Meet Marianne

October is Downs Awareness Month. In honor of that, I've posted here and there sporadically about Downs. But I am also unofficially participating in the 31 for 21; 31 blog posts in the month of October for Trisomy 21. (Unofficially because I never really signed up for it, or put my name on the list, or whatever it is you're to do to be counted toward this.)

One of the many great ways we've been blessed because of the addition of Downs to our home was finding Personal Ponies, Ltd. Growing up on horseback, equine are obviously a special part of me that I cherish deeply. I sold out when we got married (what we don't do for love) but have been waiting ever so patiently for the time when horses would once again become a part of my life. Who knew it would be my small son who would reintroduce them?

As I was frantically searching the internet one day for information on the therapeutic qualities of horses I came across their website. It seemed too good to be true, but these wonderful people raise Shetland ponies and give - yes, for FREE give - ponies to kids who are differently abled. In disbelief I contacted the first person that I could get in touch with and within minutes we were discussing how and when I could get ponies of our very own.

I did an interview with the founder of the wonderful organization for the anniversary edition of their newsletter. This lady is incredible, and I wanted to share with you her story.

Katie was his constant companion, everywhere he went. She may not have had 4 legs, a mane or tail, but she was a horse to him in every way. It was as close as he ever came to owning a pony. Katie was a piece of harness strap, and to a boy with an imagination it was good enough for him. He died at the age of 13 without ever realizing his dream of owning a pony. He had epilepsy.

Little did anyone know that this was the beginning of Personal Ponies, Ltd. Marianne Alexander had not only felt the loss of her brother, but of his dream as well. At the age of 15, she was asked to draw a picture of a horse standing under an apple tree in art class. Marianne admits that she is no artist, and her teacher was sure she could do better on this drawing. The teacher tried to throw the drawing away, but Marianne pulled it back and said “this is important.” Under that apple tree was not only an “ugly” pony (a precursor of the Shetlands to come) but a seed of a dream that would take several decades to grow to maturity.

Marianne claims to be “so very ordinary,” but we know that God uses ordinary people in extraordinary ways. Only when we take our focus off ourselves are we open to the leading of the divine. Marianne’s focus has always been on others. She loved her brother so much that she’s never forgotten his dream of owning a pony. Slowly this little seed grew and grew, through the toddler years of six children, through the management of a prestigious horse farm, through the toil of day to day cares. When her life slowed down a bit and her children were older she reflected back to her brother’s dream and realized that the little seed of an idea was a sapling in need of care.

“What do you do when you win the world? You go smaller!” Marianne’s sport horses had won world events and now she decided it was time to focus on her brother’s dream. She talked to miniature horse breeders and traced back bloodlines to Shetland ponies. If she was going to be sure children with disabilities were getting ponies of their own, they needed something calm and gentle, yet sturdy enough to pull a cart to give freedom to the wheelchair bound. After much research she realized the Shetlands from Lord Londonderry’s carefully bred herd were exactly what she needed. Not the beautiful and graceful sport horses she raised for decades, these Shetlands were rather little ugly trolls not unlike the pony under the apple tree in art class. But beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder.

Marianne may not have been able to give her brother a pony, but she has dedicated her retirement years to making sure differently-abled children all over the nation can realize the dream that he never did. Because of her untiring dedication, we can all share the magic that Personal Ponies stands for. Thank you, Marianne, for sharing your dream.


Ally said...

Wow, what a touching story... the tears are streaming down my face right now.
I hope you are able to get your pony soon! My grandma had a shetland pony growing up ...she always told me they are really nice and great with children.

Burgh Baby's Mom said...

Darn you for making tears come to my eyes!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful organization and what an amazing story. I am constantly amazed at the unconditional love and 'healing' that an animal can provide.

You have a beautiful family, and I am enjoying reading your past posts. Thank you for stopping by my little spot as well!

Kellan said...

This was a beautiful post and a beautiful story. I think there is a book in this story somehwere! I loved it. Take care.

Karen said...

Ally - we have our ponies! I wrote this article a while back for the PPL newsletter. We've had our ponies for a year and they are absolutely wonderful. Everything that Marianne dreamed of and more.

Kellan - a book! I've never thought of that. I think it would be out of my league.

I have to add that these ponies are bred especially for their temperament, and they are absolutely wonderful with Micah. He can do literally anything with them, and oddly the ponies aren't as tolerant with the older kids. They have an uncanny insight that I wish I had.

Jennifer said...

What a great thing. I am one who believes in the healing quality of horses, and I think that is program is an awesome thing! Thank you for including the link to the place - this is something that if I can afford to, I would like to contribute something sometime before I go.
I am glad that Micah has his horse!

Michelle said...

thank you so much for sharing your story! I've heard about this program from the T21 msg board and it sounds like such a wonderful opportunity. Another lady from the board is in the process of getting one of these ponies for her son, and possibly even a second one!

Oh, I got your email about the apron, sorry I just haven't had a chance to answer it yet! Hopefully in a day or two :)