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Horse Sense Healing From an Unexpected Source

BY ELLIS AMBURN hough little Nina Johnston has no arms, suffers from scoliosis and requires surgery every six months. At five years of age she has already had three years of equine therapy and even won first place in a challenge horse show for those with special needs. Nina is just one of the many miracles of Horses Helping People, or HOPE. Established in 2000, the notfor-profit organization “offers occupational therapy and horseback-riding lessons to individuals with special needs,” according to an e-mailed press release. “Our offerings include a community outreach program, Pony Pals, that sends a


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miniature horse to hospitals and community organizations to raise spirits and provide the humananimal bond to children and adults who are undergoing treatment or coping with medical challenges.” Rocky, the miniature horse at HOPE, also visits schools and nursing facilities. He came to HOPE from Personal Ponies, a service that supplies minis for those requiring therapy. Rocky currently needs a “guardian angel” to ensure his monthly maintenance. According to the website, another program, Horses for Heroes, provides HOPE services free of charge to “injured [military] service personnel.” Soldiers “and their families [can] experience the benefits of riding and therapy

without the confines of a typical therapy setting.” Nina Johnston has difficulties with balance and flexibility; a permanent handicap, her mother Rebecca said in a telephone interview. “She was in a clinic twice a week for therapy,” she said. “Now she’s outside on a horse, where all little girls want to be. Instead of being different from her friends and having therapy, now she feels like, ‘I’m having horseback lessons.’ It gives her something to feel good about.” At HOPE, the focus for Nina is