When Dawn Marie Fry brought home a miniature horse as a gift for her 11-year-old stepdaughter, she got much more than she had bargained for. Soon after acquiring the mare, Ms. Fry, who is barn manager at Hasty Acres horse farm in Kingston, came home from work on the last day of May to find that her miniature horse had given birth.
“The little black colt’s arrival was an absolute surprise; I had no idea the mare was pregnant,” said Ms. Fry. “Miniature horses are known for difficult births and so it was luck that both the mother and the foal were perfectly healthy.”
The joy and excitement of the new arrival soon turned to concern, however, when it was discovered that Koal’s mother was not so delighted. When her newborn was just a week old, she rejected Koal. Video surveillance showed her picking the youngster up by the neck, tossing him, and kicking him. Fearing that the newborn might be trampled and seriously injured, Ms. Fry was forced to separate Koal from his mother.
Fortunately the young horse was unharmed, but without his mother’s care he needed round-the-clock feedings. Ms. Fry had little option but to take him with her each day to Hasty Acres where she runs the therapeutic riding program Heads Up Special Riders and teaches equine-assisted psychotherapy for abused women.
Every morning, on the journey to Kingston from Ms. Fry’s home in Flemington, Koal would fall asleep on the car seat next to her. He was fed formula by hand from a syringe and at night, he snuggled up on blankets on the family’s kitchen floor.
In short, Koal quickly became a part of the family. Besides Ms. Fry, her fiancé Michael Kukal and her two stepchildren Rylie, 11, and Ronan, 8, Koal has the companionship of Iggy, a young dwarf goat.
At the Hasty Acres horse farm, Koal has become a great attraction, drawing the interest of children who visit and adults who volunteer for the Heads Up therapy program.
When he arrives at the farm, he jumps out of the car to be greeted by the other much larger horses. The children of Ms. Fry’s co-workers rush to see him. “Raising Koal has surprising benefits for all; he’s touching many lives at Hasty Acres where his size is awe-inspiring to visitors who are drawn to see the ‘miracle foal,’” commented Ms. Fry.
Visitors are encouraged to pet the youngster who is now thriving from the shared care that is a “huge team effort between family, friends, and new found friendships,” said Ms. Fry.
Because of the hand-feedings and frequent handling, Koal has become very comfortable with humans. He enjoys playing with children eager to frolic in the fields with the tiny horse. According to Ms. Fry, Koal willingly follows his new “parents,” Ms. Fry and others all over the farm. He’s visited a local Petsmart and has already acquired little booties to wear on such occasions (they stop him from slipping on tiled floors). Such interactions accustom the miniature horse to human touch, observed Ms. Fry, an experienced horse handler who grew up in Edison.
As a child, Ms. Fry longed to have a horse of her own but had to settle for the horseback riding lessons her parents provided. Today, she not only has her own horse, she has ten of them. “Horses are like potato chips, you can’t have just one,” she laughed. Several of her horses were acquired from Nevada through the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horses and Burros Program. “The wild horses that once had lived untouched on the range are now under saddle,” said Ms. Fry, adding that it’s a very long process to train them for riders. The effort, she said, is always worthwhile.
“Recent research shows that contact with animals can do more to heal victims of abuse than talk therapy,” said Ms. Fry. With this in mind, she is hoping that Koal will eventually be certified as a therapy animal and be taken to visit hospitals, schools, and assisted-living homes. “Few people come in contact with nature today and even fewer have access to horses so imagine the delight of seeing a tiny little horse the size of a dog coming toward you.”
The therapeutic riding program at Heads Up Special Riders has been offering riding experiences and contact with horses to challenged individuals over the age of four since 1959. Ms. Fry has been barn manager at Hasty Acres for five years and is treasurer of the nonprofit Heads Up program. Under the leadership of Clare Russell, who became the program’s director less than a year ago, Heads Up has partnered with Womanspace to bring clients from its shelter to the Hasty Acres farm.
Hasty Acres is always on the lookout for volunteers to help out with their programs and their horses. Interested individuals should call (609) 921-8389. For more information on Heads Up Special Riders, at 121 Laurel Ave, Kingston, N.J. 08528, call (908) 809-9019, or visit: www.headsupspecialriders.com. For more on Hasty Acres, call (609) 921-8389, or visit: www.hastyacres.com.