Barbara Isaac – Co-Founder of HRH of NJ
Barbara Isaac made a promise to her father shortly before he died. She told him she would create a therapeutic riding program, and that would be her legacy.
Her father had always encouraged her to make something of her life and to follow her dreams.
In 1979, Isaac founded the Handicapped High Riders Club at her Riding High Farm, and now, with the planned acquisition of the farm by the HHRC Board of Directors, the continuance of the program is assured.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Isaac said she was “born with the pony gene,” although she had no exposure to horses until she was in high school.
She and a high school friend took riding lessons at Teevans Riding Academy in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. At the time, Isaac recalled, a bridle path ran all the way from Prospect Park to Coney Island.
After high school, Isaac married and she and her husband, Hanen, adopted three children, Joseph, Paul and Sue Ann. They moved to New Jersey in the mid-1950s, and eventually built a house in Colonia in Woodbridge Township.
Isaac worked as a bookkeeper for a law firm, but wanted to have a business of her own. Her young son, Paul, was interested in horses, and one day she saw a classified ad: “Partners Wanted — Horse Ranch — Trail Riding — Snack Bar.”
She answered the ad and a career was born.
Isaac admitted she knew next to nothing about horses when she started running Silver Saddle Ranch in North Branch. She persuaded the previous owner to stay on as the stable manager while she ran the business. Meanwhile, she read everything she could about horse care, nutrition and saddlery, and accompanied the vet and blacksmith on their rounds.
The property had beautiful trails and originally horses were rented for rides. After an unfortunate incident, however, in which a group that had rented horses whipped them, Isaac stopped hiring them out and instead started a riding club in which qualified members paid a fee for regular riding privileges.
The riding club grew to 300 members, who could use the facilities for birthday parties and other events. At one birthday party, a family brought in a clown to entertain who would plant one of the seeds for what would become the Handicapped High Riders Club.
The woman doing the clowning was so impressed with Isaac’s horses and the atmosphere of the farm that she asked if she could bring some developmentally disabled children she worked with to the farm to ride. Isaac agreed and was moved by the kids’ response to the horses.
About that time, Isaac and her husband realized they would have to find another farm if they were to realize their dream. It took them one and a half years of looking, until a colleague at the Princeton law firm where Isaac was working showed her an ad for a farm in Allentown. It was just what they needed — 26 stalls, an indoor ring, three paddocks and a nice Cape Cod on 12.85 acres. In August 1978 they moved to Riding High Farm, and by 1979 a board of directors had been formed for the Handicapped High Riders Club. In 1980 the club received IRS accreditation as a charitable organization.
Barbara read an article in the magazine Horseman’s Yankee Pedlar about Octavia Brown, founder of the first NJ therapeutic riding program, Somerset Hills Handicapped Riding Center. A founder of NARHA, Brown became Isaac’s mentor when she joined an instructor training class held at Brown’s farm in Bedminster and earned certification as a Therapeutic Riding Instructor.
Responding to the growing interest in therapeutic riding throughout the state, together they founded Horseback Riding for the Handicapped in 1980,, now Health and Recreation through Horses of NJ. HRH was the first such state group in the country, and it became a 501(C) (3) non-profit organization in 1981. This qualified HRH to became a member of both the NJ Equine Advisory Board and the NJ Horse Council – thereby establishing itself as the professional umbrella organization for therapeutic riding for all of NJ.
The North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (now PATH International) had been founded in 1969, and in 1975, as Isaac’s interest was being piqued, riding was just beginning to be recognized as a valuable form of therapeutic activity for people with disabilities.