WestConn students devote day of service to Pegasus Therapeutic Riding Center

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Photo by Sarah Gayden

Seventy-five college athletes from Western Connecticut State University descended on Pegasus Therapeutic Riding Center Friday, ready to work. The students, members of the college’s women’s softball, cheerleading, field hockey and lacrosse teams, were participating in a day of service in which they helped freshen up the equine center’s 20-acre property overlooking Peach Lake.

“We thought Pegasus should be a safe haven and a beautiful place, with gardens and nature, and beautiful fences and beautiful horses,” said Jeff Rumpf, Pegasus’ executive director. “We had started this thing called ‘Refresh the Farm.’ About five people came from WestConn and we had a great day.” Rumpf said that the volunteer day’s initial success inspired him to up the ante. “I challenged WestConn to get 100 people out here,” he said. “They decided to take it on. This year they brought up four teams. These women are amazing.”

Photo by Sarah Gayden

By 9:30 a.m., the students were fanned out across the farm. Two groups dedicated their time to renovating the gardens while the other two got started on the “Huck Finn project,” which involved painting the seemingly endless equine fences that line the property.

WestConn students paint one of the many fences at Pegasus Therapeutic Riding Center. Photo by Sarah Gayden

“If you don’t paint the fences, they’ll fall apart very quickly. If you do paint the fences, they’ll last 20 years longer,” Rumpf explained.

Bob Ingersole, who has been volunteering at Pegasus every week for the past 15 months, leads the farm’s fence painting initiative.

Photo by Sarah Gayden

“It’s a great group of people here with great vision and dedication to furthering the mission,” Ingersole said. Ingersole was drawn to Pegasus because of the programs it offers, particularly its Equus Effect program for military veterans. Ingersole and his wife, Dina, who also volunteers at Pegasus, lost a close friend who served in the military.

Buttercup supervises the progress on her paddock. Photo by Sarah Gayden

The Equus Effect is a 5-week, 5-session horsemanship program devoted to helping veterans rebuild healthy relationships. Ingersole said he has seen people who have gone through Pegasus emerge healthy enough to be able to avoid being dependent on prescription drugs to get through the day.

“The program is so worthwhile,” Ingersole said, noting that Pegasus is looking to expand its offerings to serve more people who could benefit from equine therapy. “After COVID, it’s so necessary,” he added.

Throughout the day as the students worked they were given the opportunity to take short breaks to visit with some of the Pegasus horses. Staff member Phillip Alves is an equine caregiver at Pegasus and a former student of the farm’s programming. Alves led Tyler, a 27-year-old horse, for a meet-and-greet, teaching the students how to approach the horse and which parts of the animal were okay to touch. The students asked questions about the horses, everything from how they eat to what they weigh and how they like to be petted.

Pegasus, which provides equine-assisted activities and therapies to military veterans and first responders as well as people with special needs and individuals at risk, relies heavily on volunteers to fulfill its mission. Rumpf hopes that the more people learn about the mission - to enhance the lives of individuals who have disabilities and challenges through equine-assisted activities and education - and the work of Pegasus, more will find ways to get involved. After all, the fences won’t paint themselves.

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