Stefanie Dwyer's childhood in East Berlin before the fall of the Berlin Wall shaped her future in a unique way. After growing up in a country that had many limitations, Dwyer held on to memories of horseback riding that inspired her to bring that sense of freedom to people with physical and mental challenges.
“While I couldn't articulate it at the time, I felt a connection with those children with Down syndrome. Riding made them feel free, just as it did for me, and coming from East Germany, I've always understood how important that is,” said Stefanie.
Ten years after her first year of college and completing a master's degree in international relations at Yale in 2006, Dwyer restored her commitment to horseback riding and became a certified therapeutic riding instructor.
‘A Sense of Liberation'
It was when she began working at a New York organization that her future husband, Bricklin Dwyer suggested that she create her own organization. Flying Manes Therapeutic Riding was formally created in February 2009 and recognized as a nonprofit 501[c]3.
Flying Manes was designed “to provide therapeutic riding lessons and other equine-assisted activities and therapies to individuals faced with physical, cognitive, and emotional challenges in the New York metropolitan area.”
The decision to move was mainly fueled by interactions with Bess and Jack Patrick, twins Stefanie had been working with for almost two years before Flying Manes was created. Bess struggles with attention and processing issues, while Jack cannot walk on his own and uses an electronic speech device. Both children have gained confidence and focus from their training with Stefanie.
“The program has changed so much in all of our lives,” said Shari, the twins' mother.
On a normal day, lessons are given in groups of two to four riders. They participate in pre-mounted and post-mounted activities, such as grooming, tacking, and general horsemanship. Other therapists are also present to improve the activities.
Lessons are taught at the Riverdale Equestrian Center in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. There are spring, summer, and fall terms, each with eight classes held on Saturdays. The only fees are for the costs of horses, rental, insurance, and equipment. All students are accepted, and many expenses are covered by donations to the organization.
This year there will be around 40 riders participating in classes, and the program has worked with nearly 100 individuals.
Riding Gives Motivation in Personal Life
In addition to Flying Manes, Stefanie is seeking her doctorate and Bricklin works as an economist. Still, the Dwyers find time to run a program that demands over 70 volunteers.
They don't have much free time to themselves -- and will have less when their first child arrives in August -- but Bricklin admits that when they wake up on Saturday mornings, they look forward to every minute.
About HOPE Week
Now in its fourth year, the New York Yankees' HOPE Week recognizes individuals and organizations whose acts of goodwill provide hope and encouragement to the community. Honorees are surprised by Yankee players and staff, and attend the night's game as guests of the team.
The Corporation for National and Community Service partners with the New York Yankees to present each HOPE Week honoree with the President's Volunteer Service Award. The Yankees and CNCS hope the honorees' stories send the message that everyone can serve to make their community a better place.