BREWSTER, N.Y. - The show most definitely did go on.
Pegasus Therapeutic Riding wasn’t about to let summer slip away without reining in some much needed fun for its clients and their families…not to mention its four-legged friends.
So the Brewster-based nonprofit harnessed its powers of creativity, saddled up a herd of happy volunteers and put on its very first “drive-thru” horse show.
The Saturday, Aug. 15, event was simply a smash, said Executive Director Jeff Rumpf.
Located on Peach Lake Road just north of the North Salem border, Pegasus provides equine-assisted activities to children and adults with special needs and individuals at risk, including disadvantaged youth and veterans. And it recently received the certification necessary to serve first responders and front-line workers, something it says is vital during these extraordinarily stressful times.
This spring, Pegasus had to suspend its operations due to the coronavirus pandemic restrictions. It only was able to trot out a modified, phased-in summer program after getting the official go-ahead to reopen from Albany.
However, its annual horse show, which always draws big crowds, posed a logistical hurdle.
Pegasus was determined to figure out how to pull it off while complying with COVID-19 regulations.
“Our families and kids need us more than ever,” Rumpf said recently. “There’s no schools, no counselors; they’re stuck at home.”
That’s how the concept of a drive-thru experience was born.
Rumpf said it was the only way to have an event of that size while ensuring the safety of guests, staff and volunteers.
People arrived at designated times, had their temperatures taken and were required to wear face masks.
Because capacity was limited, the event was live-streamed and photographs were posted on the organization’s Facebook page.
Some 150 people were treated to a wonderful day of activities, arts, music, games and hands-on encounters with horses. As with shows past, special ribbons were bestowed, photo ops abounded, ice cream was scooped and popcorn popped.
New this year was a garden where participants could both sow seeds and harvest vegetables. The event also featured a petting zoo with donkeys and miniature horses, “races” through an obstacle course, pendant making and storytelling.
There were even renditions of “Walk On,” a horse-y song written specially for the event and performed by a Pegasus volunteer.
Set at 10 so-called “stations” to maintain social distancing, the show was able to provide “a very special, very personal experience for everyone,” Rumpf said, adding, “The parents were ecstatic. The kids were ecstatic.”
Naturally, the horses, being social creatures, relished the attention as well, including one big white one that patiently let itself be artistically decorated.
It brought tears to everyone’s eyes when one young man used colorful finger paint to write his name—for the first time, his mother said—on its side.
But one of the highlights of the day for many was being able to connect with a four-legged friend by giving it a gentle hug and placing an ear on its massive chest to hear a beating heart.
“It was a very powerful experience,” Rumpf said.
Noting that “anxiety levels have been off the charts,” he added that the event, like Pegasus’s regular programs, was designed to be “healing.” Connection is key.
Pegasus’s clients, especially those with special needs, crave and need structure. For them— and everybody else in the pandemic-weary world—it’s important to know that life goes on even in the face of overwhelming adversity.
Its mission has always been to be that “safe haven” where clients can do “normal” things and be treated with “respect and kindness,” he said.
Rumpf said the whole thing reminded him of–although, obviously, in a much, much more scaled-down way–the festival held in Westchester every year by Hudson River Sloop Clearwater Inc., a nonprofit that says it “sails at the forefront of the nation’s environmental challenges.” (He was its executive director from 2007 to 2013.)
Rumpf credited Betsy Medinger, who helped launch the original horse show 42 years ago, for coming up with some of the freshest and most innovative ways to make the drive-thru a big success.
“It was a new idea, but it worked out great,” Rumpf said.
For more information about Pegasus and its programs, visit www.pegasustr.org or call 845-669-8235. Its address is 310 Peach Lake Road, Brewster, NY 10509-1715.