Meet Our Staff – Melissa Jarzynski, MSPT, HPCS
Melissa is Endeavor’s Clinical Programs Manager and Physical Therapist, and one of the happiest people you’ll ever meet. She’s also the proud mom of Smokey, one of our newest additions to the herd. Melissa and Smokey previously operated their own hippotherapy business, Happy Trotters, before joining Endeavor in 2016. They are an incredible addition to our team, and we thought everyone would like to get to know this dynamic duo a little better (for clarity, Melissa provided all the info, and Smokey munched his hay in approval).
Melissa grew up in Buffalo, NY where she also did her undergrad in nursing at Villa Maria College. After graduation, she worked in the athletic department for the University of Buffalo, where she got to work with many athletes and fell in love with sports medicine. She decided to pursue physical therapy instead of nursing, and went on to do her Masters at the College of Staten Island.
It was during grad school that Melissa had her first opportunity to work with hippotherapy while interning at Special Strides in New Jersey. Of her first experience, she says, “My first day there was totally exhausting, both mentally and physically, but after seeing the children’s reactions to their sessions, I was hooked.”
Melissa had been on trail rides and had some “informal riding lessons” as a child, but did not grow up with a horse background. She spent seven years working at Special Strides and “immersed [her]self in horse culture” to learn more. Now she can’t get enough!
Melissa has been working in the field of hippotherapy for fifteen years and says she continues to be astonished by the positive impact of horses. She recalls that the most influential moment of her career happened while working with a three-year-old girl who had great difficulty sitting up on her own. Melissa says, “I remember how difficult it was to manage assisting her, while keeping up with the horse and singing (she loved when we sang). About halfway through the session, she started requiring less and less assistance. Her face softened, and she became very animated. The child I returned to her mother was not at all the one I had initially met. To see how powerful that session was for her is a feeling I can still remember.”
Melissa credits two special equines in particular for helping to teach her along the way: a quirky Appaloosa named Marshall and, of course, Smokey. Melissa has had Smokey for six years, and he is her first and only horse. She says, “Smokey has totally changed my life as he made me a horse owner, which I never thought would happen! He and I have learned a lot together over the last six years. Smokey's love for the children is the reason he works; he really wants to be part of the team. Smokey opened my eyes to new experiences that I would have never had if he weren’t in my life. I owe that boy so much!”
Thank you to Melissa and Smokey for joining us at Endeavor, we’re so happy to have you!