BY KRISTA MARTIN
September was Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, a time to recognize the children and families affected by childhood cancers and highlight the importance of supporting research on these devastating conditions. While many non-essential services have come to a halt in the wake of COVID-19, Lifting Spirits Miniature Horse Therapy has been making house calls to benefit some amazing children battling cancer.
As many horse lovers already know, these magical animals can strengthen the body, soothe the mind and touch the soul. Research has shown that equine therapy has positive mental, social, educational, spiritual and physical benefits. Interacting with animals has been proven to lower blood pressure, enhance general cardiovascular health, and release endorphins, which can reduce pain and stress – all very important for children and families facing serious illnesses.
In Lynn, MA, “Idaho” made a special visit to a brave 3-year-old battling rhabdomyoscarcoma, an extremely rare cancer that forms in soft tissue. Diagnosed in June, Bridget Vinard had surgery to remove the tumors a month ago, and is in week 11 of a minimum of 42 weeks of chemotherapy and radiation. Bridget was all smiles when she met Idaho. He was the perfect size for her to style his mane in the September sunshine outside her home. For more about Bridget’s story, or to purchase a “Bridget the Brave” bracelet, you can visit her GoFundMe page.
In Hudson, NH, “Peaches” dressed as a unicorn to visit two-year-old Gabby Distefano. Gabby has metochromatic leukodystrophy (MLD), a rare genetic and incurable disease with an expected lifespan of only 5-10 years. Gabby was awed by Peaches with her pink highlights and sparkling unicorn horn. Gabby’s family is trying to raise awareness of MLD and support for the MLD Foundation.
In Andover, MA, “Mr. Buttons” and “Idaho” visited two girls in treatment for B-cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). Sarah Duval is an 11-year-old from Andover, MA, and Maggie Dwyer is a 6-year-old from Chelmsford, MA. Their families were acquainted through mutual friends before either girl was diagnosed, and have become close as they navigate the same treatment for the exact same cancer. Both Sarah and Maggie are undergoing up to two years of chemotherapy. Lifting Spirits was able to distract the girls from any thoughts of cancer during an afternoon of braiding manes and tails, brushing, and patting the horses on Sarah’s front lawn.
The Lifting Spirits Miniatures are a herd of six – Charlie, Tonka, Banshee, Peaches, Mr. Buttons and Idaho – ranging in size from 24 to 36 inches tall. Peaches, Mr. Buttons and Idaho are miniature horses with dwarfism, a genetic mutation that results in a smaller than normal body size with a variety of conformational faults and deformities. Lifting Spirits uses its programs to advocate for dwarf miniature horses, educating the public about their special needs and the care they require. This often creates a unique connection to those also struggling with medical issues.
Lifting Spirits is the only registered animal therapy organization in New England using miniature horses. It currently serves over 85 nursing homes, memory care units, assisted living centers, hospitals, medical centers and schools throughout the region. In addition to medically related visits, Lifting Spirits offers: Just Say Whoa® to Bullying, a national program aimed at teaching children to be up standers to bullying, not bystanders; Read to a Mini, a literacy program for children and adults, especially important during this time of limited school services and remote learning; and Valor, promoting partnerships with local law enforcement to engage with citizens in a positive way.
Lifting Spirits is a federally recognized 501c3 non-profit organization. 100% of funds received go directly toward rescue, training, care and supplies for our miniature horses. To learn more, sponsor a visit or donate please visit us at www.minitherapyhorses.net.