Internationally recognized program at Centenary University has provided hundreds of participants with disabilities with the physical, social-emotional, and cognitive benefits of riding and interacting with horses.
HACKETTSTOWN, NJ, December 4, 2023 — Centenary University’s adaptive riding program for adults and children with disabilities marks its 20th anniversary this year, and those closest to the program say there’s much to celebrate. Since its official founding, Therapeutic Riding at Centenary (TRAC) has served hundreds of people with physical and cognitive disabilities, as well as specialized populations such as military veterans, at-risk youth, and residents of assisted living facilities. TRAC participants benefit from equestrian experiences that can result in physical, social-emotional, and cognitive benefits, while enhancing goals such as balance, strength, and sensory integration.
“Reaching a 20-year milestone is a cause for celebration for any equine-assisted services program, and I’m so pleased to be celebrating this for TRAC,” said Karen Brittle, director of TRAC and assistant professor of equine studies at Centenary.
In addition to serving TRAC participants, this program supports the development of therapeutic riding instructors and program leaders for the equine-assisted services industry. By providing the training and education for both matriculated and nonmatriculated students in achieving industry certifications, TRAC helps support the professionalization and operations of the growing equine-assisted services industry.
TRAC is one of the few collegiate training grounds in the nation for students seeking a career in therapeutic riding. Centenary offers a therapeutic riding instructor training program, an eight-credit course sequence that allows both matriculated and non-degree students to fulfill all hands-on requirements for the PATH Intl. certified therapeutic riding instructor (CTRI) application and prepare for the certification exam. The University’s acclaimed Equine Studies Department also has a minor and a concentration in equine-assisted services to prepare graduates to provide therapeutic riding services to children and adults. The concentration cultivates the leadership skills necessary for graduates to step into administrative roles in the largely nonprofit field. Since the program’s inception, more than 100 students have earned PATH Intl. credentials through their work with the TRAC program.
Professor Emerita Octavia Brown, D.H.L., founded TRAC after teaching a training course in therapeutic riding for Centenary University equine studies majors, first at her farm in Bedminster and later at the University’s Equestrian Center in Washington Township. When Centenary was ready to bring the therapeutic riding and instructor training programs together under one roof, Frances (Fay) Todd, a close friend of Dr. Brown’s, stepped up with a $50,000 gift in memory of her father, Louis Starr. “Louis had volunteered for me when he was in his late 70s and loved interacting with my young riding clients with disabilities,” recalled Dr. Brown, the recipient of a 2008 honorary degree from Centenary University for her transformational leadership in the field of therapeutic riding. “He had frequently told his family how much he loved walking the horses and the children. His family was thrilled to remember him with this gift to a cause he completely believed in. Additional gifts from the family’s foundation supported further additions to Centenary’s then-new indoor arena. Fay and Louis underwrote the creation of the wonderful TRAC program we have today. The rest, as they say, is history.”
Dr. Brown invited Randolph, NJ, resident Tracy Cole to become involved with TRAC in fall 2003. Cole was first a TRAC rider and is now an instructor. She said, “TRAC has been a huge benefit in my life. It has given me the opportunity to keep riding and become an instructor and mentor for the instructors in training. Today, because of TRAC, I will have the chance to remain working with horses long after I am no longer able to get on a horse. TRAC is not just a riding program, it’s a family. Everyone cares, and I mean everyone—from TRAC participants, families, and volunteers to Centenary students and barn staff.”
Centenary University is a higher education member of PATH Intl., which leads the advancement of professional equine-assisted services to support more than 53,000 special needs individuals, including nearly 6,000 veterans. Centenary’s TRAC program has gained international acclaim through the organization: In recent years, the University’s resident veterinarian, Jesslyn Bryk-Lucy, DVM, was named PATH Intl. Veterinarian of the Year for Region II, while TRAC participant Vika Christian was selected as last year’s Path Intl. Youth Equestrian of the Year.
Brittle is now looking to leverage TRAC’s strong history to expand the program: “The most exciting part of celebrating this milestone is that after reflecting on our strong history, we are planning for an even more dynamic future for TRAC. It will include offering more specialized programs for targeted populations, updated degree options related to equine-assisted services, and an expansion of our veterans programming. We are looking forward to the next 20 years!”
ABOUT CENTENARY UNIVERSITY
Centenary University offers extraordinary learning opportunities that empower students to develop intellectually, emotionally, and interculturally—keys to career and personal success. Under the leadership of President Dale Caldwell, Ed.D., the University aspires to advance its reputation as a world class institution offering innovative programs, including the world’s first Master of Arts in Happiness Studies, to lift the future for our students and local communities.