To Whom It May Concern:
I have been volunteering on a weekly basis with Horses Healing Hearts for the past nine years starting only months after the inception of the program. I started at Luckiest By Far Stables in Wellington, FL my first year and since then, I have been at Johnson’s Folly Horse Farm in Delray Beach, FL. My starting date was August 15, 2010. I worked beside, Liz Olszewski, the founder of the program, from the beginning. I have seen her devotion and hard work in the program make it what it is today. The format has changed somewhat since then. I worked with many other volunteers, trainers and therapists who have since moved on. We have certainly come a long way. It’s only about six years that we have an air conditioned barn for our “circle time” and a place to play and store our games. We operate 12 months of the year. This is Florida. It gets really hot on sunny afternoons. In the early years sometimes we all just squeezed under a gazebo to catch some shade. (The kids love it so much it didn’t even phase them.) These children are my heroes. They are so very courageous for what they have lived through in their short lives. Some of them are small in stature but yet not afraid to get on some of the bigger horses. Of course, we have horses of all sizes and temperaments to accommodate each child.
I have personally witnessed over time such dramatic changes in the personality and behavior of the children. It breaks my heart when some of them stop coming because of family problems which forces them to move in with relatives or go into foster care out of the area.
Sometimes a child doesn’t want to ride on a particular day and we let it slide but they still love coming to the barn. They identify with the other children during “circle time” sharing and they love the group leader, Miss Lisa Henderson. The atmosphere at the barn is relaxed (free of family members) so that the children can feel comfortable to say what’s in their heart. Over the years I have heard some pretty sad and shocking stories.
Some of the children that have been with the program since its inception have changed drastically. Some are withdrawn, angry, depressed, fearful and antisocial when they first come to the sessions. Each week I can see a positive change in their attitude and a slight improvement in sociability. Sometimes the children don’t want to leave after the session is over. They want to stay at the barn. There’s a freedom they feel that shows in their relaxed and peaceful attitude. I’ve seen some children that started at six or seven years old that are now teens and still coming to the program that are totally different people today. Some are going to high school now and some are starting college. They talk a lot more, smile a lot more and hug a lot more. Some children get attached to each other and play big brother or big sister to one another. I’ve seen children come to the session anxious and fidgety and having trouble sitting still. After they ride, it’s like someone turned a switch off in them and they’re focused, relaxed and able to interact and play games with the other children.
The children love the horses. They all have favorites they prefer to ride. I see them hug, pet and kiss the horses. After they are finished riding they often want to help the trainer by leading a horse while the next rider is getting ready to ride. The people at Johnson’s Folly Farm are phenomenal. The experienced trainers are great and the owner, Nongae Johnson, and her daughter, Norma, are extremely supportive of Horses Healing Hearts and have done everything they can to help the children and make the program a success. They are very much in tune to each child’s individual needs. Nongae had Installed a tent over one of the large rings several years ago which has made it 15 degrees cooler for the kids when they’re riding and, of course, keeps them dry when it rains.
I can’t say enough about Horses Healing Hearts. It is a worthwhile and beneficial program and the children will reap the benefits of the experience for the rest of their lives.