Cook Township center’s new enclosure allows year-round equine therapy

No This is Not "April Fool's"

Catherine Markosky’s stable of nine therapy horses have important work to do.

On any given day, they might help a child with special needs improve his motor or communication skills — or they could serve as a calming influence on a youth with behavioral problems.

Thanks to a new round pen that is under roof, they’re now able to assist clients at Markosky’s Ligonier Therapeutic Center year-round, no matter the weather.

“It’s a one-of-a-kind design,” Markosky said of the pen. “We were losing a lot of (therapy) sessions because of the weather. We can now have sessions in the rain, wind or snow.”

Markosky officially unveiled the new pen Friday during an open house at the Cook Township center attended by officials of the Greater Latrobe-Laurel Valley Regional and Ligonier Valley chambers of commerce. The center opened in August 2016.

Donations from the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation and The 33 Foundation covered about half of the $80,000 cost for the new 60-foot-wide enclosure, where clients can interact with or ride the horses. A private donor and fundraising covered the rest.

Markosky’s husband, Mike, took charge of the construction — including an aluminum frame, a poplar side wall and a tent-like roof of ballistic material that can withstand the forces of wind and the weight of snow.

“Not long after we had it up, we had winds of up to 65 mph for three days,” he noted.

Catherine Markosky was inspired to explore the hippotherapy services her facility provides to others by her son, Mason, now 18. He experienced a traumatic, premature birth with complications including a brain injury. He also has Costello syndrome, a rare genetic disorder typified by short stature and developmental delays.

“My son knows how to walk because of riding on the back of a horse,” she said.

In hippotherapy, she explained, a physically challenged person who is led on a horse will experience pelvic movements similar to those used in walking.

Horseback therapy, she said, also can “bring out the speech and communication” in children who may feel intimidated in other settings.

She recalled how a young boy with autism successfully completed an