By Misty DUPLESSIS
AHEAD with Horses held its annual Photo Fun Day on June 8, an opportunity to showcase the organization’s beautiful horses and the amazing students who ride them.
AHEAD – Accelerated Habilitation Education And Development – has been utilizing horses to provide therapy and education to disabled/disadvantaged/at-risk and special needs children for the last four decades. The program offers lessons on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at its Shadow Hills facility and on Thursdays its mobile program travels to Sullivan Canyon to offer lessons to Malibu residents.
During Saturday’s event, students, families and friends enjoyed a fun-filled day of games, arts and crafts, a silent auction, music and barbecue fare. But the highlight was when the students mounted up to show their riding abilities.
Fifteen-year-old Mark Branca began riding with AWH eight months ago, but his family has already begun to see a change in his development.
“When he started, he wasn’t talking as much,” said Branca’s mother. “Here, he’s telling the horses to walk and [he’s] doing all these cool poses on the horses and standing up and [gaining] strength. He’s enjoying it.”
Five-year-old Hayden Morhar has been a part of the program for the last two and half years. During that time, the program has taught him how to be calmer, follow directions and give commands to the horse.
Among the guests was Congressman Adam Schiff who handed out awards to all students who participated in the showcase.
“It’s just wonderful to watch these beautiful kids with such great big smiles on their faces as they ride around the track,” Schiff said as he thanked all the AWH participants and supporters.
The event would not have been possible, much less so successful, without the help of the nearly 100 volunteers who were on hand during the day and the volunteers who continually provide assistance to the students and the organization.
Omar Diaz has been volunteering every Saturday alongside his father for the last four months to help students with their lessons.
“It’s actually a nice thing that [AWH does] with the kids,” said Diaz, adding that during the few months that he has been present he has noticed a difference in students’ lives.
With only two full time staff members and just a few part time staff members, the organization depends on dedicated volunteers to ensure that students get the most out of their sessions.
“We offer volunteer service hours to high school students who need them for graduation purposes and we also offer them to college students for school credits,” said AWH president Joyce Davison.
The organization continues to receive, and welcome, donations for the fundraiser. Anyone wanting to donate can visit the AWH website at http://aheadwithhorsesla.org/support-us/donations/.