Pediatric Patients from Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital Enjoy a Respite through the Power of Ponies

September 9, 2019

In what has become an annual highlight of summer, pediatric patients at the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital recently participated in a therapeutic horseback riding program in Mahwah. The program is the result of a unique partnership between the Hackensack University Medical Center Foundation and Pony Power Therapies. Pictured is six-year-old Violet Spiliotes of Cliffside Park.

Young patients receiving care for serious and chronic illnesses at Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital had the opportunity to participate in a little “horseplay” in August through an annual program funded by the Susan Zabransky Hughes Memorial Run, which has been a key fundraising event for the Hackensack Meridian Health Hackensack University Medical Center Foundation since its inception in 2001.  It is through the partnership between Hackensack University Medical Center Foundation and Pony Power Therapies — a non-profit organization in Mahwah, New Jersey that patients are provided this opportunity for therapeutic riding and other horse-assisted activities to special needs and at-risk individuals.

Over each four-day session, children and their siblings enjoyed yoga; participated in fitness activities; learned about nature and farming; and — much to their delight — learned how to groom, interact with and ride horses.

“I can tell she listens to my words. She’s my best and only horsey friend,” said six-year-old Violet Spiliotes of Cliffside Park, New Jersey of the horse named Missy. Violet had surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy for a rare kidney cancer that was diagnosed in December 2018.

“Even though she’s now in remission, we’re still going to appointments all the time,” added her mother, Jaime. “She thinks this is just fabulous. She’s a unicorn lover, so this is as close as we can get to that.”

The children benefit in myriad ways from their experience at Pony Power.

“Working with horses combines physical, occupational, speech and recreational therapies. It helps with core strengthening, balance, language development and social skills,” explained Dana Spett, executive director of Pony Power Therapies, which is nestled on more than 13 acres in the foothills of the Ramapo Mountains. “Using horses to help humans is incredible. These horses give kids what they need in the moment.”

“This is a way for us to help children get the therapies they need in a healing and novel environment that isn’t a hospital setting,” added Judy Aschner, M.D., clinical director of the Children’s Care Transformation Service, Hackensack Meridian Health and physician-in-chief of Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital. “This year, 20 of our pediatric patients and their siblings were able to participate in this unique program and we are grateful to Pony Power Therapies and the Hackensack University Medical Center Foundation for providing this opportunity.”

The program is funded through the Hackensack University Medical Center Foundation, with a portion of the proceeds from the 2019 Susan Zabransky Hughes Memorial 5K Run/Walk, which is held in April.  The 9th annual Susan Zabransky Hughes Memorial 5K Run/Walk will be held on April 25, 2020.