Photo Essay by Colleen Lewis

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A photo essay by Hoofbeats volunteer, Rockbridge County High School freshman Colleen Lewis.

She is well on her way to being a professional – in our opinion.

Whatever your skills are – photography, organization, carpentry, fashion, painting, web design, writing, networking, cooking – there is a place for it at Hoofbeats, where skills and interests are encouraged and developed. Hoofbeats volunteers own the space to expand their creativity, develop ingenuity, and design and launch new ideas. Volunteer today. Apply your skills to change the present and train for success in the future.

By Jinae Kennedy

Volunteer Highlight: Congratulations to Katy Barron

Katy and Sybren

Katy and Sybren

Katie, Sybren and Ashley

Katie, Sybren and Ashley

Katy Barron – a Hoofbeats volunteer since she was just 8-years-old – began a new job this fall in NYC designing clothes for Kohl’s, jumping into a new and exciting phase of life. Throughout her childhood and adulthood, Katy’s experiences at Hoofbeats have shaped the successful woman she is today.

As an “absolutely horse crazy” 8-year-old, Katy first came to Hoofbeats in 1993, where she would spend every weekend for the next almost ten years. “We were given, what I realize only in retrospect, a lot of responsibility,” she said.

“We did just about everything from setting up the ring for lessons, helping with both disabled/ non-disabled riders, taking care of all the horses, cleaning tack, and mucking stalls. We worked hard, got dirty, and sometimes caused a little mischief- I loved every minute of it!” she explained.

Hoofbeats director Carol Branscome said that Katy was an integral part of Hoofbeats in those days. “This was a big part of her growing up,” Carol said.

In high school, Katy stopped riding and could not spend as many weekends at the barn but continued to volunteer sporadically with big events and photography.

After attending Roanoke College for a few years, she dropped out and started thinking about applying to Savannah School of Art and Design (SCAD). It was during this rough episode of questioning and high pressure, Carol said, that Katy’s mother encouraged her to return to Hoofbeats.

Using her incredible artistic senses, Katy lent her photography skills to Hoofbeats – and it was her 2008 photograph of Eliza that was selected among thousands as the winner of an EQUUS contest. This picture is internationally recognized and has been used in multiple publications. (Try it! If you “Google” therapeutic horseback riding, it will surface as one of the first listed images.)

With these award-winning photos in her portfolio, Katy applied and was accepted to SCAD, one of the most prestigious design schools in the country.

When she graduated in 2012, she could not find a job right away. “Being an unemployed college graduate is a miserable experience,” she said. “The last two years of my life have been some of the most brutal and emotionally trying.” After seven months in New York City trying to a full-time job without success, she moved back home last April, feeling defeated and broken.

Then, on a whim, Katy visited Hoofbeats and Carol introduced her to a beautiful and gentle horse named Sybren. “After that, I kept coming back,” she said.

Carol said she was so thankful to have Katy back. She told her former student, “Katy, if you will help me this summer, if you will design my costume for my Baroque gala, I will teach you how to ride that horse.”

Katy started training Sybren for the TRAV show in October, partnering with another young woman who had also volunteered at Hoofbeats since childhood. Carol said she saw her two former “littles” helping each other with this horse. Katy schooled Sybren for Ashlyn to ride in the show and Ashlyn groomed Sybren for Katy. The two young women supported each other to overcome so many fears and anxieties, Carol said. When they successfully showed Sybren at TRAV, Carol said with emotion in her voice, “I saw the culmination of 20 years of work.”

Continuing to lend her creative skills to Hoofbeats, Katy re-decorated and organized the center’s interior and designed Carol’s Baroque Gala costume. At the Gala, Carol said the judge showered compliments on the costume and one of her friends used it in a photo-shoot for her professional portfolio.

Using the costume in her own professional portfolio, Katy prepared for her final job interview last summer. The worst thing about job interviews – Carol said that Katy explained to her one day – is that they say Tell me about yourself, and you never know what to say. “Can you tell me about myself?” Carol said Katy then asked her. “I answered, Katy, you’re a rider, you’re an artist, and look at what you’ve done this year,” Carol said.

When Katy sat down for her last job interview, the inevitable prompt came – Tell me about yourself. And she took a deep breath and told them what she had been doing all summer long, Carol said.

Katy is now in New York City, designing clothes for Kohl’s. She is also volunteering at a therapeutic horseback riding center in the city.

Reflecting on her experiences, she said, “Growing up at Hoofbeats I developed a moral compass […] As a kid I witnessed the healing power of a program like Hoofbeats- only now, as an adult, do I truly understand it. The past 7 months at the barn […] have revived my soul!”

 By Jinae Kennedy

Hoofbeats would like to thank Katy for all of her hard work over the years and congratulate her on her new job. We cannot wait to see her back in Lexington for visits!

Invest in a Brighter Future – By Shopping on Amazon!

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“You Shop. Amazon Gives.”

That’s the slogan of the AmazonSmile program. Use the drop-menu to select your favorite charity (Hoofbeats!), and Amazon will donate a portion of your purchase to your cause. What a fantastic way to invest in a better future — helping people find freedom and healing through horses.

Check out AmazonSmile today at http://smile.amazon.com. When doing your usual shopping (especially buying textbooks, for all you college students!), please consider using AmazonSmile to invest in Hoofbeats.

By Jinae Kennedy

Riding My Way Back: Horses, Healing, and Disabled Veterans

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When you’re a disabled veteran, you have lost everything, said U.S. Army staff sergeant Aaron Heliker.

Heliker told his story in the 2014 award-winning documentary Riding My Way Back – an emotional film that Hoofbeats has screened multiple times for our volunteers and supporters.

Heliker was only 19-years-old when he hugged his mother good-bye for his first deployment in active combat zone. He served several tours of duty and returned home with a head injury and severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

At Walter Reed Medical Center, he received treatment  — in the form of 42 suppressive pills a day, said his mother with tears of anger and sadness rolling down her face. She said she looked into her son’s eyes and saw that they were dead.

Disabled veterans feel alone and useless, said Heliker. “When we’re deployed, we fit in, we have a purpose,” he explained. But when warriors come home, their purpose is gone and it is easy to get lost in a haze of medication and discouragement, according to this disabled vet. At his lowest point, Heliker said he wrote a suicide letter and prepared to end his life.

With that letter still stored in his belongings, Heliker began visiting a therapeutic riding center — where he met a horse named Fred, who changed his life.

“The horses can do it. The horses are the therapists,” said one of the instructors. Horses are prey animals and herd animals, so they sense and reflect emotion, she said.

If there was a day that he did not show up, Heliker said that this instructor would call him, claiming she needed help with something or she could not get Fred — a mischievous gray gelding with the reputation of the barn clown — to listen to her. Trudging out to the barn almost every day, Heliker spent hours training or quietly brushing or sitting with Fred.

One day, Heliker approached one of the instructors and handed her an envelope, saying he wanted her to keep it. It was a suicide note. With tears streaming down her face, she recounted how Aaron had said he did not need it anymore — because he had Fred.

Since then, Heliker said he has found his purpose helping other disabled veterans find peace through horses. He and Fred work now work at the same riding center, connecting fellow warriors with strong and mighty horses who can listen, understand, and partner with these returning heroes.  “I have a mission here at home and I’m going to follow through,” Heliker said.

Over 2.5 million veterans have come home since 9/11.

Many of them are coming home to Rockbridge and the surrounding counties. As compared with other cities and states, our area has a disproportionately high percentage of brave citizens who serve in the armed forces. Hoofbeats is a registered equestrian center with the Wounded Warriors program and our horses have had the opportunity to partner with a few of these veterans.

Hoofbeats director Carol Branscome said that Riding My Way Back accurately portrays the healing power of horses, but it is not just veterans who need to find peace and a renewed purpose. Struck by the scene of Heliker’s mother talking about dead eyes, Branscome said she has seen the same dead eyes  in a troubled 12-year-old boy,  in a woman suffering domestic abuse, and in so many others who walk through Hoofbeats’ doors. Just as Heliker explained about disabled veterans, all people need a purpose and a mission, Branscome said. That is key to finding peace.

 

Find more details about this incredible documentary, Riding My Way Back, and discover how horses are helping disabled veterans at http://www.ridingmywayback.com/#welcome

By Beth Jinae Kennedy

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Blueberry

Blueberry

With an eight-year therapy career under his belt, Blueberry is a real Hoofbeats veteran. “He loves it here,” said director Carol Branscome.

From the very beginning, Blue was a stubborn fighter. He was born on South River and slipped under a fence, spending his first night in this world alone in a creek.

Eight years ago, he began his career at Hoofbeats. He was born to do this job and he takes it very seriously.  He specializes in riders with Attention Deficit Disorder and Panic Attacks. His steady, non-nonsense personality puts them at ease and helps them focus.

By Jinae Kennedy

A Picture Says a Thousand Words

2014

A proud young man riding Harry.

A proud young man riding Harry.

Hermes and Connor. Hermes' ear is tilted to Connor -- "Because he trusts her," said Carol.

Hermes and Connor. Hermes’ ear is tilted to Connor — “Because he trusts her,” said Carol.

Henry, always the teacher, hard at work. Summer 2014.

Henry, always the teacher, hard at work. Summer 2014.

BoLodato at the TRAV show

BoLodato at the TRAV show

Elsa and Spirit at TRAV

Elsa and Spirit at TRAV

Katie, Sybren and Ashley

Katie, Sybren and Ashley

Spirit and his new friend.

Spirit and his new friend.

Nancy Loves Harry

Nancy Loves Harry

Sybren is spoiled. (TRAV show)

Sybren is spoiled. (TRAV show)

Harry at the TRAV show.

Harry at the TRAV show.

BoLodato, Maria Pennine, and a young rider during the National Anthem at Dressage With a View.

BoLodato, Maria Pennine, and a young rider during the National Anthem at Dressage With a View.

One of our little "barn rats" with a kitten.

One of our little “barn rats” with a kitten.

A Dressage Workshop with dear friends that Carol lovingly dubbed "Old Lady Dressage Camp."

A workshop with dear friends that Carol lovingly dubbed “Old Lady Dressage Camp.” 

TRAV show

TRAV show

The first day back of 2014 Spring Session.

The first day back of 2014 Spring Session.

Carol and BoLodato giving a lesson.

Carol and BoLodato giving a lesson.

Sybren.

Sybren.

Lessons.

Lessons.

 Sybren and one of his best friends. Did you see that?

Sybren and one of his best friends. Did you see that?

Fun at a Show.

Fun at a Show.

Everybody loves Sam.

Everybody loves Sam.

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Commander

TRAV

TRAV

BoLodato and  "little"

BoLodato and “little”

One of our Young Riders of the Year

One of our Young Riders of the Year

Pat the Cat. An irreplaceable member of our staff.

Pat the Cat. An irreplaceable member of our staff.

HOOFBEATS 2014 – some reflections and highlights

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A Mission –  Why We Do What We Do

We give people a soft spot to land and a place to belong and be celebrated. We provide an avenue for people in our community to share their own gifts with others. Our greatest joy at Hoofbeats is the chance to watch people bloom.

Some Highlights 

Wounded Warriors Project: Hoofbeats was part of a retreat for Special Operations soldiers and their families,  helping them experience the peace and unconditional acceptance that horses offer. Hoofbeats continues to serve the families of service men and women.

Show Teams: Hoofbeats riders participated in the Commonwealth Games, Dressage with a View Show Series, and the Therapeutic Riding Association of Virginia’s annual competition.

A proud winner!

A proud winner!

A great ride!

A great ride!

The TRAV show in October

The TRAV show in October

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drill Team Riding: Hoofbeats is known for its drill teams that demonstrate rider skills at every level. Along with performing at our in-house Dinner Theaters, these teams are frequently invited to open for other venues as flag teams. This year, Hoofbeats appeared again to a packed house at the Baroque Equestrian Games.

Special Olympics: In conjunction with the VMI Games, Hoofbeats and the Virginia Horse Center again hosted the Special Olympics of Va. equestrian division — where riders competed in Dressage, Equitation, and Trail events. This was our eighth year providing this service.

Our VMI volunteers

Our VMI volunteers

Our wonderful riders

Our wonderful riders

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lesson Program: Our riders achieved big strides this year, developing as riders, as citizens, and as caring people. The BARN RAT program saw former “littles” graduate into Junior Staff members who mentored a new crop of “littles.” Some of our previous barn rats and Eagle Scouts came back to visit, mentoring our current students and sharing their new skills and valuable advice. Some of our rats are planning to go off to college and to the military in the fall.  Hoofbeats is so proud of the volunteerism that these young adults learned here, which still plays a large role in their lives and aspirations.

We have lots of young riders this year and we celebrate them as the future of our program. Our adult rider program continues to provide strong physical, mental, and social support. Hoofbeats is proud of our diverse demographics – which forms a true peer group and an avenue for young and old to share their lives with each other. In the three eight-week sessions of 2014 Hoofbeats provided well over 2,000 hours of instruction to an average of 49 weekly riders. As the program’s reputation has grown in the community and surrounding counties, requests from all over Virginia have begun to pour in. Just this year, 120 riders have visited to enjoy our facility for a short-term or one-time-ride program.

The Barn Rats

The Barn Rats

 

One of our young riders

One of our young riders

Different ages, different abilities, different experiences. One community.

Different ages, different abilities, different experiences. One community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Internships and Community Service: As the value of equine therapy gains more recognition, Hoofbeats has become a training ground for future therapists and leaders. We hosted one Summer Intern and mentored one aspiring instructor through the Path International program. We adored both of these women and are proud of their success! As part of a new collaborative internship program with the UVA College of Health Sciences, Mary Baldwin College has asked Hoofbeats to be a placement partner. Next year, we will be working with their students for weekly, month-long, and semester internships. Meanwhile, two students from the Washington and Lee University Bonner Service Program have been actively assisting us with the lessons, special events, and social media. Hoofbeats continues to provide a venue for W&L and VMI’s service days and for community service hours for Rockbridge and Alleghany counties.

 

By Carol Branscome and Jinae Kennedy