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Centenary University, PATH International provide scholarships to fund training for champion equestrian with disabilities

Financial support secures additional training opportunities for Hackettstown rider to prepare for competitions through Centenary’s acclaimed therapeutic riding program.

HACKETTSTOWN, NJ, (Warren County) — Lucian Rodriguez has overcome almost insurmountable obstacles on the road to becoming an equestrian champion.

Two decades ago, the Hackettstown resident survived a near-fatal mugging in New York City that left him unable to walk or talk. Rodriguez battled through the tough times to not only regain those abilities but to become a multi-year winner at the Hampton Classic, one of the nation’s largest outdoor horse shows.

The prestigious hunter-jumper competition includes the finals of the Long Island Horse Show Series for Riders with Disabilities. Rodriguez has won the Beginning Independent class twice and now competes in the Advanced Independent class.

Achieving that high level of success takes a lot of training. One day a week, Rodriguez attends TRAC (Therapeutic Riding at Centenary), an accredited adaptive riding program at Centenary University that provides equine-assisted services to individuals with disabilities.

Through TRAC’s veterans’ programming, the University also offers the benefits of therapeutic riding to military veterans and their family members. He also trains at Freedom Horse in Long Valley, NJ, two days a week.

“Riding is very relaxing for me,” explained Rodriguez, who has aphasia—a disorder that affects his ability to communicate with and understand others—as a result of the mugging. “Mentally, it makes me feel good about myself. But I’m also very competitive.” His caregiver, Patricia Kovacic, added that TRAC Director Karen Brittle has supported Rodriguez’s goal to compete: “Lucian is a little different from the other riders because he is preparing for horse shows. Karen is fantastic with that.”

With money for daily living tight, he cobbles together funding to pay for his equestrian training. State funding for New Jersey residents with traumatic brain injuries pays for sessions at Freedom Horse, and he was also awarded a half-tuition in-house scholarship from TRAC.

When Rodriguez requested more saddle time through TRAC, Brittle stepped in to help, connecting him with Patricia Rocheny ’22, who was completing her associate degree in equine studies at Centenary. On Rodriguez’s behalf, Rocheny applied for and won a $1,000 participant grant from PATH International, a national membership organization that leads the advancement of professional equine-assisted services to support more than 53,000 special needs individuals, including nearly 6,000 veterans, through a variety of equine-assisted services.

Rocheny, who had worked with Rodriguez through TRAC, said, “It’s amazing how Lucian’s demeanor changes as soon as he’s on a horse. It brings him a tremendous amount of happiness. It’s amazing to me that he can have memory issues, but everything about riding has become second nature to him.”

While praise from others is nice, Rodriguez has a single-minded focus these days: Defending his title at this year’s Hampton Classic, slated for Aug. 28 to Sept. 4 on Long Island.

“He feels really good after the shows, regardless of how he does. But make no mistake—Lucian wants to win,” Kovacic said.

Jay Edwards

Born and raised in Northwest NJ, Jay has a degree in Communications and has had a life-long interest in local radio and various styles of music. Jay has held numerous jobs over the years such as stunt car driver, bartender, voice-over artist, traffic reporter (award winning), NY Yankee maintenance crewmember and peanut farm worker. His hobbies include mountain climbing, snowmobiling, cooking, performing stand-up comedy and he is an avid squirrel watcher. Jay has been a guest on America’s Morning Headquarters,program on The Weather Channel, and was interviewed by Sam Champion.

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