Centenary University Graduates 10th Class of Veterans with Operation Centaur

Ten-week equine-based program for veterans of all eras took six months to complete due to COVID-19.

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Centenary University Operation Centaur Class of 2020
(l-r, top) LTC Dr. Bruce Murphy, USA (Ret.), 23 years of service–President and Professor at Centenary University; COL Jeanne Murphy, USA (Ret.), 30 years of service; COL Anne Maker, USAF (Ret.), 38 years of service; SGT Jennifer Thorne USAF (Ret.), 4 years of service; 1SGT Chris Jaeger ’06, 28 years of service; MAJ George W. Paffendorf, USA (Ret.), HA ’07, 23 years of service. (l-r, bottom) Karen Brittle, Director of Therapeutic Riding at Centenary University (TRAC); Cheri Carlson, TR Riding Instructor Volunteer; Carol Friedman, Volunteer and Retired Law Enforcement; Pete Freeman, Volunteer, 2014 Owner Freeman Motors in Califon, N.J. Photo Courtesy Centenary University

Centenary University recently graduated its tenth class of Operation Centaur, an equine-based program for veterans of all ages. Normally enrolled in a 10-week course, the most recent class took six months to finish due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since 2014, Centenary has been nationally recognized for providing equine-assisted services to veterans. Operation Centaur provides innovative and recreational services and is comprised of classroom and ground activities, riding, and learning more about the horse and human relationship. All services are offered at no cost to the veteran, and no experience with horses is necessary. Services are provided through individual and group lessons. The University’s main campus is located in Hackettstown, N.J., with its equestrian facility in Washington Township.

Veteran with horse at Centenary University
A participant in Centenary University’s Operation Centaur program for veterans. Photo Courtesy Centenary University

Therapeutic Riding at Centenary (TRAC) and Operation Centaur are both approved programs through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International. The same volunteers have been coming in to help with the program since 2014. Some are TRAC instructors who come in from other programs to work with Centenary professionals.

“I always say that Team Centaur is a ‘Dream Team’ composed of dedicated volunteers and professionals,” said the founder and director of Operation Centaur, Major George W. Paffendorf, (Ret.). Operation Centaur received funding through a PATH Equine Services for Heroes grant, as TRAC is a Premier Accredited Center (PAC).

Equine services provide emotional, cognitive, social, and physical benefits for veterans. Service men and women at Operation Centaur have reported benefits, including increased self-esteem, self-worth, trust for others, and community integration. They have also experienced a decrease in depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder attacks and self-harm thoughts.

Lessons operate in a 10-week block one evening per week, allowing veterans to build on skills learned in previous weeks. As veterans increase their horsemanship skills and involvement with Operation Centaur, additional opportunities are available, including recreational riding, trail rides, and volunteer training to help with future programs.

Centenary University President Bruce Murphy, Ed.D., and his wife, Jeanne Murphy, who are both retired U.S. Army officers, visited Operation Centaur multiple times during class and are proud supporters of the program and the veterans benefiting from it. Each delivered uplifting remarks during the graduation ceremony.

The next class will start on Monday, Oct. 5, 2020 at the Centenary University Equestrian Center, Long Valley, NJ. Classes meet at 6 p.m. and run for two hours. Veterans of all eras are invited to participate at no cost. For additional information or to enroll, contact Maj. Paffendorf at 908-619-4463 or Majorgwp@icloud.com.

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