LAKE CITY, Fla. – Some miniature horses at Gentle Carousel in Lake City help make a huge difference, and they did for the two weeks they were in Newtown, Conn., the site of the elementary school shooting tragedy in December.
Volunteers from the nonprofit recently returned and said it was a trip they'll never forget.
Gentle Carousel decided to name one foal after Catherine Hubbard (pictured, below), a 6-year-old girl who died at Sandy Hook Elementary.
"The family was really delighted, they felt like it would just really represent her spirit and what she was all about. She loved animals," said Jorge Garcia-Bengochea, of Gentle Carousel.
Volunteers trekked the little horses all over town, inside the Newtown Police Department, rec center and town library. The librarian told Gentle Carousel to expect a couple children, and 600 showed up.
"The director of the library felt like it was the beginning of healing for Newtown, and we were just very moved that the horses would have that kind of affect and we would be able to give to the town in that way," Garcia-Bengochea said.
Gentle Carousel also took the horses inside the classrooms for the Sandy Hook kids' first day back at school. They got to pet the minis named Magic, Wokanda and Aladdin and read books about them.
"When we did start one of the stories that we were reading, one of the children asked, 'Does anyone die in this story?' which is surprising for a 4-year-old girl or 5-year-old boy to ask before you read a book," Garcia-Bengochea said. "But it's not surprising knowing what they've been through."
The more time the children and even teachers spent with the horses, the better they felt.
"You could sense a burden starting to be lifted," Garcia-Bengochea said. "Obviously this is something that's going to be with them for a long time, but we feel that we felt like we were able to give to them and just restore their faith and humanity again to some degree."
IMAGES: Therapy horses back from Newtown
Gentle Carousel is hoping to raise funds to return to Newtown in the spring to help its horses heal hurting hearts.
"They're intuitive, very patient with people," Garcia-Bengochea said. "It just seems like every time they interact with people there's a significant response and people do feel a connection, and they walk away feeling a renewed sense of innocence, maybe fantasy, and just enjoyment of life these horses are able to bring with them."