Six-year-old Gaige had never touched a pony, but he was in good hands with Rocky, a show ring pro. Together, the two teamed up to compete at the Welsh Pony Nationals, walking away with a National Championship ribbon. An impressive feat made all the more inspiring given Gaige had recently been diagnosed with cancer and was in the midst of treatment.
Tracy Kujawa, founder and executive director for Angel Heart Farm, brought the two together, just one of the hundreds of children and families her organization has helped. “Cancer is hard,” the four-time cancer-survivor acknowledges. “It robs children of their childhood. It’s scary, painful, isolating and the long-term effects are endless.” But at Angel Heart Farm, children facing life-threatening illnesses have a place to focus on something besides diagnoses and treatments.
Since opening its doors 18 years ago, more than 350 children and their families have saddle up for Angel Heart’s unique brand of horse therapy. “After volunteering at many equine therapy programs, I knew what I liked and didn’t like,” Tracy says, which is why Angel Heart is a family-focused, one-on-one experience.
The kids, side-by-side with their siblings and parents, receive professional horsemanship lessons. More than just a riding class, at Angel Heart Farm children learn how to care for their favorite horse, empowering them as caregivers instead of care recipients. Like Gaige, many participants even go on to compete in horse shows – all at no cost to the families served.
“We are very blessed to have the most giving and loving equine in the world,” Tracy insists. “While we can’t cure cancer, with the help of our amazing horses, we can bring hope, faith and love to these special families.”