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horseback riding

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Addison Azmoun leaps a fence. Photo by David Luces

Horseback riding is a sport that requires full commitment, courage and a particular skill set, one based on mental fortitude and bravery to even get up on the horse. 

For members of the Old Towne Equestrian’s middle school team, they can’t picture their lives without their horses. Now their collective passion, as well as their recent successes in tournaments throughout the season, has propelled them to the Interscholastic Equestrian Association National Finals taking place April 26-28 in Pennsylvania.   

From left, Addison Azmoun, coach Lauren Sobel, Graney, Ali Treuting and Hairston show off the awards they’ve received this season. Photo by David Luces

Myrna Treuting, head coach of the team, couldn’t be prouder of the girls. 

“We’ve had a pretty strong team this year,” she said. 

To get to nationals, individual and team performances throughout the season are crucial in getting the points necessary to qualify. First, if the team has enough points, it qualifies for regionals, and the top two teams then go to zone finals. The Old Towne team won the IEA Zone 2 Final March 16, securing a spot in nationals and bringing home a trophy back to the Old Towne Equestrian Center barn. Two members of the team: seventh-grader Maggie Graney of Garden City and eighth-grader Ali Treuting, Myrna’s daughter, also qualified individually to compete at nationals.   

“This is the first time that the middle school team has [collectively] qualified for nationals,” the head coach said. 

According to Treuting, the team is the top ranked middle school team in all of New York State. 

Fellow coach Lauren Sobel said the journey has not been easy. 

“They are very dedicated, hardworking and they show great sportsmanship,” she said. “Going to nationals is very exciting for us.”

Sobel said most of the girls have been riding at the barn their whole careers, and started at a very young age, some before they could
even walk. 

In preparation for nationals, the coaches have made sure the riders are securing extra practice and are getting used to riding without stirrups. 

In many of the competitions, riders draw the name of the horse they will ride out of a hat the morning of the event. It is a way of evening the playing field as many riders become comfortable riding with their own horses. 

Treuting said it’s the luck of the draw sometimes, and it doesn’t come down to the horse but to the skill of the rider. She mentioned her team has experience riding many different horses and can easily adapt to a new steed. 

“I think going to nationals is a great opportunity to advance and learn to ride different horses  outside of your comfort zone,” seventh-grader Tess Hairston of Selden said. 

Graney added the season has been pretty good, and it’s really cool to go back to nationals this year. The young girl had qualified individually for nationals last year as well. 

The members of the team are close with one another, and though they don’t go to school together, they relish the time they spend with each other at the barn. 

“It is exciting, you get to learn together and get to grow as friends,” Hairston said.  It’s nice because we get to see each other more often and do things that we love.”

Tess Hairston practices drills. Photo by David Luces

Treuting has owned the Old Towne Equestrian Center for close to 30 years and started a horseback riding team about 15 years ago, just around the time IEA was created. The organization’s mission is to introduce equestrian sports to students grades four through 12. 

In addition to the middle school team, Treuting coaches a high school team and the Stony Brook University Equestrian Team as well.   

“I think we can do quite well at nationals, we have a very good team,” she said. “We are so proud of them, they work hard and they deserve it.”

The Old Towne Equestrian Center is located at 471 Boyle Road in Selden.

Above, the Cusumano family of St. James stands in front of their newly donated 84-panel solar system that will be used to offset the costs of raising a son with autism. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

A St. James family is looking ahead to brighter days raising their son with autism after receiving a generous donation.

The Cusumano family received an extensive 84-panel solar system donated by SUNation Solar Systems and its not-for-profit SUNation Cares, which will supply free electricity for life. The funds saved will be used to help their 14-year-old son Dylan attend weekly equine therapy sessions at Pal-O-Mine Equestrian in Islandia.

“When we can all come together as a team it makes a tremendous difference in people’s lives, especially people like the Cusumanos who are most deserving to reap the benefits and tremendous rewards that were generously donated,” said Lisa Gatti, founder and executive director of Pal-O-Mine.

The solar panels donated to the family were the end result of positive community building by several local companies. Gatti said she was introduced to Scott Maskin, CEO and co-founder of SUNation, a Ronkonkoma-based solar panel company, through Empire National Bank, where they are both customers. Maskin said as he learned firsthand about the nonprofit work done by Pal-O-Mine to benefit children with disabilities, he asked Gatti if there was a family he could step in to help. That’s when the Cusumanos were nominated.

“We are overwhelmed by the generosity and I think we were stunned because we feel there are so many needy families on Long Island,” said Amy Cusumano, Dylan’s mother. “The gift of solar panels lessens our load or burden so the money we are using to pay an electric bill, we now get to decide if we can increase his horse time or do something else for the boys.”

Dylan, the oldest of the Cusumano’s five sons, started horseback riding at Pal-O-Mine at age 5 due to the therapeutic benefits. Equine therapy provides children with disabilities with positive vestibular, or inner ear, input, can improve speech and language skills, help with walking and can increase fine and gross motor skills, according to Gatti.

“[Dylan] didn’t speak when he came to Pal-O-Mine,” she said. “One of his first words was ‘walk.’ I remember Ms. Cusumano being shocked he began to speak while he was riding.”

Despite seeing improvement, Amy Cusumano said she was forced to discontinue her son’s horseback riding lessons for a few years when financial hardship struck. She said it was heartbreaking.

“When he’s on the horse, he’s so at peace, he’s so totally Dylan,” his mother said. “So when we can give him that half an hour a week where he can just enjoy himself and have some fun, it’s money well spent.”

Cusumano said Dylan’s medical care costs run $35,000 to $40,000 a year on average between co-payments, therapy and those services not covered by insurance. The estimated $3,000 a year the solar panels will save the Cusumano family will be used to help pay for his adaptive riding, which typically costs $260 for four 30-minute sessions.

Dylan’s individually tailored plan through Pal-O-Mine has him riding Ella, a 12-year-old palomino haflinger, once a week. His mother said Dylan frequently requests to go see his horse and cares for her. Horseback riding is motivating to him, and gives Dylan a sense of empowerment and independence, according to Cusumano.

“Autism is not the primary thing we are thinking about,” she said. “Maybe we’re thinking about how amazing he is or that he can ride a horse.”