NEWTOWN -- Some local equines and their visiting friends have a role to play in the coming days and months to help the community heal from the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 20 children and six educators on Dec. 14.
Several of the victims were riders, and many of their friends took part in birthday parties and activities at some local barns.
The area horse community wanted to share the comfort these children found in the animals with those who are grieving, and put into service the therapeutic strengths of these animals.
Three horses from the Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses charity in Florida are in Newtown, visiting families of victims and town schools. Horses at Zoar Ridge Stable in Newtown are also part of a special psychotherapy program.
Miniature horses Raconda and Alladin joined Magic, a black-and-white miniature horse named by Time Magazine as one of the history's ten most heroic animals, are scheduled to visit with the public in the Cyrenius H. Booth Library in Newtown on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The miniature horses are temporarily stabled at Ridge Equestrian Center in Newtown, so they can visit the homes of victims' families as well as area schools and other public settings in the next few days.
"Our goal is obviously to have these horses help as many people as they can," said Anna Maher, who owns Ridge Equestrian Center with her husband, John.
Katherine Hubbard, one of the shooting victims, took lessons at Ridge.
"She was an incredible little girl," Maher said.
The tiny therapy horses, who work in hospitals and assisted-living centers, and with adults and children with disabilities, walk up and down stairs, ride in elevators and are house trained.
"Magic has been at the right place at the right time. She has been really amazing," said Debbie Garcia-Bengochea, who co-founded the Gentle Carousel charity with her husband, Jorge, 15 years ago. "She finds the person who needs a horse the most."
According to the charity, once Magic was visiting a patient who woke up from a coma, and another time, she went up to a woman in a nursing home who hadn't spoken for years. The woman spoke, praising the horse, and then continued talking daily after that, Garcia-Bengochea said.
Zoar Ridge Stable is grieving, especially the loss of one of its riders, Avielle Richman.
"Horses have a wonderful way of lightening a heavy heart," writes Zoar Ridge owner Annette Sullivan, on her web site. "Therefore, in memory of Avielle Richman, and her love of our farm and its horses, we are opening our doors to any child, who in the wake of this horror, need to feel a little joy."
Besides inviting children to visit the horses, Sullivan is working with professionals associated with EAGALA, which is an equine-assisted psychotherapy program.
"Honestly, it's horrible to feel idle in despair," Sullivan said. "If I can help one family, it will be worth it."
She said the initiative came out of the tragedy and will involve a collaboration between a mental health professional and a horse professional working privately on the farm with clients and horses to address post traumatic stress, depression, anxiety and other trauma-related problems.
"Horses are playing a role in the therapy process," Sullivan said. "They are so receptive to reading our feelings so well. They can sense fear. They can sense sadness. Because they are so sensory receptive, there is a connection to make with a horse."
Garcia-Bengochea said she was invited to the community and American Airlines, Hampton Inn, Johnson Transportation and DeVincie Horse Ambulance all donated services for the trip.
"We didn't profess to know what the need is here. We let the community tell us," she said. "We come normally to be with the kids, but it ends up to be the family and their children. The need is different from person to person."