Devin Sussmane: A Real Trooper

March is National Disability Awareness Month. Which means it’s a great time to let the “06880” community know about New Canaan Mounted Troop.

Executive director Sara Tucker — a Westport resident for 33 years — sent information about the non-profit youth development and therapeutic equestrian center.

Founded in 1939, it serves lower Fairfield County. Over that time, hundreds of Westporters have benefited from their time with the organization’s volunteers — and its horses.

Here, from the NCMT newsletter, is a story about one of those young people.

When Super Trooper Devin Sussmane, 27, started coming to New Canaan
Mounted Troop about 5 years ago, she was so shy she yanked her jacket over her face so no one could see her.

Now, she loves being at the barn so much she cries when it’s time to leave.

Devin lights up around animals, says mom Elaine Zapfel, and the horses “accept her without judgment.” They also don’t mind her enthusiastic embraces, which often scared the smaller rescue cats and dogs at another program she attended,
her mom said.

Devin Sussmane

The COVID pandemic has been hard on Devin, who doesn’t understand why beloved activities are interrupted. Although she doesn’t enjoy participating in most Zoom calls, she never missed a chance to see the horses at Troop — even if it was only through a screen.

Still, quarantine left Devin largely stuck at home with nothing to do unless her mom came up with reasons to leave the house. So when restrictions eased and NCMT offered Devin the chance to attend one-on-one equine care lessons during the summer, it was everything, her mom said.

“Having something like New Canaan that she can look forward to every week is more than I can say.”

Zapfel also calls Super Troopers instructor Stacy Gendels (a longtime Westport resident) “sent from heaven.” The two are so close that Devin visits Gendels at her home to play with her dogs.

“Certain people just get it, and Stacy is very good with Devin. She understands that Devin can be anxious and cranky, and she doesn’t treat her like a baby,” Zapfel said.

“Devin has a lot of anxiety, but when she is at Mounted Troop her anxiety is so much less — she’s able to function.”

2 responses to “Devin Sussmane: A Real Trooper

  1. Diane Yormark

    The New Canaan Mounted Troop has been equally amazing for our daughter, Rebecca. Indeed, she has been riding and working in Equine Care for a couple of years and has benefited tremendously. My husband and I are so very grateful to all the staff there and can’t imagine her life without this essential component. We are hopeful many other local facilities will continue to open their arms to the local special needs community. An untapped resource of young adults who are willing, loyal, friendly and capable. Diane Yormark

  2. Gloria Gouveia

    Shout out to Westport’s own, Stacey Gendels. Her devotion to the Super Troopers equine therapy is an ongoing source of positive change in the special needs community.