April 16, 2018
Contact: Lynn Coakley
mail@equusfoundation.org | 203-259-1550

Helping Hands for Horses - 5 Dedicated Volunteers Honored as EQUUS Foundation Ariat Champions!

Breeze, Poppy, Prince Willy, Sally and Oliver are five of thousands of horses that are cared for by dedicated volunteers. Ariat International sponsors the EQUUS Foundation's Champions program to inspire and reward equine service.

"The horse's innate ability to touch and heal the human soul, as well as the human body, is unparalleled by any other animal," said Dawn Benko, EQUUS Foundation Champion. "The more I am around them, the more I want to be around them."

Five Champions are randomly selected each quarter to be recognized for their selfless dedication. Dawn Benko, Bonita Labat, Jeannean Mercuri, Lynn O'Brien, and Shana Tundevold will each receive a pair of Ariat boots in recognition of their volunteer service on behalf of horse welfare.

Dawn Benko
G.A.I.T. Inc.
Milford, PA
Dawn Benko with Breeze
In 2015, Dawn Benko landed the perfect volunteer opportunity at G.A.I.T. where she rediscovered her love for horses. She had lost touch with her childhood passion during her thirty-year career in photojournalism. Dawn's volunteer work with GAIT has made her feel as though she has come home again.

Dawn is a certified equine massage therapist and plans to further her equine education this summer by attending a local college to train as a veterinary assistant. Her wish is to keep helping horses help people.

Bonita Labat
This Old Horse, Inc.
Hastings, MN
Poppy getting a belly scratch from Labat
Bonita Labat had "the bug" for horses for a long time before she was fortunate to have her own horse, Twister. When she learned that a horse where Twister was boarded had been donated to This Old Horse, it peaked her interest and she went for a visit.

Now a committed volunteer, there is no work too big or too small for Labat, including barn chores, clean up days, events, tours, and making goodies for the gift shop. As Placement Coordinator, she formed a team to help with visits to fostered horses, assessing horses on the waiting list, and getting to know potential fosters.

Poppy is one of the horses that draws Labat to This Old Horse. Arriving very underweight with an unhealthy coat and dull eyes, she is still recovering but almost there physically. "She loves getting her belly scratched," said Labat. "I am humbled by the horses' quiet strength, all there is to learn, and what still needs to be done."

Jeannean Mercuri
Gerda's Equine Rescue, Inc.
West Townshend, VT
Mercuri with Prince Willy
Jeannean Mercuri volunteers with Gerda's Equine Rescue facilitating hoof related rehabbing, especially for those needing daily attention with their diet, trims, medications, socialization, and physical therapy.

When Prince Willy, a Haflinger Pony, was saved from the kill pen in Pennsylvania, by Gerda's, all four of his coffin bones had sunk through his soles. Mercuri said, "His care was so extreme that I fell in love with him and adopted him for myself." Despite the odds, Willy is happy, healthy and SOUND five years later.

Mercuri is a Barefoot trimmer, clinician and instructor for Pacific Hoof Care Practitioners, as well as, a certified member of the American Hoof Association. She takes the rescue horses to her barn where she donates her time and skills to help get these horses sound and healthy so they can find their forever homes and live out the rest of their days. "It is a joy to have a job I love and makes a difference in the world," said Mercuri.

O'Brien with Sally, a feral mustang surrendered to ERAF along with her blind daughter
Horses were part of Lynn O'Brien's life growing up on Long Island, New York, and on through marriage and children while living Las Vegas, Nevada.

Family and kids dictated a move back east to New Jersey where she worked for the next thirty years as a Medical Technologist. During this time, O'Brien had a hiatus from the horses before retiring to Florida.

Answering an ad for volunteers at ERAF changed all that. She has been a volunteer at ERAF for five years, dedicating her time to working with and helping the horses find forever homes.

"I'm hooked again - happily so", said O'Brien. "The staff and volunteers are so committed to the rehabilitation of our horses. I'm very proud to be a part of this organization."

Shana Tundevold, LLMSW
The Barn for Equine Learning
Lowell, MI
Tundevold with Oliver
Shana Tundevold has been volunteering with The Barn for Equine Learning since it was founded in 2015. During the last three years, she has enjoyed seeing the positive change horses can bring to so many individuals in such unique ways.

Tundevold is a social worker whose passion is to connect at-risk youth with horses and the outdoors and has many years of experience working with youth and horses.

Currently, the Adventure Specialist at a residential home for youth in foster care, she is EAGALA certified and believes strongly in the power of experiential learning and equine-based activities. As a member of the Board of Directors for The Barn for Equine Learning, she is fully committed to its mission to give youth and adults the opportunity to discover new experiences, challenge themselves, and grow through the healing power of horses.

Learn more about Champions here

About EQUUS Foundation: The EQUUS Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity established in 2002, also known as Horse Charities of America, the only national animal welfare charity in the United States 100% dedicated to protecting America's horses and strengthening the bond between people and horses. Donations are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law. Contact the EQUUS Foundation, Inc., at 168 Long Lots Road, Westport, CT 06880, Tele: (203) 259-1550, E-Mail: mail@equusfoundation.org, Website: equusfoundation.org.

About Ariat International: Ariat International, Inc. is the leading manufacturer of innovative performance equestrian footwear, apparel and belts. Featuring a patented technology designed to deliver stability, durability and comfort, Ariat pioneered the application of advanced athletic shoe technology into English riding boots and authentic Western boots. Ariat products are sold in a network of retail outlets throughout the world. For more information about Ariat products or for the Ariat retailer nearest you, contact Ariat at 800.899.8141 or visit www.ariat.com.
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