The EQUUS Foundation is pleased to announce the winners of its Champions of Equine Service Scholarships made possible by Ariat International.
The 11 winning individuals--Hannah Bentz, Kaitlyn Boisvert, Sara Conant, Samantha Doyle, Arika Friedman, Michelle Kaster, Sarah Madden, Hannah Newman, Maura Pannebecker, Veronica Ann Rachael,and Nichole VandenBossche--many of whom logged hundreds of hours in support of organizations on the Foundation's Equine Welfare Network. Although the scholarships are awarded for volunteerism, the recipients are also dedicated to academic excellence--achieving an average GPA of 3.85.
Read more about these exceptional individuals below!
The EQUUS Foundation awards $1,000 Champion of Equine Service Scholarships to assist with the pursuit of undergraduate and graduate studies.
"Many young girls dream of owning a horse, and I was one of them. For many years, my love of horses extended only to Breyer models, Girl Scout horse badges, and riding lessons during school vacations. That all changed for me in freshman year of high school when I turned my passion into purpose."
Katelyn Boisvert is a 16-year old high school junior and member of the Crossroads East Valley IEA high school team. Active in her school and community, she admits, "horses are my passion."
When she was a freshman, she responded to an ad on the "volunteers needed" bulletin board for Stable Influence Charity Programs.
Katelyn recalled, "I enjoyed working with kids through Girl Scouts and as a mentor at school, so blending that with horses was a great opportunity for me." She eagerly signed up and has been volunteering weekly ever since.
"I was impressed by how responsive the horses are to the riders, and have learned to trust their instincts as they often sense something going on with a rider before we even notice."
"Clients get so much joy from their relationships with the horses and show progress toward their goals with every session. I consider this opportunity a blessing, as I am now more aware of the needs of others, how to communicate effectively, and how to offer appropriate help."
"Competition has built my confidence and strengthened my work ethic, and now I have a lifelong sport. Horses have taught me to be a leader not a master. My volunteer experience has taught me to do the best with what I have."
Freehold, New Jersey
"I have loved horses for as long as I can remember, but when I started volunteering, I knew that my future career would include working with horses and individuals with special needs."
Samantha Doyle will be a freshman at the University of Connecticut in the fall, majoring in Animal Science with a minor in Therapeutic Horsemanship. Samantha began volunteering at Celtic Charms Therapeutic Horsemanship four years ago.
All volunteers were required to attend a training session. There she learned how to be a horse leader and a sidewalker as well as how to groom and tack up a horse. Samantha's supervisor, Nancy Forsyth said, "Sam is a role model for her peers. A rider herself, her intuition and knowledge prove invaluable."
This past summer, she was lucky enough to attend the Equine Management Summer Program at the University of Massachusetts. "It was the best experience of my life. I spent all day, every day with horses, and got a deeper understanding of the horse industry."
"Volunteering has allowed me to bond with each of the students I have worked with, to work alongside several incredible teachers, who have taught me so much, and to work with other volunteers, who are now some of my closest friends. And, of course, there's the horses," said Doyle. "At college, I will able to better develop my horsemanship skills, learn more about equine behavior, anatomy, and nutrition, and learn the business basics of managing an equine facility."
Spartanburg, South Carolina
"Volunteering is my reality check. Whenever I think I have it bad, I just think about what some of the kids and adults who I work with deal with every day and it helps me to put my world-ending problems back into perspective."
Hannah Nemwan is a senior in high school and looking forward to continuing her education at St. Andrews University in Laurinburg, North Carolina. She began her volunteer experience eight years ago at HALTER.
"I began volunteering with HALTER in order to complete my Girl Scout Bronze Award project and since then have given over 500 hours and completed my Girl Scout Silver and Gold Award projects."
Hannah was too young at first to work directly with the riders, so instead, she groomed, tacked up, watered, and brought in and turned out horses, along with making sure all of the games and toys were put back in their proper place.
When she turned 15, she was able to assist the riders directly as a leader and sidewalker.
"The riders at HALTER inspire me every time I step into the arena." Mike Hollifield, Hannah's supervisor, said, "It has been really nice to watch Hannah grow up. She has learned how to communicate with the horses and how to work with the special riders. She can do anything and we can count on her."
"I wouldn't trade what horses have given me for the world," said Newman, "and I hope that my experiences with horses will continue to shape and teach me throughout the rest of my life."
"If I never get another moment with a horse ever again, I think that all the positive experiences I've had with horses will last a lifetime or two."
Maura Pannebecker is a senior at Towson High School in Baltimore, Maryland. She is planning to attend the University of Delaware to study Animal Science and Business, and hopes to own and operate her own therapeutic riding facility one day.
Maura started riding when she was seven years old, but when started volunteering, she said, "I noticed a change in my life for the better. Children with disabilities, like I work with, can have a hard time fitting in everyday society, but the hour a week they come out to the farm, they can be themselves and be appreciated for who they are by the volunteers and the horses."
She started volunteering at the Rose of Sharon Equestrian School, Inc. a little over a year ago. Maura's supervisor, Melinda Colonna, said, "Maura is a model for our volunteers of all ages as she demonstrates compassion and empathy towards our students beyond her years. She is a remarkable young woman."
"Just being a witness to the incredible connections that these kids have with the horses is enough for me to continue volunteering the rest of my life."
"Horses teach us to be brave and strong. They really do heal, and I am so thankful to be a part of the healing process."
Horses have been a part of Nichole VandenBossche's life since she was a little girl. She started taking riding lessons when she was eight years old, and later joined the United States Pony Club where she competed in every discipline, earned her C-2 rating and went to nationals four times.
She joined the Maryland Equestrian Club at the University of Maryland where she moved up to the position of Executive Director. She accepted an internship at Maryland Therapeutic Riding to do barn chores in exchange for discounted lessons, but after only one week, she discovered a passion for teaching.
Nichole now volunteers four days a week and has progressed to being an instructor in training. She will attain her PATH Intl. Registered Level Instructor Certification this summer.
She will be receiving a bachelor's degree in Psychology to pursue a career in counseling and plans to continue teaching and expanding her knowledge of horses, disabilities and the therapeutic riding industry.
The EQUUS Foundation awards a $1,500 United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) Champion of Equine Service Certification Scholarship to assist USEF members with the pursuit of their undergraduate and graduate studies.
Boca Raton, FL
Hannah Bentz is a senior at Spanish River High School and plans to attend the College of Charleston Honors College in the fall where she will continue riding by participating on the college's IHSA team.
Bentz matured as a rider while competing on the Wall Street Farm IEA team, and has been the team captain for four years.
In 2012, she was awarded the United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) Youth Leadership Award and was the co-recipient of the 2013 IEA Hunt-Seat National Sportsmanship Award.
Volunteering has been a part of Hannah's life since she organized a charity show jumping event at the age of 13 instead of having a party for her Bat Mitzvah. During the past several years, she has volunteered for Horses Healing Hearts (HHH).
HHH Founder Lizabeth Olszewski said, "Hannah is upbeat, outgoing, and innovative. She's a natural leader and motivator and highly respected by the children and adults. When there's something to be done, she just does it!"
In 2014, she co-chaired a first of its kind, Horses Helping People Family Resource Day, which introduced the general public to local recreational and therapeutic equestrian programs. In conjunction with the event, she organized a clinic with Grand Prix Rider Debbie Stephens and arranged to have one of the sessions donated to children from HHH. In early 2015, she helped organize a clinic with Olympian Peter Wylde.
"It has been inspiring to see how much the children at HHH appreciate being at the barn with the horses. They are different kids when they leave. They are stronger, can cope better and are more confident," said Bentz.
The EQUUS Foundation awards a $500 Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) & a $1,000 Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) Champion of Equine Service Scholarship for individuals to further their equestrian training or academic education.
Pompano Beach, FL
"Working with special needs children and teens has given me new confidence and determination by seeing these children who don't give up despite their personal challenges. I have also come to a greater understanding of how much we truly ask from our horses and how these horses intuitively appreciate and meet the needs and strengths of their riders."
Arika Friedman is an 18 year old high school senior at Pompano Beach High School, planning to study exercise science in college and eventually pursue a career in Physical Therapy.
Arika has been riding since six years old and has been a member of the Millpond Farm IEA Team since her freshman year in high school.
Recalling her first riding lesson, she said, "I told my Mom that I was born to ride, stepped up on the mounting block, put my foot in the stirrup and I have never looked back." Now, years later, she says, "Responsible horsemanship means many hours of grooming, bathing, feeding, cleaning tack, grazing and keeping the stalls clean and comfortable."
As soon as she was age-qualified at 14, Arika began volunteering at Equine-Assisted Therapies of South Florida and became interested in helping people with hands-on therapy.
"Although I have been riding and caring for horses since I was six years old and have my own horse, working with the special needs kids at Equine-Assisted Therapies has been one of the most rewarding things of my life."
"I just feel extremely grateful to have the opportunity to be working with these amazing kids and horses because they've shaped me in ways I couldn't have deemed possible. The interaction has fostered trust, compassion and taught me the value of partnership."
Spartanburg, South Carolina
"I want to share horses with those who otherwise would have no access--to make horse experiences happen for some of society's most vulnerable. Therapeutic riding gives freedom to those who cannot find it elsewhere."
Sarah Madden is a sophomore at Wofford College majoring in both English and Environmental Studies.
She is a member of the Wofford College IHSA Equestrian Team, which was formed in September of 2014 and has thrived in its first year. Sarah owns a nine year-old American Saddlebred mare named Dancer that she rescued from slaughter when she was a freshman in high school.
Sarah began volunteering at HALTER in high school because one of her trail riding friends spoke repeatedly of the miracles of therapeutic riding. She volunteered for two hours a week for almost two years, as a leader and sidewalker. Even as an advanced rider, she said she learned more about horses and horsemanship than she had ever learned while taking riding lessons.
"I learned how to calm a strung out horse, how to deal with emergency situations, how to read and respect the horse's feelings, and to ride in harmony with the horse. I learned more about horses on the ground than I ever did in the saddle," Sarah said," and I was stunned at the healing that a person could experience through riding."
Sarah obtained her PATH International certification this year while in college instead of waiting to graduate. "More than anything, I know I want to keep teaching therapeutic riding for the rest of my life."
The EQUUS Foundation awards the PATH Intl. Champion of Equine Service Certification Scholarship to assist prospective instructors with the cost of obtaining the PATH Intl. Registered Level Instructor Certification.
"My volunteer experience over the past 10 years has shown me how therapeutic horsemanship lessons can change the lives of not only the clients but also the lives of everyone involved including volunteers, family members, staff, and instructors."
Sara Conant began riding at the age of five when her parents signed her up for a local recreation department riding program. What they thought would be a fun, brief experience for Sara turned into her lifelong passion.
In 2004, at the age of 12, Sara began volunteering at Riding to the Top (RTT) where she has been a dedicated volunteer ever since. She started volunteering in the barn, then began side-walking, and then leading horses in lessons.
In 2008, she became a member of the RTT Volunteer Schooling Team. That is where she met and formed a bond with a very special therapy pony named Firefly, who passed away a little over a year ago.
"When I was 17, my father passed away suddenly and my life changed forever. Firefly helped me through that difficult time. He was compassionate, trustworthy, steady, forgiving, and loving," said Conant. "Firefly challenged me on days that I needed it and cooperated wonderfully on days that I needed an easy ride."
It was Firefly who showed Sara the impact of horses for both traditional and non-traditional riders and forged her path towards a career in therapeutic horsemanship.
Sara graduated Summa Cum Laude from Saint Joseph's College of Maine with a Bachelor's Degree in History and a double minor in Secondary Education and Communications. She currently has her Certified Horsemanship Association Level 3 English and Level 2 Western Certifications.
Sara works full-time for 4-H and started working part-time at RTT as barn staff while she works towards achieving her PATH Intl. Registered Level Certification.
Bel Air, Maryland
"There's no better feeling than seeing the smiles on your client's faces when they have overcome their fears and challenges through the power of an equine friend."
Michelle Kaster has been riding horses since a young age. Horses became her anchor when her family had to move first from South Carolina, then to Wisconsin, then to Maryland.
She actively competed throughout middle and high school and also on the Dickinson College IHSA Equestrian Team for four years, where she graduated with a Bachelor's in International Business & Management.
Realizing the impact that horses had on her life, she decided to find a way to help others reach their goals and pursue their full potential through horseback riding.
During the summer after her freshman year of college, she found the way by volunteering at Chesapeake Therapeutic Riding (CTR). She has been volunteering as a side walker, horse leader, barn coordinator, and assistant riding instructor since then.
"As a certified therapeutic riding instructor, I will become a part of a unique and growing field. I believe that it is important to become certified in a profession that you are passionate about because it shows commitment and perseverance.
I hope to help increase the number of lessons offered and help to decrease the gap between the number of students we have on our wait list and our ability to support them.
The EQUUS Foundation awards the CHA Champion of Equine Service Certification Scholarship to financially assist prospective instructors with obtaining a CHA Standard Instructor Certification.
Veronica (Bonnie) Rachael
"My journey with horses began at the age of 16 when I was 'rescued' by the love of horses and a couple of women who took troubled and lonely kids under their wings and mentored them using horses."
To care for her first horse, which she bought for $150 at the age of 17, Bonnie had to go to work. From that time until now, she has given over 40 years to learning about horses through continued education and practical experience.
But, it wasn't until 1994 when she was assigned to the Savannah Police mounted unit that she was able to combine her passion for horses with her work. She was sent to school to get her instructor's certification to train other officers in mounted policing.
Bonnie said, "When I retired from police work in 2006 and searching for what I wanted to do next, I discovered PATH International on the Internet." Bonnie wasted no time, becoming a PATH certified instructor and using her own farm to found Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center that same year.
Bonnie will earn her All Discipline Standard Instructor Certification from the CHA in November. It has been a dream come true - helping others who have special challenges with horses.
"I have come full circle from that wayward kid changed forever by the power of the horse. I want to be the best I can be!"
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, 203-259-1550, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.equusfoundation.org.
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