Tompkins Weekly

Stablework to host training for rebirth of Special Olympics’ Equestrian program

Susan Schwartz, Paula J. Wedemeyer, Lisa Krizman, Hannah Roman, Andrew Hay, Bob Krizman, Emma Dodici, Amy Cusano, Jessica Tunison and Kinsley Henry pose with Buddy at Stablework in Newfield. Stablework will host the Tompkins Cortland Special Olympics equestrian training beginning in June.
Susan Schwartz, Paula J. Wedemeyer, Lisa Krizman, Hannah Roman, Andrew Hay, Bob Krizman, Emma Dodici, Amy Cusano, Jessica Tunison and Kinsley Henry pose with Buddy at Stablework in Newfield. Stablework will host the Tompkins Cortland Special Olympics equestrian training beginning in June. Photo by Geoff Preston.

Last Saturday was a warm spring day, with birds chirping and the wilderness of Piper Road in Newfield coming to life after a long winter.

Geoff Preston portrait photo
Newfield Notes by Geoff Preston

Something else came back to life Saturday: the Tompkins-Cortland Special Olympics Equestrian program. In front of 15-20 people at Stablework in Newfield, it was announced that the local Special Olympics chapter will revive the program which, according to Area Coordinator Karli Buday, hasn’t been offered in seven or eight years.

Stablework will be the training site and provide the horses that will train four athletes, with two set to compete in the New York State Fall Games held from Oct. 20 to Oct. 22 in Glens Falls. Training is set to begin in June.

“We have been able to build a really good relationship with Stablework and a couple of the coaches who are here to kick-start the program,” Buday said. “Anyone who is involved with the Special Olympics knows that you really can’t have a Special Olympics program without coaches, a venue and dedicated volunteers behind the scenes to make the program work.”

She said that the program had fallen off because they lost their stable and the coaches involved in the program moved out of town. Now, with Stablework and two coaches from Ithaca Equestrian Center, Paula J. Wedemeyer and Hannah Roman, the athletes who are interested in competing have the coaches and horses to do so.

“We always had athletes who were interested in riding horses. Right now, we have five that are here, four that are riding and a bunch more that are super interested,” Buday said. “This is the season to kick-start our program. We have two athletes who are competing and two athletes practicing riding but not competing – and hopefully next season we’ll be able to grow the program.”

The five athletes in attendance Saturday were Andrew Hay, Emma Dodici, Jessica Tunison, Kinsley Henry and Amy Cusano. Dodici and Henry will compete in the fall games, while Hay and Cusano will be practicing and will compete in their other sport, golf, in the fall games.

Without Stablework, it wouldn’t be possible for the athletes to compete. According to its website, the stable is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) that “specializes in job readiness training for individuals who need extra support or otherwise have limited access to vocational training in horse care and our other activities.”

Stablework currently has three horses in its barn: Guvnor, Lad and Buddy. It also has three goats: Winston, Skedaddle and Resi.

Stablework President, Director and Founder Lisa Krizman was in attendance and commented on how the relationship between her stable and the Special Olympics makes sense for both parties.

“We’re providing a new service that we’re proud of, where we’re providing vocational training to support athletics. We’re going to be teaching the athletes how to do grooming, preparation and tacking of the horses and other skills that go with that,” she said. “That’s our mission at Stablework, and we felt it was a perfect match for working with Special Olympics because we’re really proud of what our athletes are going to do and we know they’re going to go on to other positions after this.”

Following the introduction, Krizman led a tour of the grounds which showed the barn, the house where Lisa and her husband, Bob, live and the training grounds. Lisa said part of the appeal is that parents have good sight lines from the wraparound front porch of the house to the training ground, and she and her husband will always be on site as well as the coaches during training sessions.

Buday said equestrianism can be a challenging sport for Special Olympics chapters to support. In addition to being expensive, not every community has a stable that has horses that are good for learning the sport and is willing to help out.

“The Special Olympics is a program where our athletes don’t have to pay for anything. It’s funded through a variety of different resources like donations, grants. With equestrianism, it’s a little tricky and it really does take all of the stars to align for this to happen,” she said. “It’s not like we can be in a swimming pool or a track or a bowling alley. There’s a bunch of those around Tompkins and Cortland.”

“For this to work we need horses. We need a stable, and we need coaches,” she continued. “Equestrian is probably one of the most expensive programs, but with the hard work of these individuals and our coaches we’ve been able to make it work and hopefully grow the program. But it is something that Special Olympics New York takes pride in making sure our athletes can compete and practice in game-life skills at no cost.”

Wedemeyer, who has been involved in horses from the time she was a child, currently owns Ithaca Equestrian Center. She said that this is the chance of a lifetime for these athletes to learn valuable skills and make a lasting connection with a large, wild and beautiful animal.

“This is a great opportunity. The participants have a chance to bond with an animal that I think is the most incredible animal on earth,” she said. “They’re going to work hard. They’re going to find some things that are frustrating, but they’re going to have moments where they’ve worked for two or three weeks and you just can’t get something done, and all of a sudden, you learn how to do it. You have this beautiful relationship with the animal, a chance to challenge yourself and learn a lot. We really stress safety and having a relationship with the animal.”

Roman competed in interscholastic polo through Cornell University while she was in high school. She attended Cornell and played for the varsity polo team before competing for the equestrian team. She also earned a degree in animal science and has been working for Ithaca Equestrian Center for two and a half years.

“Horses are so much fun to work with,” she said. “You can work at it and work at it and then accomplish something, and it’s so rewarding and builds so much confidence. They’re just lovely, loving animals.”

Wedemeyer pointed out that family and caregiver support can really enhance the experience for the athletes.

She said not only is there a chance for the athletes to bond with the horses, but a chance for the families to bond over the sport.

“You’ve got something you can talk about over dinner. If they forget something they were coached on during the lesson, you can serve a reminder,” she said. “They’re going to be doing exercises at home, you can help them with their technique. So, make it a family project and make it a big thing.”

Buday said the Special Olympics is still looking for volunteers for the State Summer Games, which will be held June 9 and 10 at Ithaca College. Those interested in volunteering can find more information at Opportunities For Everyone – Special Olympics New York (

Newfield Notes appears every week in Tompkins Weekly. Send story ideas to or

In brief:

Woodlawn Cemetery events for Memorial Day

Memorial Day weekend will feature two events at Woodlawn Cemetery, located at 328 Main St. Friday, May 26 at 3:30 p.m. there will be a flag setting to honor veterans at the cemetery. Maps and flags will be provided.

Following Woodlawn, the group will move to Trumbulls Corners Cemetery to do the same thing.

On Monday May 29, there will be a memorial service at Woodlawn to honor those who have served. The service will include a benediction from Rev. Dale Ford, laying of flowers and the playing of “Taps.” 

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