Gold Star families spend a day at Equest as part of Snowball Express 2017

This blog was written by Equest Director of Clinical & Veteran Services Jeff Hensley, MS, LPC, on December 19, 2017.

For those children who have lost family members while serving their country, finding comfort can be hard, especially around the holidays. Because their numbers are so small relative to the country at large, these kids often feel as if they are completely alone in their grief and the emptiness can overwhelm their capacity for making new, joyful memories. 

Since 2006, one local nonprofit has sought to change this. Snowball Express is dedicated to a simple mission: Provide hope and new happy memories to the children of military fallen heroes who have died while on active duty since 9/11.  Each December, Snowball Express in partnership with American Airlines, bring Gold Star kids from all over the world to Dallas/Ft. Worth for a 4-day experience filled with fun activities and fellowship.  This year, Equest was honored to introduce over 100 of them to the magic of horses!

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The day started with the Dallas Police Department and North Texas members of the Patriot Guard Riders escorting three charter buses full of Snowball Express kids ages 5-18 eager to hang out with our horses.  As the kids walked off the bus, they were met by a small army of Equest staff and volunteers applauding, high-fiving them, and welcoming them to the Texas Horse Park.  Following opening remarks, the kids executed a fleur-de-lis and scattered to every corner of Equest to participate in activities as varied as a petting zoo, educational classes taught by the Creature Teacher, face-painting, nature walks (led by the City of Dallas environmentalist, Adam Ozier), pony-painting (with Dippy, Cisco, and Dare volunteering as real-life canvasses), and static displays from the Dallas Police Department’s Mounted and K-9 units. 

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For most, the highlight of the day was meeting their designated Equest horse for a trail ride.  Every 45 minutes, 20 pairs of horse & rider departed the outdoor arena and made their way into the 7000-acre Great Trinity Forest, the largest bottomland urban forest in the nation and one of Dallas’ hidden gems. Most of these kids had never been on horseback before and each seemed convinced that their horse was the best!  There were many smiles seen all along the trails.  

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Afterwards, several kids were heard telling their parent that they wanted to take riding lessons when they get back home – which makes all of us horse-lovers very happy indeed!  But the real thrill was knowing that Equest played a small part in doing something truly meaningful for these incredible kids.  For at least a little while, we know their thoughts were on only the beautiful, sunny day, the laughter of friends, and the gentle nickering of their horses – all cherished pieces of a lasting memory.

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