Hope Equine Rescue Celebrates Christmas Of Hope
by James Coulter
Young Chloe loves to read. Every month, she and her family visit someplace special where this kindergartener can read aloud to special guests. It’s not a library. It’s not a nursing home. It’s actually Hope Equine Rescue, and the special “guests” she reads to are horses.
As part of the Reading With Rescues program, 5-year-old Chloe is one of many young children who reads to horses that are being sheltered and trained within the Winter Haven rescue facility.
On Monday, she and her family were able to visit the horses for a special Christmas party. She brought along her favorite Christmas story, “Five Busy Elves” by Patricia Hegarty, to read that evening.
When asked what she loves most about the Reading with Rescues program, Chloe replied, “I get to see all of the beautiful horses.”
That evening, she was joined by her parents, Katherine and Steve Gaymont, and her brother, Soren, 3. The Gaymonts enjoy being able to frequent the horse rescue facility. Chloe loves it especially, as it combines her love of horses with reading.
“For our children, it has given them a real love of reading as emerging leaders themselves,” Katherine said. “They are always talking about how excited they are to read to the horses…So it has been cool to see her grow in the program. It helps them get energized about being appreciative and helping animals.”
Afterward, they were able to enjoy other holiday festivities with the other guests such as eating Christmas cookies, drinking hot cocoa, riding a horse-drawn carriage, and especially visiting Santa Claus himself.
Leigh Ann Webb, Volunteer Director for Hope Equine, attended that evening to allow guests the opportunity to meet one of their therapy horses, Batman. Webb adopted the little pony a year ago to train him for therapy.
Training him has required the horse to dress up in costumes as well as wear a diaper bag so that he can remain indoors. His calm demeanor made him the perfect candidate to become a therapy pony, Webb said.
“Overall, I picked him because he is nice and calm…and he really, really loves to be petted,” she said. “So I did not have to train him much. He already came like that.”
Webb enjoys being able to participate and volunteer within Hope Equine Rescue, as it allows her to interact with both children and horses. Being able to see both happy and healthy makes her involvement all the worthwhile to her.
“I think the thing I enjoy the most is being able to interact with the kids,” she said. “They do a lot for rescue horses and [other] horses that are neglected. It is amazing the things they can do to help save these horses.”
The “Hope For Christmas” event that evening proved successful. More than 40 children participated to not only celebrate the holiday season, but also the Reading With Rescues Program.
Mary Shields, director of the reading program, explains that the program not only allows their rescue horses to receive love and attention but also allows children to practice reading aloud within a judgment-free environment.
“[Our program] promotes confidence building, teaching them how to speak out loud to a group without any kind of judgment,” she said. “Then the horses benefit from the fact that they are introduced to children.”
Hope Equine Rescue has been in operation for more than a decade. The non-profit organization recently relocated to its new location in Northeast Winter Haven. The work they do to help assist neglected and abandoned horses they could not do without the assistance of the Sheriff’s Department and their team of more than 200 volunteers, Shields said.
Aside from their Reading With Rescues program, Hope Equine hopes to introduce other programs and events, including for handicapped individuals, children with disabilities, and Wounded Warriors.
Hope Equine Rescue is located at 3805 High Street NE, Winter Haven, FL 33881. For more information, visit https://hopeequinerescue.com, or call 863-287-7503.