December 5, 2019

This animal lover found a second career as a certified therapeutic riding instructor

After a full career in education, Polly Kornblith founded an equine therapy nonprofit and combined her love of horses and her interest in the healing power of animals.

I never planned to run a therapeutic riding and horsemanship center. Heck, I didn’t even own a horse until I was 49! But here I am 14 years later with a herd of 12 offering a variety of equine-assisted programs in a stable my husband and I built on our property in Sherborn, Massachusetts.

I was an animal lover from the beginning, dragging my mother to a petting farm on a daily basis. I found companionship and comfort in spending time with my many pets over the years.

While I was still working full-time as a freelance educational consultant to such organizations as the United Nations and the Federal Aviation Administration, I realized that I needed to do something more meaningful that directly made a difference in people’s lives.

I started by becoming certified as a therapy team with my Labrador Retriever Dylan. For over 10 years, we visited a residential program for teenage boys with serious psychological, social, and behavioral problems. Witnessing the responses of these tough, street-smart young men to Dylan’s presence in their classroom confirmed that there was something incredibly special that animals could offer people in need of emotional healing.

[ Read more: A retired Marine suffering with PTSD finds new calm with his service dog ]

That realization, combined with my lifelong love of horses, inspired me to learn more about how equines can help humans recover and thrive despite significant challenges. And so I started on a path: to become a certified therapeutic riding instructor and equine specialist in mental health & learning.

My advice? Follow your personal path—you never know where it will lead you!

When I was supposedly ready to retire, I decided instead to pursue a labor of love and start a nonprofit called Horse SenseAbility. Horse SenseAbility is a therapeutic riding and horsemanship program specifically targeted at children and young adults who have experienced trauma, abuse, or neglect; struggle with anxiety or depression; have autism spectrum disorder; have been in foster care; or live in difficult economic circumstances.

Drawing on my former career in education, I developed a range of services to meet the needs of young people in the surrounding communities:

  • Stable Moments is a year-long mentoring program that matches a trained volunteer and a horse with a child who is or has been in foster care.
  • City to Saddle is a summer program offered at no cost to children growing up in low-income households.

  • Therapeutic riding and horsemanship lessons are offered to children who are 4 years old and up.

  • Wildstar Wranglers helps young adults with autism learn crucial job skills in the barn setting to prepare them to transition from school to the workplace.

  • Hugo the therapy pony visits local schools and organizations that serve children with special needs and their families.

  • Reading, Writing & Riding is an after school literacy development program for children reading below grade level that revolves around a horse theme and includes a riding lesson each week.

People often ask me why I started Horse SenseAbility, particularly right when I was winding down a long and successful professional career. And here’s my response:

  • I do it for the young boy who came on a Monday never having seen a real horse and leaves on Friday trotting one around the ring.
  • I do it for the non-verbal preschooler who said “horse” when he met Hugo in his classroom.
  • I do it for the teenager who lived in 11 foster homes before she turned 5 who finds a “home” and a buddy here.
  • I do it for the young woman with autism who gets her dream job after participating in our Wildstar Wranglers job skill development program.

There’s nothing like seeing the smiles on our participants’ faces to keep me going! I’m in it for the long haul and hope you’ll join me on this journey.

My advice? Follow your personal path—you never know where it will lead you!

Polly Kornblith Equine Specialist

Polly Kornblith

Horse SenseAbility

Polly Kornblith is a certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor (TRI) and Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning (ESMHL) with a Master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Polly spent over 35 years working in the field of education, specifically developing online learning experiences for such organizations as the United Nations, Federal Aviation Administration, and Pearson. Polly has been involved in animal-assisted therapy for well over a decade with both dogs and horses. In 2017, Polly founded the nonprofit Wildstar Equine-Assisted Activities and Therapy, which is better known as Horse SenseAbility. Polly lives in Sherborn, Massachusetts, with 14 noisy chickens, 12 gorgeous horses and ponies, 3 curious barn cats, 2 loving dogs, and 1 enormous goat.
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