DEBBIE GARCIA-BENGOCHEA/Special to Alachua County Today
- Therapy horses Magic and Catherine traveled to Orlando at the request of shooting victims' families.
HIGH SPRINGS – Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses were invited to Orlando by a representative for several of the families who had lost loved ones in the June 12 shooting at Pulse nightclub.
Therapy horses Catherine and Magic, along with their caretakers, Debbie and Jorge Garcia-Bengochea, visited with individual family members, first responders and volunteers on Wednesday and Thursday following the incident. The couple and their horses returned home each night, so accommodations were not an issue. Volunteers and the American Red Cross provided water and other needed items for the horses each day.
Magic traveled to Orlando both days while Catherine made the trip once. Both visited the main memorial at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, the place where President Obama spoke last week, and were greeted by dozens of people who were there to mourn the loss of friends and relatives or show support to the families of the 49 people slain by the gunman, Omar Mateen.
“We visited privately with the families of those slain,” said Debbie Garcia-Bengochea. “We never allow photos of those meetings to be published.” But other public appearances, like the visit to the memorial site, are allowed, she said.
“We are there to help support grieving family members and first responders...not for publicity,” she said.
Catherine was named in honor of Catherine Hubbard who was lost in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. Catherine has visited Sandy Hook/Newtown, Connecticut several times.
Magic is known as the Little Hero Horse. He was named by TIME Magazine as one of “History's Ten Most Courageous Animals.” AARP named him the “Most Heroic Pet in America,” and he was named “A Reader's Digest/Americantowns Power of One Hero.”
Magic is also a Deputy with the Alachua County Sheriff's Office and will soon be featured in an upcoming book by National Geographic Kids called “The Book of Heroes.”
The organization has been requested by tragedy-stricken towns all over the United States to help survivors heal after experiencing loss of life or serious injuries. The horses also have been trained to be around hospital equipment and often visit children’s hospitals to provide love and therapy to those in need.
For more information about Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity, readers can visit www.Horse-Therapy.org, www.facebook.com/TherapyHorses or call 352-226-9009.
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