Stephen's Fun Day

How did Stephen's Fun Day begin?
Written by Ms. Susan B. Schoellkopf, Board Member of the Stephen A. Comunale Jr. Family Cancer Foundation and  Executive Director of The Buffalo Therapeutic Riding Center.

Stephen's Fun Day began with an amazing young man whose story is an inspiration to all young people, Stephen A. Comunale, Jr.  I've often wondered about how much effect we horse trainers have on our students, especially the ones who ride with us from ponies through their adult years. 

We seem to move through life, from moment to moment, day to day, year after year, without stopping to really enjoy the people around us who've affected our lives in a profound way. A few years ago, I came to realize I learned so much about life from a young man who died way before his time.  His loss has made me think of how I can make life better in another person's life or in a horse's life or in a horse's life. 

There's a saying that goes, "people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime."

So here's the story of Stephen.

When Stephen first came to the BTRC (Buffalo Therapeutic Riding Center) with his pony, Millie for a lesson with Jennifer Alfano, he was a very timid pony rider. His confidence and talent grew quickly, and eventually he was riding top horses at some of the most prestigious horse shows in the country. 

Through the years, although Stephen became a star tennis player and top skier, his passion for riding kept it a top priority.  After a year at college in Vermont, Stephen transferred back to Canisius College in Buffalo to manage the barn for SBS Farms at the BTRC, and he thrived in his new position.  He then pursued a horse show managing career by running the BTRC shows.  He ran the in-gate, designed the courses, and managed the shows with composure and a constant professional demeanor.  He could get along with anyone- from a 10 year old rider to the most antagonistic trainer or irate pony mother.  Stephen had the ability to make deals with the shavings company and the man who took our manure away (who became a close friend).  He even started riding again, with confidence and strength.  His teaching skills were amazing too.  He had great compassion with each rider because he started out as such a timid rider.

Stephen was adored by all our riders, and everyone who crossed his path at the BTRC.  But it was time for Stephen to move back to Ohio and help run his father's business.  Just as he had in the horse world, he completed every job that needed to be done to the best of his ability.  In 2005, we learned that Stephen had been diagnosed with cancer.  His long time girlfriend Julie and his brother John never left his side in the last few months, during which he led family and friends through hi horrific disease with humor and a lust for life.  He never complained to anyone- not once.  He touched young and old, and it was to no ones surprise when over 500 people attended his funeral in 2006. 

When we teachers have a student who stays with us from ponies through adulthood, we hope that we can give them the love of horses that will stay with them forever.  I think we owe it to those students to give them tools for life by using the lessons that horses can teach them.  We hope that they turn out like Stephen, who mastered life and people in his very short time with us. 

Stephen's Fun Day serves as a tribute to Stephen's passion for life, horses, and determination.