With the launch of Endeavor Therapeutic Horsemanship, founder Emily Wygod is continuing a family legacy while paving her own path, helping children and their families come together in and out of the saddle with horse therapy.
As Emily Wygod welcomes you into her recently renovated home, a restored 19th-century cow barn in the Guard Hill section of Bedford, NY, you first notice her warmth—as well as her love of horses, which is displayed throughout the carefully curated art collection adorning the walls and even on the tops of her loafers. She seems perfectly at home, despite this having been a sea-change year. Wygod, 29, and her fiancé, Oliver Bushnell, just made the move from NYC and are thrilled. “It feels like a happy house,” she says. The rooms are spacious and light-filled, with wood and stonework salvaged and repurposed for closet doors and bathroom bureaus. The space mirrors her personality—unpretentious, lovely and thoughtful. Her engagement story also typifies this easy nature: Wygod had been working in the stable the day Bushnell proposed. The photograph they immediately sent to friends showed the stunning ring on Emily’s hand, dirt under her fingernails and all. (They’ve set an October wedding date.)
Raised in New Jersey and California, Wygod grew up on horse farms—not unlike the 25-stall barn and farm where Endeavor is based in Bedford—grooming the animals, riding them and playing in their stalls. One evening, when she was little, she got an idea. Wygod laughs now, remembering: “I thought, ‘These horses want to be free!’” So she opened the barn and turned them loose. They were easily collected, but the bond between human and horse has anchored her life. Wygod still owns and operates a Thoroughbred breeding and racing outfit in Kentucky, and when she was younger she competed in riding at a high level. After graduating from Duke University, she worked in marketing in NYC, during which time she started volunteering in equine-assisted therapy. She became board president and instructor at Endeavor Therapeutic Horsemanship, a new nonprofit that brings therapeutic effects to people’s lives through riding lessons, hippotherapy and ground programming. Wygod’s parents, Pam and Martin Wygod, major figures in the horse racing world, had taught her not only the horse business but also the art of philanthropy. Opening her own program was a natural progression—and Endeavor is already successful. “Our phones are ringing off the hook!” says Wygod.
Endeavor currently serves kids and adults, addressing cognitive, physical, emotional and social needs, and Emily recently trained to work with veterans with PTSD. “We create situations to empower riders, to help them work through issues and give them coping skills,” says Wygod. “At the end of the day, the horse is their best friend—the horse understands what they’re going through.”
-By Jardine Libaire, Photographs by Bruce Plotkin