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Hooves for Health This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.

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     Two years ago my brother Alexander, our family friend Lee, and I founded a nonprofit organization called Hooves for Health because we were tired of the mundane volunteer options that had minimal contact with the community. Don’t get me wrong, service to one’s community is great no matter what the task, but I believed there could be more. The decision to start Hooves for Health changed my whole outlook on my community and my future.

Hooves for Health is a therapeutic touch program that uses a miniature horse named Nipsey. After researching therapeutic horses, I was amazed and intrigued. Miniature horses do not exceed 34 inches and weigh no more than 100 pounds, making them too small to be ridden, but they can be pets and show animals. They can also be used for therapy with the handicapped and as companions to the elderly. Some even use these horses as “seeing eye dogs” due to their almost 360()() vision and long lives.

My friend had owned a miniature horse for a year and it was so well trained it almost seemed human! The horse would walk into the house, plop on the couch and watch television like part of the family. Growing up in the city, I only thought of horses as outdoor pets. Who could imagine a horse walking around a house? Since Nipsey had a lovable and non-aggressive demeanor, she was perfect for our cause. She was the spark which ignited Hooves for Health.

Hooves for Health has brought me closer to my community. We assist a wide range of people and have visited many places including Bright Star Center for Grieving Children, Space Coast Early Intervention, Brevard Alzheimer’s Foundation, a senior daycare center, Head Start, HOPE Centers, Easter Seals, Health First Pediatric Rehab, an elementary school, and a pediatric ward. These facilities are all part of our regular visiting schedule. Our dedication to this cause takes a lot of prioritizing with our school responsibilities, sports and club commitments. Most visits take place on weekends and days with early dismissal from school.

When we visit we take into consideration the needs of the individuals by making or purchasing small gifts or treats like cupcakes, sugar-free lollipops (for diabetics at the senior daycare center), coloring books, crayons, stuffed animals, cowboy hats, bandannas and holiday candy.

To make our visits more memorable, and since laughter is the best medicine, we often dress Nipsey in costumes. She’s been a pumpkin and a clown for Halloween, Santa Claus and a reindeer for Christmas, worn hula-skirts during the summer, and been Uncle Sam for the Fourth of July. With these costumes, Nipsey wears baby sneakers to avoid slipping on the tiled floors, which is the children’s favorite accessory.

We have noticed a change after each visit, especially in the Alzheimer’s patients. We have observed that when we return, patients recognize Nipsey, and laugh. They may not remember our faces, but they remember Nipsey and that gives us hope of maintaining communication with these patients whose memory and intellectual abilities are decimated by the disease.

The smiles of recognition, the laughter of a bereaved child, the dynamic interaction with the handicapped, and a thank-you at the end of the journey make this community service a satisfying experience. Hooves for Health is an experience I will always carry with me.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the January 2006 Teen Ink Community Service Contest.






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cindyavina said...
Sept. 13, 2011 at 5:23 am
I admire you so much for your work. For years I have wanted to help handycapped individuals through equine therapy. Growing up. my father made his living as a blacksmith I pretty much grew up on a horse's back.Although I have experience with horses & caring for alzheimers patients, i do not know where to begin.Was there any assistance available to you as far as funding your project ?Would You be so kind as to provide me with a list of resources for funding,license requirements etc ?This is so... (more »)
 
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