Instructors and Staff

Therapeutic Riding Instructors

The Therapeutic Equestrian Center (TEC) has a great staff of instructors and volunteers. Together they bring a great set of skills in working with people with a wide range of disabilities, with horses, and with the public to raise awareness of our mission.

All TEC instructors are PATH Intl.certified, which requires a field apprenticeship, written and practical exams, and observation by a panel of PATH Intl. instructors while conducting a lesson.

Nora Britton

Nora Britton, Therapeutic Riding Instructor

Nora Britton:  I started volunteering at TEC when I was ten years old and instantly fell in love with working with both the horses and the riders.  TEC quickly became my second home.  I became the barn manager in 2001.  Shortly after that, I got my Massachusetts teaching license and NAHRA (now PATH) certification.

Therapeutic riding and animal assisted therapy have become my true passions in life. I love working with riders of all ages and abilities and feel extremely blessed to be able to witness daily the amazing ways in which animals can change the lives of children and adults with special needs as well as everyone who comes in contact with them.

In addition to my work at TEC, I am very excited to be starting the process of training Dora, one of my five rescue dogs, to be certified this year as a therapy dog.

When not at TEC, I also work as a therapeutic riding instructor at Legacy Farm in Easthampton and care for my own two horses: a Morgan mare named Taproot Black Eyed Susan – “Susie”-  and a Thoroughbred cross mare  named My Wild Irish Rose – “Rosie” whom I rescued in 2011.


Annie Sexauer

Annie Sexauer, Therapeutic Riding Instructor

Annie Sexauer:  has been a registered instructor with PATH since 2007.  She started and ran a therapeutic riding program in upstate New York for 2 years before returning east to get a Master’s in Social Work.  She currently works as an outpatient therapist in Springfield, MA in addition to teaching therapeutic riding.  Her love of horses began when she received a quarter horse mare for her 10th birthday, and has continued ever since.  Her lessons include a focus on the whole rider, including groundwork, horse care and relationship building with the horse.  Her specialty is adult beginners.


Michelle Lague, Therapeutic Riding Instructor

Michelle Lague: Michelle has been a PATH Intl Instructor since 2002, starting as an intern at Hoofbeats TRC in Natural Bridge, VA while in college. In 2004 at the University of West Georgia, she completed a M.A. thesis entitled “The Benefits of Therapeutic Horsemanship Activities for Older Adults: An Exploratory Study”. She’s continued to volunteer and teach in some capacity while at work or in graduate school, most notably for High Horses and Southern VT Therapeutic Riding Centers in Vermont and has been volunteering and/or teaching at TEC since moving to the area in 2015. Outside of TEC, Michelle is a social worker for the Central Western Massachusetts VA Health Care System. She had a horse through high school, has been riding since she was nine, and enjoys the community building and empathy-growing aspects of teaching. She’s currently working on getting her Advanced Certification through PATH Intl and is looking forward to horse ownership again some day soon!


Judy Zedonis, Executive Director: Judy has been the executive director of the Therapeutic Equestrian Center since 2005. She is actively involved with fundraising, fiscal management, program development and oversight for TEC. She manages all aspects of the facility’s daily operations, working with students, staff, horses and other members of the community to provide a challenging and safe learning environment that fosters a true interest in what is best for each participant.Judy is a graduate of UMASS and HCC with degrees in psychology and business.  After spending many years in the business world she decided to combine her life long interest in horses with a desire to serve her community.  TEC was the perfect match. When she’s not at the Equestrian Center, Judy, an accomplished dressage rider, can be found riding her own horse, Kaleidoscope; or training her German Shepherds Argus and Durga.

Karen Dahmke, Therapeutic Riding Instructor

Karen Dahmke: I started volunteering at a therapy center more than 15 years ago to get my horse fix.  I still vividly remember my first rider.  She had been an avid horsewoman before she had a stroke.  Now she walked slowly, with a limp and a cane and speech was difficult to say the least. After a hip replacement, riding should have been out of the question, but with a team of volunteers and a wonderful mount she was able to do what she loved once again!!  The progress she made right before my eyes was nothing short of miraculous but what really got me was the joy on her face!!  I was hooked!! It was no longer about the horse.  I was a volunteer for 5 years when I finally decided to take the plunge and become an instructor.  I have 2 dogs and my own horses.  I trail ride regularly, even competing in some competitive trail rides.  I also take him camping which I love!


Nancy Karp Getchell, Therapeutic Riding Instructor

Nancy Karp Getchell: Nancy has always shared a calling to work with young people who have faced major challenges in their lives. She is a Vocational Instructor at Cutchins Programs New Directions School. Her main purpose is to connect students with the world of work through internships in the Northampton Community. Getting kids involved with horses through riding and volunteering is one of her favorite ways to do this.

She was first certified as a Therapeutic Riding Instructor in 1995 by North American Riding for the Handicapped (NARHA) at Cheff Center in Augusta Michigan. Cheff opened in 1970 as the first therapeutic riding center built especially for the purpose of serving those with special needs in the North America.

In 2001 she certified in Equine Assisted Growth and Learning (EAGALA) and traveled to Loa, Utah to meet with Greg Kersten and Lynn Thomas and see their flagship program working with emotionally challenged youth at Aspen ranch.

She has been teaching at TEC since 2005, after re-certification from the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH, formerly NARHA) at High Hopes in old Lyme CT.

In 2011, Nancy returned to High Hopes to get a specialization in Mental Health and Learning. In the following year, she worked closely with Susanne Haseman at First Light Farm in Cornish, NH to develop a deeper understanding of that work.

For the past three years she has worked with Judy Zedonis, Nora Britton and Jill Apolinario to help TEC develop a foothold in online fundraising through the Valley Gives initiative.

Since 2013 she has been working with Dick Kelso’s Haflingers, Ace and Gus, to see what it takes to develop a therapeutic riding horse from scratch. She and a student participated in last year’s Equine Affaire where Nancy and Gus rode with Julie Goodnight in the Collesium. Her student has developed Ace into an amazing horse full of heart and soul.

She looks forward to continuing to connect kids to volunteering and riding on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings. She would love to see you join this work as well and invites you to help to feed and do barn chores at 8am Saturday mornings! There is always lots to do!


Doreen Garde, Therapeutic Riding Instructor

Doreen Garde, Therapeutic Riding Instructor

Doreen Garde: As a rider, I’ve been involved with horses for over 30 years, competing and showing throughout the years. I have ridden in clinics with top international trainers, such as George Morris, Judy Rickter, Andre Dignelli, and Daniel Steward.

I became certified as a riding instructor in 1996.  I was hooked and there was no turning back.  Teaching students to listen to their horses, how to respect the horses, and most importantly, how to be safe around horses.  Whether it was an unmounted lesson, a senior adult fulfilling a dream to ride a horse, a 4 year old child, or riders interesting in showing/competing, it never felt like work.  I couldn’t wait to get to the barn every day  and start teaching.  I made sure I kept riding so as to be able to transfer my knowledge and experience to my students.  My first teaching job was at Smith College, Northampton, Ma.  For over 9 years, I worked with many IHSA team members, college students, community riders, for  which, I was able to expand that program to double it’s size, and taught camps.  My teaching became a life style.  I’ve also taught at Sunset Ridge in Southwick, MA, establishing a riding/showing program for local students.

Over the years, I also worked part time at local barns, such as Folley Farm in Ct.  I came to the Strain Family Equestrian Center in 2008 and was there for 8 more years.  In 2013, my boss at the time encouraged me to get my therapeutic rider instructor certification,   So, I did.  I became involved with TEC, doing my observation and teaching hours there.  What began as occasionally filling in for some of the instructors, to slowly becoming part of the teaching team, which I’m presently working on.  TEC has been good to me.  It has, and continues to, challenge me.  My teaching is my addiction.  And, I’m looking forward to many more years of helping students succeed at whatever skills they are working towards.  It’s the smile on the student’s faces, or them remembering my name that makes this job so fulfilling.