By special request, Debbie Garcia-Bengochea and her husband, Jorge, will be taking their miniature therapy horses on the road to Newtown, Conn. to help the families who lost loved ones in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.
HIGH SPRINGS – While church groups and canine therapy organizations are traveling to Newtown, Conn. on their own to offer assistance to the community coping with the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School killings, personal requests have been made directly from affected family members, public officials, municipal organizations and citizen groups to bring Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses to Newtown to work directly with those most directly affected by the massacre.
As one Newtown parent told Gentle Carousel, “We want our kids to dream of minis, instead of monsters.”
“How do you say no to that?” said Debbie Garcia-Bengochea who, with her husband Jorge, founded the all-volunteer nonprofit charity, located in High Springs and Alachua, in 2002. Presently, the organization has 32 tiny therapy horses, each one of which has two volunteers working with them. The therapy teams work with over 18,000 local adults and children each year in hospitals, hospice programs, assisted living programs, schools and libraries to bring their special love where it is needed most.
“Normally, we would be winding down somewhat after the holidays,” said Debbie Garcia-Bengochea, “but we were contacted by organizations and families in Newtown, so we’re preparing to go to Connecticut just after Christmas instead. It’s the kind of call you can’t say no to,” she said.
“We are scrambling to put money and everything else together,” she added. “Expenses have to be covered and arrangements have to be made. We’re not sure how we’re going to do it, but we could not turn down such earnest requests,” she said.
Families, organizations and first responders are “guiding us through,” explained Garcia-Bengochea. “Everyone is talking about it up there. I guess a lot of people are aware of our horses through Facebook,” she said. “They [people of Newtown] have been fundraising, setting up itineraries, scheduling private times with families, children and first responders and setting up other “pretty major things” that Garcia-Bengochea says she is not free to discuss at this time.
“I think the private things we will be doing with individuals will be the most helpful,” she said, but “Gentle Carousel Horses will be available to do whatever the community identifies as a need.”
Although the trip was not planned and the request only came in on Dec. 19, 2012, “just at a time when we were winding things down for the year,” some things seem to be falling into place so far. Several youngsters have been doing fundraising. A small school in Brazil put their money together and sent it to them to help defray costs. One child sent $1, explaining that it was her “hole” allowance. School children from Australia also sent a donation to help. “There has been an outreach from all over to help get us there,” said Garcia-Bengochea.
People are doing whatever they can to help. A group of volunteers from Maryland with a heated horse ambulance will be meeting Gentle Carousel in Newtown so the Florida horses will stay warm. A Newtown horse farm will have stalls and pastures for the horses to relax in after work. A horse transportation company is helping get the minis part way to Connecticut.
Magic, the most well-known of the Gentle Carousel Horses, was selected by AARP’s magazine as The Most Heroic Pet in America, and will be among the horses traveling to Connecticut. “Our horses have been featured in all kinds of magazines,” said Garcia-Bengochea. Magic was also selected by TIME Magazine / CNN as one of History’s Ten Most Heroic Animals (the only living animal on the list), as well as Reader’s Digest / Americantowns’ Power of One Hero (the only non-human Power of One Hero) and was one of Newsweek / The Daily Beast’s Ten Most Heroic Animals in America of 2010.
“Hugh Jackman even talked about our horses on Broadway,” said Garcia-Bengochea. “He was very gracious,” she said, and even invited her husband, Jorge, on stage to dance.
“Aladdin, our all white horse, will be going as well,” she said. Others are still being determined, but a total of four horses, including Magic and Aladdin, six volunteers plus Jorge and Debbie Garcia-Bengochea are expected to make the trip.
While the couple and their volunteers are clearly moved by the request, there are still a lot of details that need to be worked out. “We will be staying until well after school starts up again,” said Garcia-Bengochea. “We are usually running in the red,” she said. “We’re somewhat used to that. But this trip will be especially costly.”
The Gentle Carousel program is dependent on donations to help accomplish all the visits made by the organization each year and this visit is no exception. Although donations are coming in, more is needed.
Anyone wishing to donate directly to Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses for the trip to Newtown, Conn. may do so through their donation link at www.facebook.com/TherapyHorses or their website at www.Horse-Therapy.org.
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