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A horse farm in New York City? This one provides therapy to veterans and people with disabilities

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Horseback riding might not seem like a typical New York City activity, but one program has several horse farms throughout the city's bustling boroughs. GallopNYC provides lessons to veterans and people with disabilities – horseback riding is their therapy.

Olivia Diver visits the GallopNYC location in the Howard Beach neighborhood in Queens. Right off busy Linden Boulevard, tucked behind shrubbery, is the horse farm. Many of the horses there are rescued.

"They become your friend, like you can talk to them, you can pet them, you can hug them. It's like, they're not just an animal you ride, they're like your companion, your buddy," the 16-year-old told CBS News about the horses there.

16-year-old Olivia Diver says riding horses at GallopNYC has helped her come out of her shell and feel accomplished. CBS News

Diver has only been riding horses for a few months, but says she's already felt the benefits. "It helped me come out of my comfort zone and be less shy and less in my shell," she said. "It helped me come out of my shell and my shadow. And helped me feel safe and calm and happy." She said trying something new showed her she can accomplish other things as well. 

James Wilson, executive director at GallopNYC, says there are many ways horses can be therapeutic. 

"The horse sees the world in the way somebody with PTS (post-traumatic stress) might see the world, in a really guarded, sort of anxious way," he told CBS News. "So, somebody with PTS and a horse can sort of partner together and see the world in the same way and kind of take care of each other. Time with a horse for a veteran, for example, or somebody who suffered trauma — that time with a horse can be very therapeutic."

Horses can also help with physical disabilities. "My favorite story is this teenager, who had so little core strength that his mother had to be in the bathtub with him," Wilson said. "And after two years or 18 months of therapeutic riding, he had enough core strength that he could be in the shower by himself. Which is an incredible amount of agency that this young man was able to get, just because he was riding a horse. And to me, that's incredible and that's what we're here for."

Wilson said riding horses has many therapeutic benefits – from physical to mental and emotional.  CBS News

People in wheelchairs can also benefit from riding a horse, Wilson said. "The motion, the movement of the horse will loosen up muscles that might be really tight," he said. "And the movement helps stimulate other body parts, other muscles that you might not use."

GallopNYC has about 1,000 people on its waitlist for lessons, but prioritizes people with disabilities and veterans. "We believe that everybody benefits from time on a horse, so our answer is, 'You want to ride a horse? Come on, let's go,'" Wilson said. 

Lessons are $55, but the nonprofit fundraises to help cover or lower the cost for customers who may need support.

Wilson is from Texas and when he moved to New York, he missed horses. So, he began working at GallopNYC. He said many of the volunteers are "horse people" who want to continue that passion, even though they live in a city. And they convert others into horse people — something that can end up changing their lives.

"Almost every year we have a rider who is classified as nonverbal, who says their first word. But it's incredible when this happens because a kid, who everybody said, 'Don't worry, they're nonverbal,' they just haven't spoken yet. And very often their first word is trot on. Because a trot is a little bit faster and they're like, 'Let's go, I want to trot.'"

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