The whinny of a horse echoes. The smell of the stables permeates the air. Isabelle Valot, 5, of Ridge wears a helmet because she just finished riding a horse and now she helps brush another of the animals.

"He loves apples and hay," Isabelle says of her favorite horse, Gryff. She rides him when she participates in HorseAbility, a program for children with special needs run at the Thomas School of Horsemanship in Melville. A volunteer leader guides the horse, and two other volunteers stand on each side of Isabelle's horse and walk alongside her.

Children who handle such issues as cerebral palsy, autism or Down syndrome can also handle a horse, or a baseball bat, or an ice hockey stick, albeit with some modified equipment and rules and some guidance from volunteers. A new baseball league called the Miracle League is launching on Sept. 11 in Brookhaven. "It gives every child an opportunity to play baseball," says Kristine Fitzpatrick, director of the league. "They build confidence, they're around other people who are like themselves, and for the parents it's so joyful." Here is a sampling of such fall sports programs.


HorseAbility Therapeutic Riding

Thomas School of Horsemanship, 250 Round Swamp Rd., Melville, 631-692-6840;

FOR AGES 3 1/2 and older

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COST $225 for assessment and four follow-up lessons

Lessons are 30-minute private or 45-minute group, depending on the child's assessed needs. "Some people are working on socialization, so they want group. Some people are in need of one-to-one," says Katie McGowan, founder and executive director. "Riding improves posture, balance and coordination." HorseAbility also runs a Peer Mentoring Program during the fall, in which special-needs kids are paired with mainstream high school volunteers for equine-centered activities such as grooming and feeding the horses. That program runs six to eight weeks and costs $120 to $160, depending on the duration.


The Miracle League of Long Island

Bald Hill Field at The Amphitheater, Brookhaven, 631-278-6385;

Opening day 10 a.m. Sept. 11; first game at 1 p.m.

DURATION Six weeks

FOR AGES 5 and older


Every Saturday, kids play one game. The rules are a little different from traditional baseball: Every player bats once each inning; all base runners are safe, and every player scores a run before the inning is over. "Buddies" - other kids in the community, usually high-school age or adult volunteers - are matched up one-to-one with players to coach them and run the bases alongside them. "It's so rewarding for the parents to see their children out on the field having fun, playing America's pastime, baseball," says director Fitzpatrick.

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Long Island Sled Hockey

Town of Oyster Bay Ice Skating Center, 1001 Stewart Ave., Bethpage, 516-509-2406;

BEGINS The first Saturday in October

FOR AGES 9 and older

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COST $150 annual registration; once a player shows commitment, he or she receives free sled and equipment

Children propel themselves by sitting in a custom-made sled and hitting the puck with specially made hockey sticks. If children need to be pushed, coaches will do that. "It allows them the opportunity to compete among their peers in a venue that wouldn't be possible otherwise. It gives them a feeling of camaraderie and a teamwork atmosphere," says Bryan Blomquist, president of the organization. "We don't measure their success in wins and losses and medals. We measure their success in smiles." Play is Saturday mornings from 8 to 9:30 and Tuesday afternoons from 4:30 to 6.


Garden City Centennial Soccer Club

Garden City, 516-775-8058,

FOR AGES: 5 to 18

COST: Free
This program is open to youths with disabilities from all communities who are unable to participate in a regular soccer activity. It provides an opportunity for children who require modified educational practices and services to develop their maximum capacity. The season is 10 to 12 weeks in the spring and in the fall. The club meets from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays starting Sept. 11 at Tullamore Park.

Top Soccer

Long Island Junior Soccer League, 701-9 Koehler Ave., Ronkonkoma, 631-648-9020;

BEGINS Early September

FOR AGES 5 and older


Multiple clubs on the Island offer teams for children with special needs. Weekly scheduled games culminate in an end-of-season competition. While none of the children use wheelchairs, some do use crutches, says Joan Czach, executive director of the Long Island Junior Soccer League. "It's just like being in a regular league program. They're treated like true athletes. Of course, there's more on-the-field participation by the coaches," Czach says. And the rules are a bit looser. "We're there for the kids to have a good time."


Garden City Athletic Association Challenger Division

Garden City Middle School, 98 Cherry Valley Ave., Garden City, 516-437-0521

FOR AGES 5 and older


The Challenger program runs a basketball league in the winter, starting in January and running for about 10 weeks. Games are every Saturday, split by age, between 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. Children learn how to dribble and shoot and play in organized games depending on their levels, says Anna Dragone, supervisor of the program. The Challenger Division also runs baseball in the fall. Other Challenger leagues exist across Long Island, for instance in Sachem, Plainview and Baldwin.

My SHINE Therapeutic Horseback Riding (Special Horses Instructing Noble Equestrians)

Sweet Hills Riding Center, Sweet Hollow Road, Huntington, 516-551-1491,

BEGINS Sept. 13

COST $20 for initial assessment; $190 for six 30-minute group lessons, $370 for 12 weeks. Private lessons are five for $200.

This equine program serves individuals with special needs - from developmental to various physical disabilities - from age 3 up. There are both group and private lessons. The group lessons are from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturdays. Each half-hour group lesson accommodates up to six individuals with two instructors. The lead instructor teaches the class from the center of the ring. Each rider has a lead walker and, if needed, one or two side walkers depending on the student.

C-Tree Therapeutic Riding Program in the Hamptons

P.O. Box 1148, Bridehampton, 631-779-2835,

FOR AGES Children and young adults

COST $40 for a half-hour private lesson

Year-round therapeutic horseback riding lessons and equine-assisted activities for children and young adults with developmental disabilities held at the Wolffer Estate Stables on Narrow Lane in Sagaponack.

Sachem Little League Challenger Division

Holbrook Country Club, 347-446-6168, (click on Challenger link)

6 to young adults


The program caters to children with developmental disabilities. Players receive a uniform and a trophy at the end of the season, and they are partnered with volunteer buddies. The spring program starts the first Sunday after Easter and continues to the last Sunday in July. The fall program starts the first Sunday after Labor Day and goes on to the end of November.

Mastic Sports Club Kyle Sports for Special Needs Program

P.O. Box 225, Mastic, 631-767-4354,

FOR AGES: 3 to 18

COST: $75

The program begins at the end of September from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays at William Floyd Middle School in Moriches. It promotes interaction with team players in an inclusion sport and social environment.

K.I.S.S. (Kids in Special Services)

Mid-Island Y Jewish Community Center, 45 Manetto Hill Rd., Plainview,

FOR AGES Preschool to high school seniors

COST Varies by program; there are member and nonmember fees

Sports programs are available, and registration is ongoing. The program serviced 250 children last year. There is an open house from 10:30 a.m. to noon Sept. 26.

Heart of Sailing Foundation

Port Jefferson, 631-828-3828,

5 and older


This organization is devoted to introducing children and adults with special needs to sailing as a recreational therapy. Its Daysail program is free at eight ports on Long Island from the spring to the early fall. Each child holds the title of "captain" and wears a special captain's hat and learns to raise the sails and man the helm. At the end of the program, participants are recognized with a certification and a large medallion on a ribbon.