I have been volunteering on a weekly basis with Horses Healing Hearts for the past seven 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, but basically it's still the same. I worked with many other volunteers, trainers and therapists who have since moved on. We have certainly come a long way since then. It's only within the past couple years that we have had an air conditioned barn for our "circle time" and a place to play and store our games. (We also have an air conditioned trailer with a toilet now.) 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 buy 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 Miss Rhonda. (The therapist, Rhonda Fritzshall, has been with HHH for the past five years.) Recently the children were asked what they like best about HHH and one of the boys, after a long and serious thought process couldn't verbalize, but shyly pointed to Miss Rhonda. The atmosphere at the barn is relaxed (free of family members) so that the children can feel comfortable to say what's on 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 Some are withdrawn, angry, depressed, fearful and antisocial when they first come to the sessions.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 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 the 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 has installed a tent over one of the large rings last year 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.
It has been my honor to volunteer with Horses Healing Hearts for the last five years. When I first became aware of HHH, it was hard for me to picture how the horses could help children who needed a safe place to feel, talk, and just be a kid. The change I have noticed in the programs participants, can only truly be felt by seeing the process in action. I often tell people about Horses Healing Hearts, but it doesn't begin to give justice to the magic that happens at the barn with the group facilitators, horses, and kids. Seeing the children laugh, smile, and not have the weight of the world on their shoulders for the 2 hours they are at their HHH sessions, fills my heart with joy. In addition, seeing the kids bond together as a second family is astounding to watch. I am beyond blessed to volunteer for such an incredible organization that is helping shape the future leaders of our community.
When the opportunity arose for my child to be part of a program that could strengthen, support and guide her in a caring loving environment with the Gift of horseback riding and other children her age, I immediately recognized the value. The past three years have been nothing but a positive growth experience for our family. The Gratitude we have cannot be put into words. Volunteers and mentors that give their time, compassion, experience, patience, financial support and love are true assets to the future of the children that are fortunate enough to be in this program. It is apparent this organization is helping too mold healthy, good decision makers for the world. My 10 year old has obtained skills such as riding and caring for horses, as well as an undeniable passion for them and all animals for that matter. HHH is Love!
Hello! I'm a parent and I am so thankful to have found this program! My daughter was eight years old when I was struggling with an opiate addiction due to chronic pain issues. My marriage was strained and she was affected as I continually searched for a way to successfully recover, to find pain management without the use of drugs. I heard about Horses healing hearts,and took steps to enroll her immediately. I was so excited, filled with a new hope, that my child could actually get therapy as well, and in such an awesome way,interacting with horses! Well,she is 16 yrs old now, and with the help and encouragement of Liz,Rhonda,and all their volunteer staff over the years, I have watched amazing results for her as well as the other children in the program,healing and growing with a new self confidence, motivation, and respect for themselves and others as they journey towards adulthood. I truly believe watching my daughter has helped me as well, I am thrilled to report being medication-free for five years now! Words cannot express my gratitude, as I watch her go forward in life with a new self-esteem and outlook on life that all kids deserve to have! Thank you HHH! My wish now is that many more children can benefit from this wonderful program !
My daughter has been attending Horses Healing Hearts for a few year. They came into her life not a moment to soon. They have given her confidence and a safe-haven. As a low income, single parent I never imagined she would have the opportunity to be involved in such a great program. She looks forward to every session. I hope she can continue to be a part of this program for years to come.
This is 'one of a kind" program for the children of this fallen world to get some, "pre-covery", tools, and support to break the chains of destructive behaviors and family cycles of addiction and alcoholism.
The open discussion, coupled with the love and complexity of equine activities, JUST WORKS and THIS program is a success.
It is giving back the choice to live free to the kids!
Thank you HHH, for you passion and heart. May GOD continue to use this group for good!
My grandson, Dylan, who is now age 15 in high school has been going to the HHH barn in Delray Beach the past five years. Through the years, he has had a place to share his anxious moments, moves to new schools, greatly improve his relationship with his mother who he lives with, and is now experiencing meeting his dad and trying to form a relationship with him. Thank goodness for HHH, Dylan has always had a place to talk, share, and listen to other kid's experiences, and realize he is not alone.
Dylan truly loves HHH, Rhonda and Liz. This organization is a very important part of his life in so many ways. I am so thankful to Liz who gave Dylan the opportunity to shine when they went to Washington, DC together last year, and Dylan was able to speak in a committee meeting about how HHH helped to teach him how to understand what alcohol and drugs do to a family and why everyone must step up to the plate with legislation. One day he will look back and say, "I can't believe I really did that!"
So kudos to a great organization, fabulous leaders, wonderful volunteers, and those beautiful horses the kids all love soooooo much!