he could excel at rather than a desire to emulate his big brother.

“I don’t know if he gets that,” she said. “But as soon as we put him on that horse, he was grinning from ear to ear.”

Rhiannon Beauregard, who first got him on a horse and went on to train him, took a direct approach with her son that he easily grasped.

“She was very straightforward with him,” Freddi said, commending Beauregard. “‘You’re going to put this helmet on,’ ‘You’re going to get on the horse.’ And he did exactly what she said,” she said, laughing. “And he’s been riding ever since.”

Beauregard, 26, of Huntington, who has been a riding instructor at Pal-O-Mine for nearly five years, also taught Lucas to steer the horse, using another ingeniously simple method.

“I’d tell him to walk the horse to Ann-Marie, then said ‘Come back to me,’” she said, stressing that the horses’s role in teaching can’t be overlooked.

Heather Heim, 20, of Ronkonkoma, who currently trains Lucas, said that her job at Pal-O-Mine has its challenges, but that the feeling of accomplishment is strong from the trainer’s perspective too.

“It’s very rewarding to go home at the end of the day, and know you made a difference in a kid’s life,” she said.

Working with riders of varying degrees of ability, Pal-O-Mine’s horses are themselves specially trained, meeting stricter standards due to the nature of the stable’s clientele, according to Nordstrom. Where many horses can be unnerved by sudden movements, therapy horses must be, in her words, “unflappable.”

Nordstrom added that independence is encouraged as much as possible at Pal-O-Mine—a person capable of taking care of their own riding tack is allowed to do so after instruction on proper use and care.

Lisa Gatti, Pal-O-Mine’s executive director, takes care to match the clients with their horses. After being set up with a horse that meets their needs, riders here can progress to more difficult horses after learning the fundamentals. Gatti said that a horse that requires control from a rider is also a powerful motivator. In the case of many of Pal-O-Mine’s clientele, Gatti adds that it’s often the first time riders have felt such a sense of empowerment.

“It’s not only helping the diagnosis, but also the underlying lack of self-esteem,” she said.

Settling into their weekly routine, Kyle and Lucas are as tenacious as ever with their new pastime, and the progress is reaping benefits. Kyle has participated in four horse shows to date, winning first, second, fourth and fifth-place ribbons. Beauregard said that with perseverance, Lucas could match his brother’s prowess.

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Thanks so much for the article on my children and Pal-O-Mine Equestrian Inc. My children have done so well with riding and look foward to going every week. Kyle has started jumping and lucas has come a long way he even has rode a horse by using only his legs with no hands on the reigns.I reccommened if you ever get a chance to stop by and see the children riding you should do so.
By CureAutism (4), suffolk on Jan 7, 10 12:18 PM
By CureAutism (4), suffolk on Feb 4, 10 12:20 PM
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