Patriotic ponies to encourage gratitude
By Cody Francis
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Some animals on a Westmoreland County farm will trade in their summer coats for a coat of paint.
Whispering Winds Farm in East Huntingdon is hosting a “Patriot Pony Workshop” from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
Artist Frances Byrd of Georgia will use the farm’s horses as a canvas to create a “living manifestation” of one of her original pieces of patriotic artwork “that spreads a message of liberty and freedom,” said Claire LeJeune Kemp, owner of Whispering Winds. Byrd will use nontoxic materials.
Although everyone is invited, Kemp said the event will focus on military veterans and their families.
Attendees will be invited to paint on the horses after Byrd’s exhibit.
Kemp, whose husband, brother and two brothers-in-law have served in the military, said she feels events such as the Patriot Pony Workshop are a small way of giving back.
“I feel like we all owe (the military) a debt of gratitude,” she said. “These children have their mom deployed, their dad deployed or sometimes even both at the same time. They go through a lot.”
For the past five years, Kemp has used her horses as part of a therapy program for autistic children, mentally handicapped adults and others in need.
The equines have even been used for a group of salespeople who wanted to work on their personal skills.
Kemp calls the horses “teachers” and said working with them, whether it be painting them or riding them, is good for anyone who has been through difficult times.
“When children (gain trust of the horses), they feel so good that that big giant thing shows them attention,” Kemp said. “They really feel like the horses love them. It’s incredible.”
Whispering Winds has partnered with Horses4Heroes, a nonprofit horseback riding program for the families of “community heroes.”
Sydney Knott, founder of Las Vegas-based Horses4Heroes, said her organization not only serves military families, but also families of firefighters, police officers, coal miners or anyone who has a “tough job.”
“It’s for people who every day go to work knowing there’s a chance they may not come home,” Knott said.
Knott said Kemp’s program is just the type her company looks to sponsor.
“What she does is use her horses in special ways,” Knott said of Kemp’s work. “It’s called an unmounted act. A lot of people love horses but are scared to get on them. This is a good way to introduce people to horses.”
A membership to Horses4Heroes requires a one-time $25 fee for a family.
“There’s a lot of really neat things out there in our country that deal with horses,” Knott said. “Most people love horses but just assume they are too expensive. If a military family has four kids, for everyone in the family to be able to ride horses is big for them. Even a trip to McDonalds can be expensive with four kids. As we grow, we want to offer our members a lot of options of horseback riding opportunities that are safe and affordable.”
An equine partnership at Whispering Winds Farm
In this program, the horses are the teachers
Thursday, July 01, 2010
By Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller
J.J. Bartacci of Murrysville “paints” a pony during the Painted Pony Workshop at Whispering Winds Farm in East Huntingdon.
Claire LeJeune Kemp likes many things about the Rocky Mountain horses that she raises at Whispering Winds Farm in East Huntingdon.
“They are people-pleasers, very affectionate, gentle and they love attention,” she said.
Those are valuable traits for horses that are partnered with people in a program in which the horses are the instructors in teaching respect, trust and cooperation. “They are fabulous teachers,” Mrs. Kemp said.
Something that the horses taught her, she added, is how important it is to do what she’s doing.
Mrs. Kemp, a certified equine specialist, founded the nonprofit Angels in Horsehairs and its workshops, Fulfilling Connections, for at-risk children and youth and for individuals with cognitive, behavioral and physical challenges.
She also is partnered with Horses4Heroes, a group based in Las Vegas that runs programs for families of those in the military, law enforcement, firefighting, emergency response and other dangerous jobs.
Mrs. Kemp recently held an open house to introduce a related program, The Patriot Pony Project.
Political artist Frances Byrd of Georgia, founder of Art For Liberty, kicked off the new project by painting red, white and blue stars and stripes on Mrs. Kemp’s horse, Honey.
“It was a community event that supported our military and their families,” Mrs. Kemp said, “and Frances wants to promote liberty and freedom and to thank our veterans and military.”
The two women met in Washington, D.C., in the fall and realized they had common goals.
“The main issue for me is art,” Mrs. Byrd said during her visit to Whispering Winds. “I started out doing political art and found out that people needed something uplifting and inspirational to keep their spirits up. I want to encourage people to be grateful.”
So she focused on American symbols such as stars and stripes and the Statue of Liberty, which she will paint on Mrs. Kemp’s barn in the fall. It will be the first in her plans to paint the Statue of Liberty on barns across the United States.
The Patriot Pony Project was Mrs. Byrd’s first performance art. After she decorated Honey with nontoxic paint, guests were invited to put their own designs on two other horses.
Since then, Mrs. Kemp has presented the workshop, including lessons in American history, to 4-H Clubs in Westmoreland and Fayette counties.
Mrs. Kemp has six Rocky Mountain horses, a breed that at one time was endangered.
They are believed to have originated in the late 1800s in Kentucky, and one story claims that the strong, gentle horses got their name from their stamina in the rocky terrain of the Appalachian Mountains.
Another links the Kentucky lineage to descendants of Spanish mustangs that roamed the Rocky Mountains.
The breed is recognized for its smooth four-beat gait and for being versatile for riding or pulling plows and wagons. They have been compared with golden retrievers for their affection for humans, and that bond makes them well-suited for Mrs. Kemp’s work.
The equine workshops are not riding programs. Rather, participants form a partnership with a horse to solve problems in a safe, trusting environment with a goal of self-discovery.
“Once people get to know a horse and build a relationship with it, they can transfer that over to life in many aspects, usually developmental assets, and character and social skills,” Mrs. Kemp said.
“The Patriot Pony Project combines history lessons, but it’s not intended to replace traditional schools. It’s an alternative to reengage students’ interest.”
Fulfilling Connections is starting a program with Comprehensive Holistic Assessment Rehabilitation Therapy and Education in Squirrel Hill, which serves developmentally delayed individuals. CEO Howard Dobrushin, a licensed professional counselor, brought several clients to the first Patriot Pony Project.
“It will be part of our wellness program where they can work on trust, self-confidence and image,” he said.
Mrs. Kemp has always loved horses. As a child, she asked for one every Christmas — an impractical wish for a child who lived in a “tiny” home in Brentwood, she said. So she rode at stables when she was older, and eight years ago, when she was 50, she finally got her own horses.
“I had no idea of the power of a horse and the relationship you can have with them,” she said. “Every day, they teach me something new, whether it’s about myself or something else. They are excellent messengers.”
They are also, she added, a connection in a culture that she believes has “lost touch with a sense of relationship and communication.”
For information about the programs or about volunteering: www.wwsr.biz, 724-547-2550 or e-mail email@example.com.
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