Topfield Center Rides Again

Topfield Center

Ailee Debberman gets a nuzzle from Duke, one of the therapy horses at the Topfield Center in Philipstown, which reopened on Saturday (April 23) after being closed for two years because of the pandemic. (Photos by Leonard Sparks)

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Equestrian center ends pandemic shutdown

Carter Reeves’ wait finally ended. 

Ever since a friend told Reeves that the Topfield Center in Philipstown offered horsemanship lessons for children, the Beacon resident kept checking for a reopening date for the center, which had closed when the pandemic shutdown began in March 2020. 

That day arrived Saturday (April 23), when her 6-year-old son, Flint, became one of the first children to mount a horse at Topfield in more than two years. 

“It’s a beautiful space,” said Reeves, as she and other parents watched children mount and dismount during rides around the indoor arena. “The views are amazing and everyone seems really nice.” 

Flint Reeves of Beacon is helped onto a horse at the Topfield Center in Philipstown.

Flint Reeves of Beacon is helped onto a horse at the Topfield Center in Philipstown.

That seemed to be the consensus on Saturday, when adults and children walked Topfield’s grounds, stroked the ears of horses and rode ponies during an open house marking a return to programs for the equestrian center’s core clientele: people with physical, psychological and developmental disabilities. 

The center reopens with a new director, Sarah Uzelac, who lives in Beacon, and a newly paved access road that was part of a $5 million upgrade that included a parking lot at the Big Woods trailhead in Fahnestock State Park. 

The turnout “exceeded my expectations,” said Uzelac. “I knew people would be excited to be here, but the level of excitement, the level of people who not just want to get their kids involved but also volunteer, that is surprising.” 

Wendy Suessenbach of Cold Spring enjoys a moment with Onyx, a horse at the Topfield Center.

Wendy Suessenbach of Cold Spring enjoys a moment with Onyx, a horse at the Topfield Center.

The center will begin with Tuesday afternoon sessions on ground work: lessons on topics such as grooming, developing a relationship, leading a horse and learning about its behavior. Thursdays will be dedicated to therapeutic riding and the rest of the week to private and group lessons. 

In addition to bringing back clients and welcoming new ones, Topfield would like to add programs that use its horses for occupational, physical and speech therapy, and to support people with mental illnesses, said Uzelac. 

“How much we can offer is based on how staffed we can be and how many volunteers we have,” she said. 

One of those volunteers is Ellen Egerter of Cold Spring, a certified “side walker” who strides alongside horses that have new riders. Because Egerter now uses a cane, she plans to return to help with fundraising or other needs. “I just love animals and horses, and helping charities and the emotionally and physically disabled,” she said. 

Saturday’s opening drew many first-time visitors. Rosanne Visco, a retired U.S. Air Force major from Fishkill, volunteers at Hope Rising Farm in Millerton and was curious about the Topfield veterans’ program, which is not yet restarting. Joy Debberman of New Paltz brought her son, Brayden, and daughter, Ailee, who spent time being nuzzled by Duke, a thoroughbred. 

Kent Chadwick of Shrub Oak and his daughter, Wendy Suessenbach, and granddaughter, Carly, who live in Cold Spring, took turns stroking Onyx, a Tennessee walking horse. Suessenbach found Topfield when she began looking for therapeutic horse programs after her father watched a TV show about the use of horses to help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

“We’ve been introduced to a couple of horses that are absolutely gorgeous,” said Suessenbach.

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