In many ways, Lauren Reischer fits the profile of a young girl obsessed with horses.
The bubbly and friendly 11-year-old had a permanent grin on her face while she tacked up her horse, J.P., at the Quogue Pony Farm on a sunny Sunday two weeks ago. In between planting kisses on J.P.’s soft nose, she talked excitedly about what she was going to accomplish in her riding lesson that day. She looked every bit the part of a young budding equestrian, with beige riding pants, brown suede half-chaps and her black velvet riding helmet.
Lauren is one of several girls who spends as much time as possible at the barn, riding and grooming the ponies that live there. Their common love of and obsession with horses has made them all fast friends, according to her father, Sol Reischer, who was with his daughter at the barn two weekends ago. But in her development as a capable rider, she has had to overcome far more than barn buddies. Lauren has cerebral palsy, a condition that limits her motor skills and has required her to have seven surgeries since she was born. She has endured operations in which both her legs needed to be broken and restructured and she attends physical therapy five days a week for two hours each day. She can only walk short distances before needing to take a break and the entire right side of her body is very limited when it comes to regular everyday functions that most people take for granted.
Her condition puts restrictions on many routine activities, but on horseback, Lauren has found a level of bodily—not to mention spiritual—freedom that she says is unparalleled.
“It’s relaxing,” she said when asked what horseback riding feels like for her. “It’s the bestest thing in the whole world.”
Lauren first sat on a horse at the age of 3½ at the New York Therapeutic Riding Center and her father remembers the experience well. He said it helped loosen up and relax her muscles more than any other activity or therapy they had tried to date. Sol Reischer became a board member at the NY Therapeutic Riding Center two years later and last spring, his daughter began riding at the Quogue Pony Farm. While leaning over the fence watching his daughter trot around the ring on J.P. under the watchful eye of her trainers, Reischer explained that getting Lauren’s muscles to relax and unclench is a constant battle his daughter faces each day. Therapy addresses that issue and makes it better, but horseback riding, he says, has opened a whole new world for her.
“Before she started riding, she didn’t have use of her right hand at all,” he said. “It was hard for her to even pick up a pencil, but now she can play the piano.”
Reischer said that riding has helped train both sides of her body to work in tandem and has also greatly increased her leg strength. But those aren’t even what he considers to be the biggest benefits.
“Above all else is the enjoyment she gets from it,” he said.
Riding proved to be so helpful, in fact, that the Reischers purposely chose their summer home in East Quogue because it is located adjacent to the property at the Quogue Pony Farm. Reischer said when he was looking for a summer home, he did not agree to purchase the home until he met Barbara Metcalf, the owner of the Quogue Pony Farm, and was told that his daughter would be able to ride there. Metcalf was Lauren’s trainer for most of the first year she rode at the farm. From his vantage point outside the riding ring on Sunday, the elder Reischer pointed out the window to Lauren’s bedroom, which overlooks the grassy fields and riding rings dotted with jumps.
This summer, Lauren is leasing J.P., a 17-year-old Morgan gelding that she showers with affection both before and after her riding lessons. Last summer, Lauren competed in the Hampton Classic in a special class for riders with disabilities and was the reserve champion, which was a thrill for both her and her family. Simply seeing his daughter ride on her own without assistance is amazing to Reischer, who has seen his daughter endure physical hardships while maintaining a positive attitude. Lauren can adeptly ride J.P. at the walk and trot and even takes him over small crossrail jumps. They’ve yet to progress to cantering, although Lauren excitedly pointed out that they did “accidentally” canter in a recent lesson. Although she has physical obstacles that make riding a challenge, Lauren seems to have enough determination to make up for it. As she approached a crossrail at an evenly paced trot, she gave J.P. a firm tap with her riding crop just before approaching the jump and got the result she was looking for—instead of gingerly stepping over the small fence, he properly jumped it, a moment that gave her trainers and her father a fleeting look of concern, but put an even bigger smile on the young rider’s face.
Anyone who would like to find out more about therapeutic riding can contact Sol Reischer at email@example.com.