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Theme Children

Lauren Westbrook, 2014 Theme Child

posted by Denise Chasin at 2014-04-24 20:12:00

lauren and Hershey

Community Director, Gina Switzer shares with us this year’s theme child for Personal Ponies. Gina wrote to us at the end of 2013 telling us about Hershey’s special friend who has been coming to visit for over a year.  “Lauren has 2 chromosome disorders and she's the only known person in the world alive with both of them.  Lauren is 28 but was not expected to live past 5.  She's very small and Hershey is just her size.  She's had lots of therapies and lots of successes but she struggled with anxiety and some other issues that seemed to be helped by pony visits.  At first she was terrified of the ponies, but loved picking up poop (which she named "ahem" so as not to say a bad word :-)  At some point in the summer I was able to get her to hold Hershey's lead all by herself. Now I'm trying to get certified with Special Olympics so she can show Hershey in hand at a Special Olympics equestrian event.”

Gina continues to share that the bigger issue that Hershey helped her with was the sudden death of her father last February.  He was only 53 and his death was a serious blow to the whole family on every level.  Coming to visit ponies was a benefit to both mom and daughter.  Her two younger brothers also in their 20s are still struggling (they all are) but the boys have been helped by knowing that their sister and mom have this place of comfort. 

Gina said, “There are many funny/sweet stories like us taking "pony boys" for a walk and me overhearing her talking to Hershey who she nicknamed PonyDad.  She was talking quite seriously to him saying, "I know PonyDad, no boys. I know.  I'm your princess."  She and her mom became regular helpers with other visitors and groups of visitors.  They even made gluten free sugar cookies in the shape of horse heads to share with visitors.  Lauren has a "cocktail" personality and she's been a great benefit when new people come, showing them how to do chores and introducing the ponies etc.  What is really special is that both Lauren and her mother have shared in their own words what this program has meant to them.

In Lauren’s own words

lauren and gina
Hello my name is Lauren Westbrook I'm 28 years old and this is my story. A couple years ago I had something happen to me that has given me a new view on life and spending time with the ponies has been the best.  life is precious and you never know what will happen in a short time.

I love grooming the ponies and petting them and cleaning out the shelter and pony pen it gives me confidence and makes me stronger and petting them calms me down. Almost a year ago I lost my dad unexpectedly. He got sick pretty fast. A few weeks after he was admitted to the hospital he passed away which had not been easy for me and my family but Gina and her ponies have helped me with my anxiety which I have had for a really long time but it worsened after my hospitalization and after my father died. Hershey has been especially helpful with that. I call him pony dad cause he has been taking care of me like a dad would when I'm sick. He stands next to me and won't leave my side. also he has been giving me new confidence with walking so I am not as shy around people now cause for a while I was shy after what happened to my family. He's so cute like a little furby. Snickers has helped cheer me up by being a great pony bro. He's so funny a little mischievous little guy he has been so funny and playful. He has made me crack up a bunch of times even when I feel like crying. He is there to make me laugh of course he is not always hyper he can be calm.

Lauren’s Mom’s Words
Two years ago my daughter Lauren and I went to a Birthday party of her friend. Out in the back yard was this beautiful little pony that had come to visit the children attending the party. Standing back and watching I observed Hershey the pony bringing smiles and Joy to everyone near including myself. I learned he was a personal pony and thought how wonderful it would be for my daughter to be able to spend time with this perfect little creature. She loves animals especially fury ones and Hershey was just her size as she is 48" tall as a young adult. Lauren was born with two chromosomal abnormalities which no one else in the world has been known to have. Lauren is 28 today but wasn't expected to live past 5. Lauren has many challenges but to go with these challenges God gifted her with a great zest for life and love of all.

I called Gina about Lauren visiting her pony and Lauren's awesome experience began. At that time Lauren was living with anxiety that affected all aspects of her life. Anxiety from PTS as a result of being very sick and hospitalized in the ICU at Children's Hospital for three months. Because of the anxiety she really wasn't able to go anywhere without me staying right by her side. After only two visits with Hershey I realized Lauren was standing in the driveway waving goodbye to me as I drove away.

Over the next ten months Hershey and Lauren became great friends. At first Lauren was afraid of Hershey but thought he was the cutest thing she had ever seen. She did love scooping pony poop (which she calls "Ahem" as not to say a bad word) with her pink pitch fork. After many visits Lauren got more confident and began to trust Hershey. Her ability to handle Hershey grew and she is now able to lead him on a walk to the neighborhood park talking to him all the way. Hershey is a great listener. After a visit one day Lauren told me "talking with Hershey and petting his soft, fuzzy cute body made her feel safe and calm inside. Kind of like medicine." 

Gina has Lauren come to help her with the ponies when other visitors come. Lauren gets to show them how to do some of the chores and share what she has learned about the ponies and their habits, needs and personality. She (with my help) makes pony cut out cookies for the visitors when they come. Decorating is her favorite part as she ooohs and aahhs over each cute cookie. This is a great social opportunity as well as a wonderful purpose of helping.

Last February something unimaginable happened to our family. Laurens Father suddenly got sick and passed away. This was devastating to her and our entire family. Hershey was now there for Lauren in even a bigger way. We visited him as often as possible. Lauren would talk over her days with Hershey who she now calls Pony dad! She was talking quite seriously to him one day on a walk saying, "I know pony dad, no boys. I know. I'm your princess." Along with serious moments are the moments the wind is blowing Hershey's forelock up in the air and he looks like a Furby and makes us all laugh.
posted at: 2014-04-24 20:12:00, last updated: 2014-06-17 14:36:39