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Partnerships: EquiCenter

EquiCenter’s Therapeutic Programs Help Patients Grow Physically and Emotionally

Paul  with HarleyThe EquiCenter feels worlds away from the busy, metropolitan city of Rochester and yet its close proximity on 178 acres in Mendon for participants, families and volunteers makes the center all the more priceless.

“I don’t know if Rochester realizes they have a gem,” said Beth Bullen, a nurse at the Kirch Center at Golisano Children’s Hospital at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Over the course of the past year, Beth’s son, Paul, has had weekly sessions at the EquiCenter with a nationally certified therapeutic riding instructor, Sara Drennen, and a horse named Harley. Eleven-year-old Paul has unique abilities, having been diagnosed with autism. Beth has been amazed with the progress Paul has made over the course of his therapy sessions. Paul’s self-esteem has been boosted dramatically, especially since he participated in the equestrian event at the Special Olympics. He hasn’t been interested in athletics, but the therapeutic horseback riding has helped Paul improve his core strength, balance and flexibility. His verbal skills, sense of responsibility and level of trust are all much stronger as well.

“The benefits for our participants have turned out to be much broader in scope than we had anticipated,” said Jonathan Friedlander, president and CEO of the EquiCenter.

The center has much to be proud of as it celebrates its fifth anniversary and co-founders Jonathan and Stacy Friedlander have high aspirations for what the future holds for nationally accredited nonprofit therapeutic equestrian center. In 2004, the couple founded the EquiCenter to provide highly beneficial therapeutic programs to children and adults with physical and emotional challenges, such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, visual impairments, autism and traumatic brain injuries.

Therapeutic riding instructors, who are nationally certified by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, work with doctors, therapists, parents and riders like Paul to develop individualized intervention plans specific to each child’s needs. The center has quickly become a resource for many other populations as well, including at-risk youth, veterans and senior citizens.

Golisano Children’s Hospital is one of the EquiCenter’s biggest allies in the center’s quest to grow and expand its community outreach. Faculty members from Golisano Children’s Hospital sit on the EquiCenters health advisory board, including Elizabeth McAnarney, M.D., Golisano Children’s Hospital’s former pediatrician-in-chief, Stephen Sulkes, M.D., director of the Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities and Richard Kreipe, M.D., associate professor of Adolescent Medicine at Golisano Children’s Hospital.

“Equestrian therapy is a wonderful and unique service, which enhances the well-being of children in our community,” said McAnarney, “Thanks to Golisano Children’s Hospital’s working relationship with the EquiCenter, we’re continuing to find new ways children can benefit from this type of therapy.”    

The partners have several projects in the works, including Strong Strides. The program will provide equine-assisted therapy to children recovering from cancer and their families, to help them cope with the emotional tolls the disease can take. In addition to helping families, Strong Strides, which is funded by the Pediatric Links with the Community Grant Program and the Community Pediatrics Advisory Council, will also provide an opportunity to gather data on the benefits of equestrian therapy. The data will help provide evidence to support the benefits patients and families already see anecdotally.

Paul’s mom Beth, a cancer survivor, hopes to volunteer in the Strong Strides program to share her story with families and provide them with emotional support.

“When I look at this program and what it does, I feel so blessed that it’s here and I want to help,” said Beth. “It makes you want to pay it forward.”

For more information on the EquiCenter, visit To see a video about the partnership between Golisano Children’s Hospital and the EquiCenter, visit