B-P launches Equine Therapy Program for K-2 special education students

District partners with Saratoga Therapeutic Equestrian Program (STEP) for monthly sessions with students

two adult women wearing face masks escort a grey horse and assist a child wearing a helmet in an indoor horse arena

The Broadalbin-Perth School District has partnered with Saratoga Therapeutic Equestrian Program (STEP) in Glenville, NY to launch a brand new program that allows the district’s special education students in kindergarten through second grade to participate in equine therapy sessions as a way to improve communication skills and work on fine and gross motor skills. The grant-funded program launched this school year and B-P’s Director of Special Education and Intervention Services Bradley Strait says it is the first program of its kind in the area.

a business sign on white background with maroon lettering shows a picture of a horse and the letters STEP with the phone number 518-374-5035“This program offers support to students in a very unique and creative way,” Strait said. “Students are able to take risks that they normally don’t take and the staff at STEP really allow the students to face their fears in a safe environment. They treat every student the way we would always want to be treated.”

Karen (Kay) Stanley-White serves as the Executive Director for the Saratoga Therapeutic Equestrian Program. B-P students visit STEP monthly and are able to pet, feed and ride the horses while working with volunteers who help each individual student have a positive experience.

a group of adults and childrem stand outside of a horse fence, waiting to pet a brown horse

Strait commends BPES special education teacher Rebecca Oaks for “making one of the district’s visions become a reality” through months of research and working in conjunction with students and parents to create a program that would be beneficial.

“When they’re riding here, they’re starting to use a lot more speech,” Oaks said. “They’re trying to communicate with the horses – getting them to go and getting them to listen to them. That starts to ignite some confidence and they bring that back to the classroom.”

a small child with a purple helmet pets a white horse through a fence.Only a few months into the program, Oaks said she is “extremely proud of the students’ growth” and says the program provides her students with “the perfect opportunity to work on interaction skills with people outside of the school setting.”

Elyse Palleschi’s son Asher is a kindergarten student at Broadalbin-Perth who has been participating in the program since its inception this September. “When you’re autistic like Asher, trying new things can be really hard, it can be very intimidating, it can be really scary. But here, he feels safe,” Palleschi said. “This opportunity is more than I think we ever could have asked for. It is above and beyond what most school districts provide.”

Palleschi has seen dramatic improvements in her son since he started in the equine therapy program at B-P. “With the STEP program, he’s trying new things with confidence. He’s got his head up, he’s smiling, he’s trying and that is huge for him.” Palleschi said that Asher’s communication skills have improved tremendously, noting that he is being more social, more verbal and is engaging and talking to more people.

a child wearing a pink shirt and a helmet sits atop a white horse with three adults walking with himAlthough the program is in its first year at B-P, Strait has visions of growing the program so that even more students can benefit. “We’ll continue to monitor the development of the program and get feedback from students and their parents on how best to support students within our district and their needs,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll continue to grow this program all the way on up into the secondary level.”

As for Palleschi, she is grateful for the opportunity of a lifetime for her son Asher. “When they talk about the Broadalbin [Perth] Patriots being a community, they were not kidding. Being a Patriot has honestly changed my son’s life,” she said.