Local therapy horses bring dose of cheer to Newtown community
Published: Saturday, January 12, 2013 at 8:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 12, 2013 at 8:40 p.m.
A team of miniature therapy horses from Gainesville provided such comfort and cheer to residents of Newtown, Conn., in the aftermath of the school shooting that they got an extended stay.
The three horses from Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses left the Connecticut city for home Thursday after a two-week stay. They originally intended to stay one week.
"The kids — everyone opened up and told us what happened to them," said Debbie Garcia-Bengochea who, with her husband Jorge, founded and operates Gentle Carousel. "It was heartbreaking to hear, but at the same time, families were doing something together, which was good. We heard from a lot of people that it was their first time out."
The nonprofit was contacted by organizations in Newtown shortly after Adam Lanza, 20, killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School before killing himself on Dec. 14. He killed his mother before he went to the school.
In Newtown, the horses and their handlers visited schools, spent private time with families and cheered up first responders.
Magic, a Gentle Carousel horse that has won numerous honors for her work, met more than 600 people at Newtown's library and the library parking lot for those unable to fit inside during three one-hour sessions.
"They asked us to do a program at the library and told us that not many people had been going there, so it might just be two or three people. Over 600 came," Garcia-Bengochea said. "The librarian said the kids were beginning to act like kids — they were laughing, and they were excited to come in and meet the horses."
The horses visiting Newtown with Magic were selected for their experience working inside schools and libraries.
Students and families from Sandy Hook Elementary had time with the horses at the Newtown Youth Academy Sports and Fitness Center.
Meanwhile, the horses saw snow for the first time. The work was intense for them, but Garcia-Bengochea said they would recover on breaks by running and bucking outside. At night, they stayed in a heated horse ambulance.
The horses that traveled to Newtown will get a little vacation when they return to Florida and then will make their first public Florida appearance at a library program in Ocala.
Garcia-Bengochea said the people of Newtown were extremely nice and accommodating to the Gentle Carousel horses and volunteers.
"What I took away from it was that under the worst of circumstances, I felt they were the best people," she said.
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