Peter Rizzo recently came to GAIT Therapeutic Riding Center to, as Martha Dubensky likes to say, “take the reins” as executive director, a title she has long held. She shifts administrative responsibilities to him, while she becomes president of the GAIT TRC Board of Directors. She expressed confidence in Rizzo as the right person for the job as someone who grew up with horses and continued to live and work with them while also having substantial administrative experience. He answered a few questions for the Pike County Courier:
What is your first recollection of an encounter with a horse?
My first encounter with a horse was when I was two weeks old and my mother brought me to a barn full of horses that she and my father owned as part of a horseback riding and boarding stable in Long Island, NY. My first recollection of an encounter with a horse was actually with a brown pony named Suzie that would be the first of many ponies and horses of which I have many fond memories.
What place did horses have in your life growing up?
Because I was fortunate enough to have been born to two people who owned a horses business, horses have been a central feature of my life - for my entire life! I learned through experience that horses require expert care and welfare seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. In every type of weather or climate and in every season of the year, horses require human attention and affection. I learned that owning and interacting with horses required a lot of personal responsibility that was ultimately converted into the joy of special relationships you can have being around horses.
Can you describe a pivotal or poignant incident with a horse?
One of my most poignant incidences with a horse was when one of my longest-owned horses, by the name of Bachelor, a big chestnut gelding, died in my arms in a stall in Florida. He was in his late twenties and my veterinarian informed me that he died of old age. Bachelor had a long life playing polo with me in many parts of the county. He was my best and most beloved horse I have ever had the privilege of knowing.
What place have they had in your career?
Horses have been central in my career on several levels. As a professional polo player, I trained horses and competed with many horses, as well as providing riding lessons to people who had a desire to play the sport and to own a horse. Later, I managed polo clubs and polo centers that led to a position of executive director, then CEO of the United States Polo Association. Horse care and welfare has always been central to whatever I have done and will continue to be important in the future with GAIT TRC and their wonderful herd of horses.
What work has been prevalent in your career?
Of my many career goals and aspirations, I have endeavored to keep most central and most prevalent the overall care and welfare of horses, no matter how the horses are utilized. My experience includes writing and editing many articles for publication about horses and how best to care for them from birth to retirement.
How did you come to GAIT?
I had read that GAIT was looking for an executive director that was part of a transition process for executive director and GAIT founder Martha Dubensky. After visiting GAIT and meeting Martha and her staff, horses, board members and advisory council members, and most importantly a number of GAIT program participants and their families, it seemed a good fit for me based on my past experiences with equine nonprofits. It was important for me and the community to know that Martha would continue to guide and lead GAIT as president of its board of directors.
What ideas and plans do you have for GAIT?
After about a month on-the-job and listening to most of the various stakeholders, I have been assembling a proposed business plan that will outline a number of goals and objectives that include: attracting more participants who would benefit from GAIT’s services and programs; ensuring future funding for the current infrastructure and business expenses; and sustaining business operations for the long-term. As a veteran, I intend to lead an effort with community leaders to make GAIT a resource for positive experiences for veterans that include a relationship with people and horses.
What is your vision for GAIT?
My vision for GAIT is to support the vision established by Martha and expressed in the GAIT mission statement: “To improve the quality of life of children and adults with special needs through equine activities and therapies, resulting in a more independent life in society.”
In addition, a collective vision for GAIT is to be locally and nationally recognized by the equine-assisted services (EAS) industry for following “PATH International” guidelines and standards as a therapeutic horsemanship program that offers educational, mentoring, and certification opportunities for other professionals in this field.