G.A.L.C. Youth Taking Major Strides with Therapeutic Horse Riding Program

Lauren Neal poses with Double or Nothing, a horse at Skywalker Stables.

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Among the programs available for youth at Gustavus Adolphus Family Services, the Therapeutic Horseback Riding Program has one student in particular achieving success in and out of the classroom. 17-year-old Lauren Neal, a junior at Gustavus Adolphus Learning Center, has begun to compete in the Interscholastic Equestrian Association’s high school riding competitions.

Neal, a Niagara County native, began participating in the Therapeutic Horseback Riding Program at G.A. Family Services shortly after moving to Jamestown in April 2016. Since then, she has placed in almost every horse riding class she has competed in.

“Lauren has a lot of natural talent. She grew up around horses when she was younger and has really excelled as a student and a person since joining our riding program,” said Misty Pennington, Director of Clinical Services at G.A. Family Services. “Of course this program and Lauren’s training would not have been possible without funding through Niagara County,” said Pennington.

Neal must meet specific criteria to participate in IEA competitions like take group riding lessons with her IEA teammates. The students practice locally at Skywalker Stables, owned by Tracy Erickson, and they are coached by Jillian Gazdak. The IEA was established in 2002 to introduce students in private and public middle and secondary schools to equestrian sports. The organization has over 12,500 members in 42 states across the United States.

“This program has been a very strong motivator for Lauren to complete her placement here at G.A. Family Services. We’re very grateful for the opportunity afforded to her by Skywalker Stables. It is a tremendous facility and program,” said Pennington. Neal recently participated in a competition at Alfred State College. Her success in the IEA competitions could lead to scholarships on college riding teams post-graduation.

“I really love animals but especially horses,” said Lauren Neal. “I think what I like most about riding is that it keeps me out of trouble and has helped me focus on my future. I am starting to look at colleges now,” said Neal. Aside from competing, she has also been able to travel, improve her self-esteem, make new friends and develop positive peer influences.

For more information on the services provided by G.A. Family Services, please call 716-665-2116 or visit G.A. on the web at www.gafamilyservices.org.

G.A. Family Services is a part of Lutheran, a Christian organization with a comprehensive continuum of community, residential, and home based supportive services that help people of all ages gain or retain independence.