Community Director, Gina Switzer shares with us this year’s theme child for Personal Ponies. Gina wrote to us at the end of 2013 telling us about Hershey’s special friend who has been coming to visit for over a year. “Lauren has 2 chromosome disorders and she's the only known person in the world alive with both of them. Lauren is 28 but was not expected to live past 5. She's very small and Hershey is just her size. She's had lots of therapies and lots of successes but she struggled with anxiety and some other issues that seemed to be helped by pony visits. At first she was terrified of the ponies, but loved picking up poop (which she named "ahem" so as not to say a bad word :-) At some point in the summer I was able to get her to hold Hershey's lead all by herself. Now I'm trying to get certified with Special Olympics so she can show Hershey in hand at a Special Olympics equestrian event.”
Gina continues to share that the bigger issue that Hershey helped her with was the sudden death of her father last February. He was only 53 and his death was a serious blow to the whole family on every level. Coming to visit ponies was a benefit to both mom and daughter. Her two younger brothers also in their 20s are still struggling (they all are) but the boys have been helped by knowing that their sister and mom have this place of comfort.
Gina said, “There are many funny/sweet stories like us taking "pony boys" for a walk and me overhearing her talking to Hershey who she nicknamed PonyDad. She was talking quite seriously to him saying, "I know PonyDad, no boys. I know. I'm your princess." She and her mom became regular helpers with other visitors and groups of visitors. They even made gluten free sugar cookies in the shape of horse heads to share with visitors. Lauren has a "cocktail" personality and she's been a great benefit when new people come, showing them how to do chores and introducing the ponies etc. What is really special is that both Lauren and her mother have shared in their own words what this program has meant to them.
In Lauren’s own words
Hello my name is Lauren Westbrook I'm 28 years old and this is my story. A couple years ago I had something happen to me that has given me a new view on life and spending time with the ponies has been the best. life is precious and you never know what will happen in a short time.
I love grooming the ponies and petting them and cleaning out the shelter and pony pen it gives me confidence and makes me stronger and petting them calms me down. Almost a year ago I lost my dad unexpectedly. He got sick pretty fast. A few weeks after he was admitted to the hospital he passed away which had not been easy for me and my family but Gina and her ponies have helped me with my anxiety which I have had for a really long time but it worsened after my hospitalization and after my father died. Hershey has been especially helpful with that. I call him pony dad cause he has been taking care of me like a dad would when I'm sick. He stands next to me and won't leave my side. also he has been giving me new confidence with walking so I am not as shy around people now cause for a while I was shy after what happened to my family. He's so cute like a little furby. Snickers has helped cheer me up by being a great pony bro. He's so funny a little mischievous little guy he has been so funny and playful. He has made me crack up a bunch of times even when I feel like crying. He is there to make me laugh of course he is not always hyper he can be calm.
Lauren’s Mom’s Words
Two years ago my daughter Lauren and I went to a Birthday party of her friend. Out in the back yard was this beautiful little pony that had come to visit the children attending the party. Standing back and watching I observed Hershey the pony bringing smiles and Joy to everyone near including myself. I learned he was a personal pony and thought how wonderful it would be for my daughter to be able to spend time with this perfect little creature. She loves animals especially fury ones and Hershey was just her size as she is 48" tall as a young adult. Lauren was born with two chromosomal abnormalities which no one else in the world has been known to have. Lauren is 28 today but wasn't expected to live past 5. Lauren has many challenges but to go with these challenges God gifted her with a great zest for life and love of all.
I called Gina about Lauren visiting her pony and Lauren's awesome experience began. At that time Lauren was living with anxiety that affected all aspects of her life. Anxiety from PTS as a result of being very sick and hospitalized in the ICU at Children's Hospital for three months. Because of the anxiety she really wasn't able to go anywhere without me staying right by her side. After only two visits with Hershey I realized Lauren was standing in the driveway waving goodbye to me as I drove away.
Over the next ten months Hershey and Lauren became great friends. At first Lauren was afraid of Hershey but thought he was the cutest thing she had ever seen. She did love scooping pony poop (which she calls "Ahem" as not to say a bad word) with her pink pitch fork. After many visits Lauren got more confident and began to trust Hershey. Her ability to handle Hershey grew and she is now able to lead him on a walk to the neighborhood park talking to him all the way. Hershey is a great listener. After a visit one day Lauren told me "talking with Hershey and petting his soft, fuzzy cute body made her feel safe and calm inside. Kind of like medicine."
Gina has Lauren come to help her with the ponies when other visitors come. Lauren gets to show them how to do some of the chores and share what she has learned about the ponies and their habits, needs and personality. She (with my help) makes pony cut out cookies for the visitors when they come. Decorating is her favorite part as she ooohs and aahhs over each cute cookie. This is a great social opportunity as well as a wonderful purpose of helping.
Last February something unimaginable happened to our family. Laurens Father suddenly got sick and passed away. This was devastating to her and our entire family. Hershey was now there for Lauren in even a bigger way. We visited him as often as possible. Lauren would talk over her days with Hershey who she now calls Pony dad! She was talking quite seriously to him one day on a walk saying, "I know pony dad, no boys. I know. I'm your princess." Along with serious moments are the moments the wind is blowing Hershey's forelock up in the air and he looks like a Furby and makes us all laugh.
In 2007, the very special Ludham family and their two year old daughter, Mahala, joined Personal Ponies Ltd. One of the first ponies from our program to visit the Ludham’s Hillside Ranch was Greystone White Raine, known as Raine. However, Raine’s first visit to the Ludham’s was only in passing. Jeri, Mahalas’s mom, had agreed to help transport three ponies from Atlanta to Louisiana for us and Raine was one of them. Raine spent three days with the Ludlam's and during that time, the whole family fell in love with her. Raine went on her way and two other ponies were sent to Hillside Ranch for Mahala, Lady Blue and her gelded sone Tippy. Three years later, Raine’s caretaker, Kay, called Jeri and asked if she would be interested in caring for Raine and her filly Abby. As Jeri said, “it had to be fate”.
Jeri was delighted and really had no idea at the time the impact Raine would make on Mahala and the friendship that would follow. The pictures we have shared show what a delightful, patient, cooperative Greystone's White Raine has taught a 6 yr old child with Down Syndrome!!! Doctors and therapists had told the family that it was impossible for Mahala to ride completely independently...Raine said, "Stick with me, kid, and we'll DO the impossible"!!! She gave Mahala wings and for that Jeri will tell you she is so grateful!!
Six years later, an 8 year old Mahala is competing in barrel racing and has taught Raine HERSELF the barrel racing patterns. Mahala races against TYPICAL kids....and wins. The pony AND the child LOVE IT!!! To share some of Mahala’s own words with everyone, “My name is Mahala Ludlam. I am 7 years old and I live at the Hillside Ranch in Eufaula, Alabama. We have all kinds of animals on our farm, and I am learning to take care of them. I go to Eufaula Primary School. I am in 2nd grade in Mrs. Hatfield's class. I love my friends. I can dance and sing and ride my horse and read. My horse, Dusty, and I compete against typical kids at Stateline Horseman's Association. In 2012, I have won 8 belt buckles and over 100 ribbons in Barrel Racing, Arena Racing, Tunnel Racing, and Potato Racing...and oh yeah, I have Down Syndrome. But that's not what makes me special. I make me special. My mom says I am NOT DISabled....I am DIFFERENTLY-able. . I may not do things just like everyone else, and it may take a little longer for me, but I CAN do them. Besides what does it matter how long it takes?? We get in too big a hurry in life anyway and forget to LIVE!!!!! Thank you for visiting my page and helping me get the message out to other people who are differently- abled or have children who are differently abled, that we CAN do it!! We can do things thought impossible by our doctors and therapists. Never let them set limits on you!!! You are fearfully and wonderfully made by a God who DOES NOT make mistakes!!! Only Believe!!! If we can ever be of help to you, please contact us at: Attn: Mahala Ludlam Hillside Ranch 190 Hidden Acres Road Eufaula, Alabama 36027”
In 2010, the family had some financial and health challenges which forced them to downsize their pony herd from 10 to only a couple. They kept Raine and she is now retired with them at age 29 where she still is ridden regularly by Mahala. The family wishes they also had Abby who is taking after her mother in personality and patience. In Jeri’s words, “Raine has been blessing to us every day. Mahala comes home from school each day wanting to go directly to the barn. This patient pony allows her to halter, groom and (with help) tack her, and we have total confidence that she is safe on Raine.” Mahala has become quite a horseperson and is currently a Champion barrel racer because of the skills that Raine taught her that she could carry with her to ride the big horse that she races. She and Raine will participate in Pony Barrels in 2013. We are truly thankful for teacher (Greystone White Raine) and student (Mahala).
Jeri said, “She was sent for Mahala I know that!!!!”
OTHER FABULOUS PHOTOS....TO AMAZING NOT TO SHARE!!!!!
Shyanna and Takel Whiting
It used to be that each year we nominated a child as our Personal Ponies theme child but we realized that often it is the whole family that deserves this recognition. This could not be more true fort Takel Whiting and her family. Takel Whiting and her family have been involved with Personal Ponies since May 1 2009. We placed two ponies, Angus and ShyAnna, with Takel on May 9, 2009. From the first visit, our State Director, Donnis Mager knew Personal Ponies was what Takel needed. And now Donnis is the first to tell you that now it is our program that needs Takel. Takel is a true vision as to what the ponies can do for a child. Her first visit she could not stay on task more than a few seconds and was challenged every request she was given. Now almost three years later she is able to stay on task do what is asked of her including taking care of the ponies. Takel now halters and walks the ponies on her own and is always telling the ponies “you need to listen to me or you can not go for a walk!” When she first started with the ponies Angus and ShyAnna would run from Takel. Now they run to Takel for the LOVE she gives them. Donnis and her mother, Shelly will tell you that it has been an amazing journey. When Takel visits Donnis to see the new babies or the other ponies she will ask if Mr. Mager is home. She will knock on his office door and ask his permission to go see the ponies. She has become a very polite girl that listens to what people are saying. The ponies have reinforced her good behavior and have encouraged her beyond anything imagined. Donnis also talks about how supportive the family is of our program doing anything she needs to be helpful. The family now gets involved and participates in all of our community activity that Below is a copy of a letter Shelly sent to a few months ago. Enjoy the letter and the photos!
The Twomey family has been on a long adventure towards finding the magic of Personal Ponies. Twenty-five years ago, Derrill and I (Deb, the Mom) met while working with children with severe disabilities in a nursing home. We wanted to do something so that the children who might be able to grow up in a family had that chance. After getting married we started adopting children with severe physical, cognitive and health challenges. We quickly learned to care for their physical needs but couldn’t always meet their social needs.
We at PERSONAL PONIES are repeatedly amazed at the courage of the children with whom we place our ponies, but we have been especially touched by Jared Wulfekuhle's charm and determination. He is an inspiration to all who know him and we are delighted that his family has agreed to represent PPL in activities in their community and to serve as our Theme Child for 2003.
We at PERSONAL PONIES are repeatedly amazed at the courage of the children with whom we place our ponies, but we have been especially touched by Taisha Bakker's love of life and indomitable spirit. She is an inspiration to all who know her and we are delighted that she has agreed to represent PPL in activities in her community and to serve as our Poster Girl for 2002.