At a point in every little girl’s life, she decides she wants a pony for Christmas.
Most parents usually respond to this request by making sure that Santa leaves a teeny plastic horse with a shock of bright pink hair under the tree.
Nine-year-old Natalia never got a chance to experience this moment of childhood joy.
Suffering from mental illness and addiction issues, Natalia’s parents were infrequent visitors in their daughter’s life and their absence had a profound effect. Scared to be left alone and reluctant to trust anyone, Natalia’s anxiety would soar on the rare occasions her mother sobered up and visited, causing Natalia’s academic progress to plummet.
She came to Community Partners for therapy services and was introduced to her case manager Anthony who worked hard to cement a trusting relationship with the young girl. Soon enough, Natalia opened up and started telling Anthony about her love of horses and how her dream was to go riding one day.
“A few weeks prior to my meeting Natalia, I attended a presentation by Horses Healing Hearts,” Anthony said. “The organization’s founder Liz Olskewski talked about how their program helps children regain trust after growing up dealing with substance abuse. “
Horses Healing Hearts’ mission is a personal one for Liz who grew up in a turbulent alcoholic home and credits her success in life to the help of family, therapeutic services and her deep love of horses.
“When I was 24, my mother died of liver disease stemming from alcoholism and that’s what prompted me to start Horses Healing Hearts,” Liz said. “Not everyone wants to talk about addiction. Sometimes it hits too close to home. From the age of 14, it was horses and mentors that carried me through and I wanted to pay it forward.”
Anthony filled out three separate applications, set up an interview between Natalia and HHH and the little girl who dreams of being a vet was deemed to be a, “perfect match.”
“When Natalia first arrived, it was so cute because she talked about horses all the time,” Liz said. “Initially, she was a little scared but I helped put her at ease. We counted to ten together and I made her laugh. I hand Natalia over to the instructor and five minutes later, she’s riding like she’s been doing it for years – shoulders back and head high!”
According to Horses Healing Hearts, horses have a lot in common with children of addiction. Both are loyal and long to please, many times to a fault and both are hyper-vigilant about their surroundings as a means of survival.
“Horses are prey animals with over-developed limbic systems. Their natural instinct is to trust humans unless given a reason not to,” Liz explained. “Our goal is to use the horse in such a way that it motivates the child. If you want to connect with this horse, you have to start feeling your feelings, be open and be genuine. Kids are so resilient and brave. It’s so enlightening.”
Case Manager Anthony said the bond between Natalia and her horse was immediate.
“At the end of the day, she came over and said that Wonder was her best friend,” he explained. “I thought that was such a cool thing and I was really happy that CP was able to connect Natalia with Horses Healing Hearts.”
Natalia’s natural proclivity towards riding, her connection with Wonder and her financial situation prompted Horses Healing Hearts to offer her a full scholarship.
“Her riding lessons and everything else like her helmet, boots and riding clothes are covered,” Liz explained. “Her grandmother won’t have to pay a thing.”
The good news didn’t stop there.
An anonymous donor heard about Natalia’s family and how the little girl is being raised by a grandmother who works full-time as an x-ray tech and an aunt who works in a doctor’s office while attending nursing school.
This donor understood Natalia’s struggle as she and her two daughters had escaped from an abusive, alcoholic home themselves and she wanted to ensure that Natalia and her family were able to have a great Thanksgiving.
“She wanted to remain anonymous but Natalia’s story spoke to her,” Anthony explained. “When she and her daughters were down and out, someone stepped up and provided Thanksgiving dinner for them and she wanted to pay it forward.”
The feast provided to the family was immense.
“It took four trips from the car to get it all into the house,” Anthony said. “Just soup to nuts. Turkey, fresh vegetables, two pies – pumpkin and apple, stuffing. Easily over $100 worth of groceries. And this isn’t coming from a wealthy woman. She’s a paralegal with two kids. She just really wanted to do something nice for Natalia’s family.”
Thanks to the help of Community Partners, Horses Healing Hearts and an anonymous angel, Natalia’s life is looking a lot brighter.
“She’s a girl of few words but she loves how much fun she’s having,” Anthony said. “All week long, she looks forward to Saturday so she can go riding.”
“She felt lighter and better,” said Liz. “This is a safe place to share.”