Marie Postiglione-Dupell conducts a therapy session with Aiden at Medicine Horse Farm in Morrisonville.
MORRISONVILLE — She gets the paperwork first and reads through it as a voice in her head whispers, “I can help this person.”
Then they visit the site and meet the horses. Marie Postiglione-Dupell knows that 12 months later the individual she is helping will not be the same.
“All of us together are going to make a difference,” she nearly whispered, like the voice in her head initially inspiring her to move forward.
Postiglione-Dupell owns Medicine Horse Farm, which is simultaneously located in Morrisonville and Beekmantown, depending on what one uses to pinpoint the address. Medicine Horse is a nonprofit organization and PATH International Center dedicated to serving those with physical, medical and emotional disabilities. It promotes physical wellness and emotional healing in partnership with horses.
PATH International was founded in 1969 to promote safe and effective therapeutic riding for the handicapped throughout the United States and Canada. It has nearly 800 member centers and more than 6,300 individual members worldwide who help more than 42,000 men, women and children with special needs yearly through a variety of equine-assisted activity and therapy programs.
Postiglione-Dupell was working as a pharmaceutical rep in Vermont when she learned about a PATH International site there. She grew up with horses but did not know what therapeutic riding was.
She showed up to the barn in a pricey suit and heels, and despite the strange looks she received, signed on as a volunteer.
“I just got hooked,” she said. “You start seeing all the aha moments and differences it makes in the people’s lives and the families.”
She quickly grew bored with volunteering and learned she could become an instructor.
She left the pharmaceutical industry for training in Connecticut, but after she completed she returned to working in Vermont when the pharmaceutical industry tossed more money at her.
“But I still wanted to open a small therapy program,” Postiglione-Dupell said.
She purchased her first therapy horse and eventually left her job for good, opening Medicine Horse Farm five years ago. Three years after that she became a nonprofit.
Postiglione-Dupell, a PATH International certified instructor, leads the sessions at Medicine Horse with the help of volunteers. She believes experiencing and riding horses improves the lives of individuals with disabilities who benefit from therapeutic riding, equine assisted activities, horticultural therapy and nature-based therapy at Medicine Horse Farm.
For example, the horse stimulates the rider’s pelvis and trunk in a manner that closely resembles the normal gait of a human. This can produce physical changes in the rider, including normalization of muscle tone and improvements in posture, balance, coordination and increased endurance.
Aiden Mars, 8, is diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome, a neuro-genetic disorder characterized by intellectual and developmental disability, sleep disturbance, seizures, jerky movements and frequent laughter or smiling. His family wondered if he would walk, a milestone he achieved while a participant at Medicine Horse Farm.
“It is unreal,” said Kirsten Ujida-Blair, Aiden’s community integration worker. “He is sleeping now.”
Therapeutic horseback riding also helps the communication and social and motor skills of people with autism.
“Medicine Horse has helped my son with his confidence and self esteem, and it has helped him with school and socializing and talking with peers and adults,” said Peggy LaPierre of Dannemora.
Her son Jacob is 11 and now better understands the differences in people and is much more verbal.
Postiglione-Dupell sees 24 people who range in age from 3 to adults, and would like to help more people. But issues such as weather cause scheduling conflicts, which means people miss therapy.
She is searching for grant money and any other financial support to construct an indoor arena.
Anyone interested in supporting Medicine Horse Farm or the program itself should visit www.medicinehorsefarm.org.
For now, she will continue to do the best she can with the help she has and her five horses.
“I get to see the journeys people take, and the families let me be part of their lives.”