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Birthday donations add up to special gift

By Leanne Fuller lfuller@paducahsun.com

Before celebrating her 9th birthday on June 10, Lorali Wheeler told her mother, Alana, that she wanted to do something to help others rather than receive gifts.

Her mom suggested raising money for H.O.R.S.E.S. Inc. in Paducah because of Lorali's love of horses and horseback riding. So Lorali asked guests to her birthday party to bring donations to the local non-profit rather than gifts.

On Tuesday, she made a $400 donation to the organization.   

"I think it's a good thing," the 9-year-old said, "because I know I'm helping kids and animals too."

H.O.R.S.E.S. - Helping Others Reach Success using Equine Services - began providing equine therapy for children with disabilities nine years ago in Dexter, with co-owners Joy and Bill Winebarger, two horses and one volunteer worker. It now has six horses used for therapeutic riding, three horses in training and five miniature horses used for other parts of the program, according to H.O.R.S.E.S. Inc. President John Maldaner.

The nonprofit expanded to Carson Park in Paducah about four years ago and eventually moved completely to Carson Park. Joy Winebarger said the move allowed H.O.R.S.E.S. Inc. to expand its offerings. It now has programs for adults with disabilities, veterans and kids without disabilities as well.

Alana Wheeler said when her daughter told her she wanted to raise money for a good cause rather than receive presents, she was proud but not surprised. She was pleasantly surprised, however, by the response of the birthday party guests.

"I noticed people donated more than you would ever spend on a gift, so that was kind of neat," Wheeler said.

While Wheeler and her daughter don't think the decision to donate to the nonprofit is a big deal or anything to brag about, Winebarger and Maldaner were impressed by the gift.

"Not only her generosity and thoughtfulness, but her love of horses is profound to me," Winebarger said. "For a child that age to think about other people and want to give to other people ... you just don't find that in kids very much anymore."

"You really don't even find it in adults a lot. It's just amazing," Maldaner added. "You think of kids today stuck within their iPads and stuff, and self-centered is kind of a stereotype. Maybe it's not a stereotype now. I'll have to reconsider."

Like Lorali, Winebarger had the desire to help area kids when she began the nonprofit with her husband. She recalled her first therapeutic riding session with two brothers. 

"One was a bigger boy. He was very quiet and withdrawn, and he was developmentally delayed. His brother was the polar opposite. He was very thin, wiry (and had) ADHD," Winebarger recalled.

She explained that she would have preferred to pair the larger brother with the smaller of the two horses because it walked more slowly than the more energetic, larger horse. The boy was so afraid that he didn't want to ride at all until he saw how much fun his brother was having. But he was too big to ride that horse, so the two boys switched mounts.

"And when I did that, the horses changed," Winebarger said. "The slow horse had the boy with ADHD. He picked up his pace, and it's like they (the horses) matched the personality of the rider. The fast horse slowed down. He acted like he was walking on eggshells."

Winebarger said both brothers had a great time, and she was hooked on providing the service from that day forward.

"It felt like Christmas morning - waking up as a child Christmas morning," Winebarger said. "But that's the feeling, you know? To be able to do something for somebody else. To be able to make a difference for somebody else."

Contact Leanne Fuller, a Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8653.

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