Situated on the border of Mercer and Monmouth counties, Riding High Farm in Allentown, NJ gives emotionally, physically and cognitively challenged individuals the opportunity to improve motor skills and social interaction through horseback riding. For Robyn Struz, Riding High Farm gave her a chance to teach what she loves and make a difference while she’s doing it.
A third generation equestrian rider, Robyn put her passion to work as a therapeutic horseback riding instructor, which she began in March 2004 at Riding High Farm. A little over a year later in June 2005, Robyn stepped up and became the Farm’s Program Director. Soon Robyn learned about Special Olympics New Jersey’s equestrian competitions and, in August 2006, became an equestrian coach for SONJ. Since 2006, Robyn has helped her riders develop the confidence and ambition needed to compete.
This year, Robyn and seven of her athletes represented Riding High Farm at the 2015 Fall Games at The Horse Park of New Jersey. Regardless of whether her riders take first place, Robyn always looks forward to the sense of accomplishment each athlete has at the end of a competition.
“The athletes’ faces light up at the end of the event no matter what place they take,” she shared. Robyn has taught her riders to be proud of their performance to achieve even the smallest of goals. She focuses on each rider’s ability, rather than his or her disability, to create an atmosphere where her athletes are not only able to grow as competitors, but as individuals with many accomplishments to be proud of. And although Robyn stresses the importance of growth and tries to stay focused at practice, she also knows how important it is to have fun. After sessions, Robyn and her riders often enjoy pizza to celebrate their hard work and unwind after practice.
While most people think equestrian is an individual sport, Robyn knows equestrian takes teamwork to be successful. Riders not only forge a bond with their horses over time, but develop trust and appreciation for other riders, their horses and their coaches. Because of this, the equestrian community remains a tight-knit and encouraging group of riders, coaches and supporters.
Robyn hopes to improve her program by raising awareness for equestrian, connecting more athletes to the sport and publicizing events and competitions to garner greater community participation. She hopes to emphasize the many benefits of getting involved in equestrian and all Special Olympics competitions. Robyn demonstrates she is more than just her athletes’ coach, as she travels throughout the tri-state area to show her support when her athletes participate in other Special Olympics competitions. Although she understands the role she plays in each athlete’s improvement and achievements, Robyn is a coach of humble character and says she is really just along for the ride.
“As a coach we see the grand picture and invest so much in our team. But to sit back and enjoy the journey that gets you there, that’s what is a lot of fun,” said Robyn. “You miss a lot if you stress over the little things. Remember it’s for them, not us, and at the end of the day a glowing smile beats a gold medal any day.”
For her dedication, appreciation for small successes and positive personality, Special Olympics New Jersey is honored to name Robyn Struz the 2015 Fall Sports Coach of the Season.