Hidden Acres receives grant to expand riding program

Kayla Magnarella, 9, is one of nearly two dozen children who are enrolled in horseback riding at Hidden Acres Therapeutic Riding Center in Naugatuck. The organization received a $10,000 grant from Connecticut Community Foundation so it can continue to offer the services to families who have disabled children, regardless of income. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — People with disabilities and their families might now qualify for therapeutic horseback riding sessions in the borough at a lower price.

Hidden Acres Therapeutic Riding Center, at 45 Gabriel Drive, received a $10,000 grant this year from the Saunders Fund for the Sick and Infirm of the Borough of Naugatuck, which is managed by the Connecticut Community Foundation. A portion of the money will be used to offer scholarships to new riders, Program Director Jeanna Pellino said.

“We’re thrilled, really,” Pellino said. “What the program is about is serving the community, serving families and family members with special needs in this community, and having the scholarships awarded means we can serve additional participants.”

The organization is accepting applications for new riders, who have to go through an assessment process before they are accepted into the program, Pellino said. Scholarships were first offered last year after a Saunders Fund grant, and now 15 riders with disabilities, aged 5 to 40, participate in the program, Pellino said.

Many current participants have scholarships, which are offered on a sliding scale depending on the application. The full fee is $45 per weekly session over a 10-week semester.

Riders come from the borough and nearby towns, including Derby, Prospect, Waterbury, Middlebury, and Oakville. Learning to ride a horse helps improve balance, coordination, strength, self-esteem and educational skills, Pellino said.

Many participants have some form of autism, which challenges their sense of touch and space, Pellino said.

“Getting on a moving object can be very difficult for them,” Pellino said. “After a couple of rides, they really end up looking for the movement.”

Another portion of this year’s grant is going to recruitment and marketing efforts for new volunteers. The center has about 60 volunteers, but needs more with horse experience, Pellino said.

“The plan for the program is to gradually increase the number of riders that we serve,” Pellino said.

One of the center’s horses, a Morgan named Jocasta, won the world championship in the timed obstacle division at the 2011 Morgan Grand National and World Championship show in Oklahoma.

The nonprofit organization is on a 45-acre horse farm, including two outdoor arenas, pasture and trails.