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A Special Equestrian Program

Iris looks up to a boy on a horse and smiles.They say that once you experience the limitless spirit of Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind (AIDB), that AIDB finds a permanent home in your heart. That sentiment is true for Iris Hamlin, a dedicated volunteer for the Marianna Greene Henry Special Equestrian Program (MGH).

“I was a teacher at Alabama School for the Blind and retired from there in 2011. AIDB enables students to have so many experiences that they would not have otherwise; from specialized education to the opportunity to participate in sports and activities,” said Hamlin. “When my husband and I decided to downsize and sell our farm and horses, I knew that MGH, the equestrian program at AIDB, would be the perfect home for my Foxy.”

Foxy, a Haflinger measuring at 14 hands, joined the MGH herd two years ago when he was donated by Hamlin. Haflingers are known for their smooth gait and ability to carry large riders easily — two important characteristics  — because the herd at MGH works with riders from kindergarten to high school, many of whom are first-time riders and need a smooth, gentle horse. “Foxy is happier at MGH than she has ever been! She has made several friends in the herd,” said Hamlin. “It thrills my heart that the staff at MGH take such great care of her.”

Hamlin gets to see Foxy at work each week when she volunteers. Classes from AIDB’s three K-12 schools come to the arena to participate in equine-assisted learning activities and therapy. Volunteers at MGH are able to work in various roles  — there is even a place for people with no experience with horses! “Volunteers help groom horses and ready them for students,” said Hamlin. “During classes, we will have a volunteer leading the horse around the arena with sidewalkers on one or both sides of the horse to help the student hold the reins and maintain the correct posture.”