Who We Are
Because I’m the mother of a person with special needs, I can understand what it means when a mom or a dad is watching us put their kid on a horse. I can see their anxiety and I have to reassure them that everything is going to be okay. I get it. ”
SERT Program Director
SERT started in Chatsworth, California in 1987. In July of 2008 the program moved to the Classic Equestrian Center in Moorpark, California. It is located on 24 acres beside the rolling hills off Tierra Rejada Road.
From its beginning in 1987, SERT has been about special people: special parents who wanted to improve the quality of life for children with special needs through the therapeutic power of horses. Connie Gilly and her daughter Vickie have been a part of SERT since 1988.
Today, Connie oversees PATH-certified instructors, a group of dedicated volunteers and a herd of horses trained to help special needs riders. It’s a way of life for Connie – a mission of love. As she puts it, “I had to get here somehow.”
Connie Gilly has been Program Director of SERT since 2000. We caught up with her between sessions to find out how she got involved in SERT.
Have you always been a horse person, Connie?
“ I grew up in the San Fernando Valley when there were horses all around. We couldn’t afford one but my father worked as a foreman for a gentleman who had fields that my father plowed with three horses across. So I would wait for my dad to walk down the street every day with this big horse and wait to get a ride on his back.”
How old were you?
“That was when I was five years old. That was my introduction to horses. A horse was on my Christmas list every year.”
But it was a while before you got your own horse?
“At age 35, when I was raising my own daughter, Vickie, we got our horse. And that horse made a difference in Vickie’s life.”
How did owning that horse finally come to pass?
“I was 25 when Vickie was born, and we knew she had Down Syndrome right away.Vickie went to an all-inclusion summer school with various activities. Friday was horseback riding. And all I would hear from Vickie when she came home was the name of the horse she rode: ‘Mocha! Mocha! Mocha!’
"Well we went down to the stable and we bought that horse. So when I was 35, my family had its own horse! That horse was really something for Vickie. I could see her confidence and self-esteem grow.”
So you had that very personal introduction to what horsemanship could do for someone.
“But I didn’t know there were people actually practicing more formal equestrian therapy. That came about when Vickie was 17. She would attend a dance that I would drive her to in North Hollywood, and I met a group of parents who said, ‘We’ve started a therapeutic riding program. Would you be interested?’ I said ‘Boy, yes I would!’ Vickie and I joined SERT in 1988. I think I was meant to do this. I had to get here somehow."
And now, with you as Program Director, and Vickie helping out, it’s such an integral part of your life.
“The thing is that because I’m also a parent, the mother of a person with special needs, I can understand what it means when a mom or a dad is watching us put their kid on a horse. I can see their anxiety, I can see their anxiousness. And I have to convey to them that everything’s going to be okay. I get it. I know when a mom wants to run in that arena.”
The fact that you’re a parent obviously plays a big part in every decision you make about SERT.
“It absolutely does. I know how important it is to make things completely individualized and make each lesson one-to-one. Even though we may have other riders up at the same time, every rider has his or her own group of people that help. And that’s the way it will always be here.”