The EQUUS Foundation is pleased to announce this year's Champions of Equine Service Scholarships made possible by Ariat International to the following seven equine volunteers: Chelsea Ammons, Kimberly Ball, Victoria Isaacson, Alexis Lalor, Terry Pratt, Mackenzie Russ and MerriBeth Vaughn.
Read more about these exceptional individuals who logged hundreds of hours in support of organizations on our Equine Welfare Network while still maintaining a dedication to academic excellence by achieving an average GPA of 3.9!
Champion Academic Scholarships: $1,000 Champion of Equine Service Scholarships awarded to assist with the pursuit of undergraduate and graduate studies.
Colorado Therapeutic Riding Center (CTRC)
Chelsea Ammons is currently pursuing her Masters in Counseling from the University of Colorado, Denver campus and wants to enter private practice to help children and families overcome trauma through partnering with animals.
"I have lived and worked around horses all of my life - and have been graced with the ability to form amazing bonds with both horses and humans. However, it wasn't until I volunteered at CTRC did I understand the incredible healing powers that horses hold," said Chelsea.
AT CTRC, she volunteered in any capacity she could - in therapeutic riding and hippotherapy classes as both side-walker and horse leader, as a stall mucker, as an office volunteer sending emails and finding substitutes, attending outreach fairs, and in any other situation where she was needed. She saw miracles happen over and over again and how therapeutic riding affects everyone involved in the community. At CTRC, she realized that though her path had many detours, her purpose in life was to share the power of horses with anyone who needed it.
"My goal is to bring children who are struggling in any area of their life to a new understanding of how unconventional resources, including horses, can help them to reach their full potential and make a valuable impact in their society."
Windridge Therapeutic Equestrian Center
Born in upstate New York and currently living in Texas, Kimberly Ball is currently pursuing a Masters in Psychology as a full-time student at LeTourneau University. She hopes to pursue a career in equine-assisted psychotherapy and equine-assisted growth and learning.
When she started volunteering at Windridge, she was recovering from traumatic brain injuries suffered from a car accident and not been around horses in over twenty years. Kimberly said, "The folks at Windridge accepted me and taught me how to handle the horses, to groom them, to give them love and care. I was able to observe classes in session, to assist with classes, and to see firsthand the difference that the horses and the staff make in the lives of their riders."
"There are so many hurting people in this world. I know that I cannot be a hero to them all, but I can make a difference, just as I am thankful that there have been people in my life who were there for me, like the people at Windridge," said Kimberly.
"Nothing can compare to the feeling when you can take a broken animal with dull eyes and no happiness left and turn them back into a happy animal", said Victoria (Tori) Isaacson. "That is what volunteering is all about, giving back to those who need it and realizing giving is getting!"
At Lucky Orphans, Tori helped for over fifty plus horses, feeding, grooming, cleaning, and working them to give them a better life than they ever knew before. She also saw the impact these rescue horses had on people. She saw firsthand children say their first words to the horses, identifying with them and trusting them enough for the first time to tell them what was wrong. The experience was one of the biggest influences in deciding her career path.
Victoria Isaacson will be entering Stony Brook in the fall of 2016 where she plans to major in health science and eventually get a doctorate in Physical Therapy. "I to want to help people in the way I see horses helping people and decided physical therapy fit everything I wanted in a career."
United Cerebral Palsy & Handicap Persons Association of the Utica Area
From an early age, Alexis Lalor was fascinated by horses. Every inch of her childhood bedroom walls was covered with photos of horses and she voraciously read every book that had a horse on its cover.
Eight years ago, when she arrived at her agency's horseback riding program as a volunteer, she was assigned to side walk alongside a young girl with autism who displayed what appeared to be an impenetrable stoic expression. As the horse's gait changed, the girl's face lit up with an expression of pure unbridled joy and surprise, and a loud laugh rang out, filling the barn and causing heads to turn. Fairly new to the concept of animal therapy, Alexis said, "I was stunned!" She became fascinated by the idea that this unique work with animals could lead to significant changes in our physical, mental and emotional well-being.
An avid traveler, Alexis has visited more than 30 countries and ironically enough, it was while she was serving in the Peace Corps more than 8,000 miles away - in a country with very few horses - that she realized that girl was always on her mind and that working in equine assisted activities and therapies was what she was meant to do.
Alexis said, "I want to be a part of those magical moments at the barn where kids walk in, crying or screaming and insisting they were not ever going to get on a horse, then proudly walk around the arena just a moment or two after getting in the saddle. They conquer their fears, learn new skills, and acquire endless physical benefits such as improved posture, muscle tone and fine/gross motor skills (just to name a few!), and they make a new best friend with their equine therapist." Alexis Lalor is pursuing a Master of Science in Recreation at SUNY Cortland and plans on starting her PATH certification within the next year or two.
PATH Certification Scholarships: PATH Intl. Champion of Equine Service Certification Scholarship awarded to assist prospective instructors with the cost of obtaining the PATH Intl. Registered Level Instructor Certification.
Acts 19:11 dba Pikes Peak Therapeutic Riding Center
Upon her retirement in 2012 with 34.5 years of Federal Service Terry Pratt moved to Colorado Springs seeking to do "hands on" public service. Shortly after the move, she became involved with Pikes Peak Therapeutic Riding Center where she currently volunteers four days a week and says, "It’s a place that embraces their volunteers through training and support fostering amazing outcomes for the clients. It's my 'happy place'."
She had been volunteering in some fashion since she was 14. As an adult post-empty nest, she discovered equine therapy for children, and said, "It was a perfect match for my passion to help others and make a difference with animals. The power of the horse is beyond words. I have learned to listen to them talk through their body language both to tell me as a leader what they are feeling but more importantly (time and time again) what the rider is feeling and ultimately needs for their care." She has seen first steps taken and first words spoken. She has seen children and adults in EFP classes resolve and successfully address severe emotional trauma.
As she continues to learn and re-invent herself post-retirement; i.e., her "encore years" she looks forward to completing and using her PATH equine specialist certification. "I never realized that by fulfilling my own personal passion and goal to make things better I could achieve such intense and intrinsic rewards. I'm hooked on horses, their value, and impact."
MerriBeth began riding before she could walk. The barn was her second home. "I kept it cleaner than my bedroom," said MerriBeth. But, horses stopped being a part of her life when she headed off to college, and she spent the next decade with very few opportunities to be around horses. "Although I missed them, I told myself I didn't need them. When I started volunteering at Forward Stride seven years ago I realized how wrong I was. I realized that I am happiest and healthiest when I get my regular horse fix and spend a good amount of time outside. After a couple of years I realized that I was much more interested in my work at the barn than my work in the office."
MerriBeth Vaughn has worked in mental health as a Mental Health Therapist for 12 years and has a master's degree in Counseling Psychology. Forward Stride recently invited her to help them start an EAP program. She is seeking her PATH Therapeutic Riding Instructor Certification so that she can use her expertise as a therapist and the riding instruction in order to help students cope with anxiety, depression, or PTSD. Many students who are struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, or behavioral challenges could benefit from an instructor who is well versed in helping people to cope with these issues. I believe that riding is healing for many people.
"Sometimes people may be reluctant to attend therapy but are willing to engage in a therapeutic riding program", said MerriBeth. Having both options available offers clients and students options in choosing their activities and treatments. She hopes to make this powerful therapeutic modality available to under-served populations, such as minorities, low-income clients, and those struggling with severe mental illness. As this method of therapy gains popularity and acceptance she also hopes that more insurance carriers will begin to reimburse it to make this type of treatment available to a wider client base.
"I used to think that a job was what you did in order to afford time with horses. I never dreamed that I would end up doing work I found both meaningful and fun. If I had not decided to volunteer for Forward Stride, I would probably still be stuck in an office. Volunteering with horses has quite literally altered the course of my life."
USEF Academic Scholarship: $1,500 scholarship awarded to United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) members to assist with the pursuit of undergraduate and graduate studies.
Country Farms IEA Show Team
Mackenzie Russ is a junior in high school and a member of the Country Farms Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) high school team. She has been riding for 12 years and plans on competing on a college equestrian team.
The IEA provides the opportunity for young people like Mackenzie to ride and compete without having to own a horse or tack. Instead, the host team arranges for the horses and equipment. More than 12,500 student riders in grades 6-12 participate across North America. "It's not just about winning the blue ribbon," said Mackenzie. "It's about having fun with your teammates - especially the wonderful horses we are fortunate to ride." It's also not just about riding and competition, it's about horse care and understanding your equine companion. That includes barn chores as well as grooming, tacking up and untacking the horses.
"She is everywhere - without being told what needs to be done," said one of her coaches. "At the end of the day, riding on the IEA team taught me time management and how to juggle everything all at once, a skill I will use for the rest of my life. I have learned leadership, responsibility, patience, commitment, teamwork, sportsmanship, determination, and a vigorous work ethic. This has translated into every aspect of my life: school, other sports, relationships, and much more."
"I am thankful for every single opportunity given me to me, especially from the horses, and I do my best to take advantage of each and every one. My experience with my IEA team has contributed so much to the young women I have become today. I look forward to a future in the sport."
The EQUUS Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity established in 2002, also known as Horse Charities of America, is dedicated to improving the quality of life of horses, enabling the therapeutic use of horses for those in need, fostering the horse-human bond, and educating the public about the horse's unique ability to empower, teach and heal. Donations are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law. Contact the EQUUS Foundation, Inc., at 168 Long Lots Road, Westport, CT 06880, Tele: (203) 259-1550, E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Website: www.equusfoundation.org.
Ariat International, Inc. is the leading manufacturer of innovative performance equestrian footwear, apparel and belts. Featuring a patented technology designed to deliver stability, durability and comfort, Ariat pioneered the application of advanced athletic shoe technology into English riding boots and authentic Western boots. Ariat products are sold in a network of retail outlets throughout the world. For more information about Ariat products or for the Ariat retailer nearest you, contact Ariat at 800.899.8141 or visit www.ariat.com.