Never Say Never: At 51, Centenary University Graduate Earns Degree and Starts Her Dream Job

Patti with Tucker

East Stroudsburg resident Patricia Rocheny ’22 launches career in therapeutic riding, fulfilling a lifelong dream.

Edited Press Release

HACKETTSTOWN, NJ, Aug. 25, 2022—Horses were a mainstay in Patricia Rocheny’s formative years. Growing up in Jersey City, NJ, she loved visiting her father at the Meadowlands Racetrack, where he worked as a security guard. After her father’s death, when Rocheny was just 14, she found solace in riding and caring for horses.

Working at a Bergen County stable mucking stalls and as a groom at the Meadowlands, she began to think about a career in the equine field. Rocheny collected brochures about Centenary University’s excellent equine studies program and approached her mother: “I wanted to go to Centenary and have a career with horses, but my mom thought I needed a corporate job to make money. So instead, I got married, had a daughter, and worked full-time while taking care of my family.”

Yet, she never forgot her dream. Newly-divorced with an adult daughter, Rocheny started mapping out the next phase of her life two years ago. “I wanted to go back to school,” she explains. “My friends told me, ‘You’ve been talking about this forever. It’s now or never.’” Rocheny’s fears about being too old for college were soon laid to rest by her academic adviser, Sarah Simms, professor emeritus, and Kelly Munz, chair of the Equine Studies Department at Centenary. While Rocheny originally considered a career as a show groom or barn manager, Simms suggested that she explore therapeutic riding.

Centenary is well known in the field. Centenary University Professor Emeritus of Equine Studies Octavia Brown ’08 HA, Ed.M., D.H.L., is a founder of the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, the precursor to PATH International, a national membership organization that leads the advancement of professional equine-assisted services to support more than 53,000 special needs individuals, including nearly 6,000 veterans, through a variety of equine-assisted services. Dr. Brown is also the former director of TRAC (Therapeutic Riding at Centenary), an accredited adaptive riding program that provides equine-assisted services to individuals with disabilities. Through TRAC’s veterans programming, the University also provides the benefits of therapeutic riding to military veterans and their family members. Under the stewardship of TRAC’s current director, Karen Brittle, who is also an assistant professor of equine studies at Centenary and a PATH Intl. advanced instructor and mentor instructor, the University’s Equine Studies Department is also launching a new concentration in equine-assisted services this fall.

Recalling her introduction to therapeutic riding, Rocheny says, “I fell in love.” Since Rocheny is a strong writer, Brittle also suggested that she consider grant writing for equine nonprofits; in fact, a grant written by Rocheny for a midterm assignment resulted in additional tuition funding for a TRAC participant. Rocheny adds, “Horses had been there for me when I lost my dad. TRAC showed me that I could finally have a career with horses.” Rocheny received her Associate of Science in Equine Science from Centenary last May and is now preparing to take the PATH Intl. exam to become a certified therapeutic riding instructor (CTRI). At age 51, she has gained her first paid job in the field at Fair Hill Therapeutic Riding Center in Damascus, Penn, as an instructor, volunteer coordinator, and grant writer: “It’s so rewarding to share special moments in the lives of the people I’m helping. I can’t believe I’m part of something so special.”