As a woman living with multiple sclerosis (MS) for more than 25 years, Rachel Wichansky of Freehold never had “riding a horse” on her to-do list—that is, until she signed up for a new CentraState program, CentraStrides for MS.
“It was something new to challenge my body,” says Rachel. “And I’m not giving in to this illness. I refuse to.”
Offered by CentraState’s, CentraStrides for MS is an eight-week wellness program designed to enhance an individual’s sense of physical and emotional well-being. It represents a unique collaboration among physical therapists, occupational therapists, equine specialists, and numerous highly trained therapy horses.
“It’s one of the most amazing programs that we’ve put together,” says Ruth Memoli, MS wellness coordinator at CentraState. “Our goal is to ensure that people are not defined by this disease; this program holds true to that.”
The partnership with, a nonprofit, multidisciplinary therapy clinic and adaptive riding center providing equine-assisted activities and therapy in Monroe, was made possible through a grant received from Kessler Foundation in 2019. Each week of the program, participants connect with the horses through individually tailored mounted and groundwork activities created by experts on staff at Special Strides.
Susie Rehr, PT, HPCS, co-executive director of Special Strides, explains that participants receive therapy using equine movements to create change in their nervous systems, which in turn can improve posture, balance, movement, spatial awareness, and eye usage, functions that can be impaired by MS.
The benefits aren’t just physical; they are felt in the heart. Participants make connections with the horses, and these bonds foster a sense of self-esteem. The therapy can dramatically change participants’ quality of life, according to Jane Burrows, PT, DPT, HPCS, ESMHL, a therapist at Special Strides.
For Rachel, leading the horse is an activity that is especially gratifying, since she typically uses a fourwheeled walker.
“I am walking, just me and this animal, and it’s very freeing to see myself in that light because it’s not how I think of myself anymore,” she explains.
“They’re learning how to lead this 1000-pound animal,” adds Jane. “That really develops self-confidence. The smiles are very telling.”
Rachel has a newfound love for these therapy horses, and hopes to continue her therapy at Special Strides on her own time.
“This program has taught me things about myself that I was not expecting to learn,” she says. “I am thankful for having had the chance to do this.”
CentraStrides for MS will continue throughout 2020, working with 30 participants. There’s hope to expand the program in the future, reaching more people struggling with MS.
“It’s so powerful; it’s life-changing,” says Jane.
Learn more about The Linda E. Cardinale MD Center at CentraState at 732-294-2505 or