“I think we needed each other. At that point we were willing to accept each other and give to each other.”
A nervous, chocolate brown pony wavered near the back of the stall. Long tufts of hair from an unhealthy winter coat hung over his visible ribs. He had just been rescued from an auction and was severely undernourished, bearing evidence of abuse and neglect.
Nancy Stout, one of Hoofbeats most faithful volunteers, remembers peering over the stall door in disbelief. Carol Branscome, the director, had just told her they had a new horse to introduce to her. “We don’t know anything about him. We don’t know if he’s going to work,” Branscome had explained. The staff had not even settled on a name, but everybody affectionately referred to him as “Harry.” Nancy had no idea that this horse’s arrival was about to change her life.
“I went into the stall and met Harry,” Nancy remembered. “He didn’t want me in the stall. He didn’t want me to touch him. He didn’t trust anybody for anything.”
But there was a connection there, and Nancy took it upon herself to give Harry an emotional home. “So I just worked with him, just started petting him, brushing him. And now he’s turned into… well, Harry! Everybody loves Harry.”
Today, Harry could not be more adored. He has transformed into one of Hoofbeats’ most reliable lesson horses, teaching many adults and children how to ride and taking them on to win blue ribbons at horse shows. With his history of abuse and initial nervous habits, he was the most unlikely of candidates for a therapy horse, but Nancy’s love gave him a safe place to heal and learn to trust people again. Horses are prey animals and can sense human emotions. Branscome said she believes Harry’s past helps him have empathy with riders who may be sad or fearful.
Nancy’s favorite memories with Harry are the horse shows. “I never had any interest in showing, but Carol let me ride him and taught me everything I needed to know. One day she asked if I wanted to show, and I felt so good on him I said yes. For over a year I showed him. Nobody guesses from what Harry looks like – he’s fat and short and brown – but he can move. And he can win. And we did. Blue ribbons! That really gave me a different insight as far as the kids showing. Competing makes you feel like a good rider, assures you that you look as good as you feel. It’s such a heartwarming feeling to know what these horses are giving. It’s amazing.”
Nancy’s tender care helped Harry, a real underdog, transform into his real self, but what Harry gave back to her was just as life changing, she explained. “I moved here in 1994 after my son died. I had just kind of been foundering because I didn’t have a social situation here, and nobody knew that I had a son I had lost,” she said.
Nancy began a new life in Lexington. She got married, got a job and found a community; but it was Harry who became the friend she needed. “I had lost my son. And you always make progress; you always move, but I had come to a flat spot in my life,” she said. “Harry let me give to him. I think we needed each other. At that point we were willing to accept each other and give to each other. He really did move me through the next level.”
Nancy said she cannot imagine her life now without Harry or without Hoofbeats. “This is part of my life – and part of my home.”