1 May 2013

EQUUS Foundation Announces Winners of Champions Scholarships


EQUUS Foundation Announces Winners of Champions Scholarships sponsored by Ariat International

WESTPORT, CT – April 30, 2013 – The EQUUS Foundation is pleased to announce the winners of its Equine Service Scholarships, part of its “CHAMPIONS” program sponsored by Ariat International. Nine individuals were selected to receive a total of $10,000 based on volunteer service performed in 2012.

Turning Passion into Action!
“We are so proud to be able to award scholarships to these wonderful ‘horse lovers’ who find the time to maintain high academic standards, pursue their equestrian dreams, and volunteer for equine charities dedicated to ensuring the well-being of horses and fostering the horse-human bond,” said Lynn Coakley, EQUUS Foundation President. “One of the recipients, Hannah Bentz, volunteered for EQUUS Foundation fundraising events in Wellington for the past three years. It was meeting Hannah and becoming aware of how this superb young person was able to manage her passion for horses and the busy demands of school, family, volunteer commitments, and other extracurricular activities that led to the establishment of the Champions program. All these young people are so deserving of recognition – and their stories are inspirational.”

Allyson (Ally) Cheechalk Buttman


(Allyson Cheechalk Buttman with Enzo Champion Scholarship Recipient)

Allyson Cheechalk Buttman is a Political Science and Sociology major at American Public University. She chose to attend American Public University rather than Penn State, so she could take accelerated classes online and have the days free to volunteer at Borrowed Freedom Equine Assisted Therapies and Activities in Vestal, New York, a program founded by Ally’s parent focused on both horses and individuals with special needs. Most of the horses are in varying stages of rehabilitation.

Her experiences with equine facilitated learning, hippotherapy, and recreation therapy has solidified her decision to pursue graduate study in sports medicine and health science so that she can work with horses and clients in a rehabilitation setting and conduct research that improves the lives of horses in therapeutic settings, while helping to improve the health and well being of individuals with special needs.

After experiencing the endless ways that horses help children and adults improve their health and well being, she knew that a future working in recreation therapy and equine therapies was where she could truly make a difference. She attended the American Hippotherapy Association Level I Equine Skills and Treatment Principles certification program in April, and is beginning the process of obtaining instructor credentials from PATH International and her New York State Teaching Assistant license.
“I love to spend my free time with horse Enzo but working with horses has truly changed my life and brought me to place where I feel I belong in this world. I look forward to a future filled with wonderful people and horses and to helping them reach their full potential.”

Amanda Leithead

(Amanda Leithead, Champion Scholarship Recipient with Sonya at Special Equestrians)

Amanda Leithead will be entering Saint Joseph’s University as a freshman in the fall of 2013, where she will be pursuing a degree in Psychology, and in future, hopes to complete the certification required to become a therapeutic horsemanship instructor. She has volunteered for Special Equestrians in Warrington, Pennsylvania, for the past two years.

The impact of horses in her life started with playing with stuffed ponies, Breyer Horses, and Barbie’s Riding Adventure which led to her first horseback riding lesson at the age of nine. “I was a cautious child. I’d skip all the rides at the amusement park, but for incomprehensible reasons, I was more than willing to jump on the back of a 1,000 lb. lazy Paint named Dakota.

Riding and working with horses became especially therapeutic throughout my middle school years when I wore a back brace for scoliosis. I was allotted only a few short hours without my brace, and I spent them at a stable whenever possible.

I now compete in local hunter-jumper horse shows, am president of my 4-H club, work as a summer camp counselor, and even muck out stalls with a smile on my face, knowing that this was the life that my younger self wanted.”

Reflecting on the impact of her volunteer experience, Amanda said, “I knew that I had found something incredible the moment that I walked into Special Equestrians in the spring of 2011. Through common goals, the volunteers are bonded together in an effort to bring a smile to a physically or mentally handicapped rider’s face. However, it is the horses that truly make the magic happen each and every day. Their patience, gentleness, and understanding have amazed me each and every hour that I have spent working with them. They are fully aware of their roles as both horse and safety mount, with an incomprehensible knack for distinguishing between the two. After hours spent frolicking in the mud like a wild yearling, they’ll suddenly transform into an unflappable steed as an unsteady foot is placed into the stirrup.

It is truly the ‘special equestrians’ themselves who make my volunteering experience so rewarding. Each Wednesday afternoon I volunteer as a side walker for a little boy named Adam. He has tremendous personality and spirit, and his loud voice can always be heard from the parking lot. His greatest love is his trusty steed Sonja, whom he greets with a giant hug before each ride. Although Adam has difficulty focusing on tasks and conversations, he transforms once he is aboard Sonja. Humans may have a hard time understanding him, but Sonja never does. He steers her in and out of obstacles at the slightest command, showing the tremendous amount of trust between the two.

I always feel that no matter how much I give, I receive even more. As I watch each rider find freedom through a horse, I feel a type of joy that I cannot explain. Their smiles become my smiles, their triumphs my triumphs. The positive outlook that each and every rider has gives me hope and inspires me to find the beauty in life instead of focusing on the small bumps along the way.

Volunteering at Special Equestrians has had a profound impact on my life. Whether a day is spent mucking out stalls, side-walking lessons, grooming horses or managing a horse show, I always find myself driving home a better person. My experiences at Special Equestrians have given me a happiness that I cannot explain and a deep feeling of purpose. I truly believe that I was meant to work with horses and people with disabilities.”

Catherine Chan

(Catherine Chan, Champion Scholarship Recipient)

Catherine Chan is currently a first-year medical student at SUNY Downstate College of Medicine and volunteers for Giving Alternative Learners Uplifting Opportunities (GallopNYC) in Brooklyn, New York. Ever since she can remember, she has always loved horses and began horseback riding at the age of seven.

Fast-forward to high school and college – the time when horseback riding took a backseat to her studies and the desire to become a doctor, she often found herself yearning to interact with horses. Thankfully, she found GallopNYC and couldn’t imagine a better way to integrate her love for horses with her passion for medicine and healing. Chan’s experiences at GallopNYC with horses have significantly broadened her perspective on healing and the benefits of the horse-human interaction.

Chan joined GallopNYC with the intention to not only work with horses, but also to observe their therapeutic nature. GallopNYC students are children, young adults, and even seniors suffering from a range of mental and/or physical disorders.

Reflecting on her volunteer experience, Chan said, “I witnessed that healing can come from interactions with other forms of life, and especially the healing nature of horses. I learned that horses are perhaps the most therapeutic animals – allowing students suffering from autism and other illnesses to express themselves and progress through riding. I have, in turn, become a more open-minded, more patient, and more compassionate future doctor.”

Christina Ho

(Christina Ho, Champion Scholarship Recipient)

Christina Ho is a Southern California native and a first year student in the Masters of Occupational Therapy program at the University of Southern California. After graduation, Christina hopes to work with active duty military, veterans, and military families. When she isn’t busy studying, Christina enjoys traveling, trying new foods, attending ballet classes, and volunteering for the Therapeutic Riding Center of Huntington Beach (TRCHB) in California.

A car accident in Christina’s senior year in college, resulting in her suffering from chronic back pain, sparked her interest in becoming an occupational therapist. She started volunteering at TRCHB in 2011, she confesses, “as a resume builder” to gain experience working with people with disabilities and an interest in working with horses, but she adds, “volunteering at TRCHB has become part of my identity. I love working with the riders and their families. I love seeing the other volunteers. These people have become my second family. We celebrate each other’s triumphs in the arena and out of the arena; we offer each other comfort during times of sadness. Volunteering at the TRCHB has been a transformative experience for me.”

Unlike the other recipients, Christina had limited riding experience before volunteering and was given the opportunity to to improve her riding skills at TRCHB so that she could be a better source of support for the students she was working with.

She reflected, “I learned that riding is so much more than a physical skill and requires mutual respect and subtle communication between rider and horse. I was amazed that the horses become so accommodating, forgiving and docile when working with students with disabilities and that the confidence the students learn in the arena seamlessly translates to their self-identity and pride outside of the arena. I feel so lucky to witness this magic that happens daily.”

Emma Behr

(Emma Behr, Champion & IEA Scholarship Recipient)

Since she was very young, Emma has had a love and passion for horses and was eager to volunteer, but she had to wait until she was 16 years old to volunteer at the Therapeutic Riding Equestrian Center (TREC) in Fairview, Pennsylvania.

Emma started riding at the age of eight at a summer camp at the Willows Equestrian Center. But, as she grew older and her schedule became increasingly rigorous, finding time for riding became more difficult. But then the opportunity arose for Emma to attend The Grier School on a full scholarship and participate on their IEA Team. Riding on a team has turned what I once thought was an individual’s sport into a group effort,” said Emma.

Riding also helped prepare her for her volunteer experience at TREC. As fate would have it, the Willows became TREC.

Last summer, Emma was asked to train a horse that was not suitable for the disabled clients to ride her. She worked with her every day, helping Dixie reach her full potential. “Because of Emma’s skills and attention, Dixie is now a valuable horse in our program,” said Kimberly Danylko, Emma’s Supervisor at TREC.

“Enabling Dixie to transform herself into a calm, obedient, and graceful horse from a wild, disobedient, and uneducated horse taught me invaluable lessons about patience, how to be a teacher, and who I am as a person and a rider.”

“All the relationships I built with my wonderful fellow volunteers were heartwarming. I looked forward to seeing their smiling faces every day, and we formed a closely-knit team. The friendships I made with the clients with whom I worked with every day were uplifting. We all grew very close with one another, and I learned just as much from them as they learned from me. Most importantly, I formed strong bonds with the horses who served as the invaluable backbones of TREC. They strongly, carefully, and tenderly carried the clients who sought the horses’ teachings and guidance.”

Hallie Austin

(Hallie Austin, Champion & IEA Scholarship Recipient)

Hallie Austin is a Junior at Ledford High School in High Point, North Carolina, and volunteered for Horsepower, in 2012. “By volunteering I have seen how horses change lives and benefit mentally and physically challenged children, teens and adults. Some of the children can’t or don’t speak, so they have come up with their own way of letting the horse know when to walk, stop, and turn. Volunteering has taught me patience, and to be grateful that I get to spend some time with these amazing children, volunteers and well trained horses.”

Hallie has always had a love of horses and was first introduced to riding at summer camp when she was six years old. At 14, Hallie joined the Fox Run Farm Interscholastic Equestrian Team, a team of riders from area barns, many of whom had competed against each other.

“Being a part of the IEA Team has given me confidence in my riding, a new perspective on how to ride, but most of all it has taught me to be part of a team and that the team is more important than the individual in the long run.” Hallie is also a United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) Equine Athlete and a member of the United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA).

Hallie’s academic education is a high priority evidenced by her 4.203 GPA. She also participated in extracurricular activities as Junior Class Secretary and as a member of the Sew What Club, Future Farmers of America (FFA) and the Prom Committee.

Hannah Bentz

(Hannah Bentz, Champion CPI & IEA Scholarship Recipient)

Hannah Bentz is a 10th grader at the Spanish River Community High School in Boca Raton, Florida. She excels in the classroom, maintaining a 3.965 GPA, and manages a busy schedule that includes horses, singing and community service.

She is co-captain of the Wall Street Farm Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) team in Wellington, Florida. She received the 2012 United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) Youth Leadership Award in January and placed in both sportsmanship and horsemanship at the 2012 IEA National Finals.

Hannah volunteered her time for a number of organizations in 2012, including the College Preparatory Invitational (CPI) Horse Show, a unique program to prepare and educate student riders for college equestrian competition, encourage academics and horsemanship, and provide the riders with resources to create their desired college equestrian experience.

“Hannah has a cheerful disposition that translates into her work ethic and her care of horses. She was essential in the barn set-up and tear down for the show and did an amazing job,” said Jeanne Rouco-Conesa, CPI’s President.

Natalie Morden

(Natalie Morden, Champion IEA Scholarship Recipient)

Natalie Morden is in 7th grade at Ooltewah Middle School in Ooltewah, Tennessee. She has been on the Ocoee IEA Equestrian Team and competing in the IEA shows for two years and has been volunteering at Tri-State Therapeutic Riding Center in Cleveland, Tennessee for over three years.

Natalie started riding at eight years old. Participating on the IEA Team gives “me the chance to demonstrate what I’ve learned in my lessons and the opportunity to meet others that have the same love for horses and horse competitions that I do. I also love working at Tri-state. It has given me the opportunity not only to work with horses but to help the disabled.”

Denise Wright, Natalie’s supervisor at Tri-State said, “Natalie began her volunteer position by doing barn work (cleaning stalls, tacking and grooming horses, organizing tack room) and as she got older she advanced to side-walking with students with disabilities and becoming a horse leader. Natalie encourages teens from her school to volunteer with the program and has even held fundraisers to assist with scholarships for our students. With the riding skills she has learned from IEA, she is also one of our volunteer riders. Natalie is one of our most committed volunteers and one of the best examples of a therapeutic riding volunteer that we have.”

Shelby Cashman

(Shelby Cashman, Champion IHSA Scholarship Recipient)

Shelby Cashman is a freshman at Centenary College on the Dean’s List pursuing a degree in equine studies. Cashman grew up on a fifty horse farm in West Point, New York. “It was the best way to grow up.”

While at Centenary College, she competes on the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) Team in both English and Western. Cashman hopes to have a career in the sport as a trainer, judge, show manager, and rider. She chose to volunteer for IHSA at their Regionals and Nationals to learn more about horse show management and competition. “IHSA has been a huge part of my life. My parents coach the West Point team – so it seemed a natural fit for me to volunteer for IHSA. ”

In high school, Cashman competed as a member of the local Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) team. Her hard work paid off. In her junior year of high school, she was accepted into the United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) Emerging Athletes Program, a program to provide opportunities for talented young riders to advance their education as they strive to become knowledgeable horsemen within the hunter/jumper community. Cashman now serves on the USHJA Youth Committee.

“All my competitive and volunteer experiences have taught me leadership and confidence. But most of all, these activities have really shown me enough to know for sure that this is exactly what I want to do with my life. I hope that my experiences in the past and future help me to make a difference in the industry that I love so much.”


CHAMPIONS is the EQUUS Foundation’s incentive-based equine service volunteer program sponsored by Ariat International.

It’s easy to become a CHAMPION, an individual must log a minimum of 24 volunteer hours from January 1st to December 31st for an organization on the carrrots4acause network.

2014 Equine Service Scholarships

EQUUS Foundation will award a minimum of five $1,000 “Champions of Equine Service Scholarships” in 2014 based on the volunteer service performed by Champions in the calendar year 2013 for undergraduate and graduate studies.

The EQUUS Foundation will also award academic scholarships in partnership with the United States Pony Clubs (USPC) and the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF). Additional scholarships will be awarded to members of the Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) and the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) to pursue equestrian and/or academic education.


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