April 23, 2018
Contact: Lynn Coakley
mail@equusfoundation.org | 203-259-1550

A Force of Good! EQUUS Foundation Announces 2018 Champion Scholarship Recipients Sponsored by Ariat International

"Having a reliable volunteer makes an organization operate better. Having an outgoing selfless person, like Lucas Cappelletti, greeting and making friends with our special clients and their care takers gives them a sense of belonging and feeling appreciated for who they are. Lucas is an outstanding young man that we here at Special Spirit support 100%," said Eva Lund, Executive Director of Special Spirit.

Thanks to Ariat International, the EQUUS Foundation awarded Cappelletti, along with Emmi Deckard, Ellie Foster, Taylor Santosuosso, and Lily Stidham with $1,000 Champion of Equine Service Scholarships to assist with the pursuit of undergraduate studies in appreciation of their volunteer service on behalf of horse welfare. Ariat sponsors the EQUUS Foundation's Champions program which is dedicated to inspiring and rewarding equine service.

Lucas Cappelletti
Special Spirit
Shadow Hills CA

Lucas Cappelletti
Lucas Cappelletti with his two dogs, Rufus (left) and Belle (right). Belle was rescued from a Cambodian dog meat slaughterhouse in 2016 and was adopted by Lucas the first day she arrived at the rescue.
Lucas Cappelletti is a Junior at Loyola High School of Los Angeles, where he serves as president of two clubs and editor of two publications, and balance five honors/Advanced Placement classes, but he always makes time to go to Special Spirit on the weekends to work with the horses who he's grown to know and love.

"I was instantly connected to the horses and loved how they could bring joy both to my life and the children that they served," said Cappelletti. Cappelletti created a video to help raise awareness of the power of equine therapy at Special Spirit. You can view the video here.

"Never in my life did I expect to have the chance to have a hands-on experience with horses where I am given the opportunity to clean them, feed them, tack them, and just interact with them," continued Cappelletti.

Having been able to see the impact that these horses have on children's lives, learning each horses' special personality and reflecting on the sentience of animals led Lucas to the decision to adopt the vegan lifestyle. His belief also had a profound impact on his family. His two brothers and his parents also decided to adopt the vegan way of living. "I will forever be grateful for the experience of working with horses because it has had a heartfelt, ever-lasting impact on my life and my family's lives."

Emmi Deckard
TRAX Equestrian Center
Riverside, CA
Emmi with Cassie aboard Tango for her first ride!
For the last four years, Emmi Deckard has started her Saturdays at six in the morning at TRAX with a warm coffee in one hand and a cold gate latch in the other.

"Nothing has been more gratifying than watching Gabe defeat muscular dystrophy and walk on tremulous legs from his wheelchair," said Deckard, "or charting Jada's progress, and ability to harness her ADHD, until she could ride independently. Leeland, who has high-functioning autism, confirms my efforts are paying off by joyously greeting me every time I walk through the gates."

Before coming to TRAX, Deckard's encounters with horses were rare and brief, and she was not victim to the common infatuation with horses. Today, she readily admits that she’s infatuated - and rightfully so.

Unlike any other animal, Deckard has learned that horses have a comforting and encouraging countenance, but you must earn their respect.

As she prepares for college, Deckard hopes to get a degree in Biomedical Engineering and enter the medical field to work closely with people that are injured or have disabilities.

"I've come a long way. I realize that no problem is insurmountable when we work together. I believe that compassion is limitless and that steadfast relationships, whether between people or with animals, can be more powerful than any kind of medicine. Now attuned to hardships much greater than my own, I know that programs like TRAX help create a better world by fostering better humans, one horse at a time."

Ellie Foster
Dream Catcher Stables, Inc
Spring, TX
Ellie Foster on Dakota
When Ellie Foster first stepped foot on the property of Dream Catcher Stables in August 2016, she was hoping for the opportunity to ride and work with horses that understood how to keep her safe.

She never anticipated that the bond she would form with one of the horses there with the ability to detect seizures before they occur and the friendships with the families and other volunteers would change her life forever.

For the next 9 months, Foster would spend every weekend at Dream Catchers, from 7:30 am to 2.30 pm, as a Dream Catcher athlete and volunteer.

"Ellie's quiet yet forceful personality is infectious," said Sanna Roling, "A person with a disability herself, she connected with our athletes, served as side-walker and safety spotter, horse handler, and instructor."

In May of 2017, Foster was heart-broken when she had to move to California due to her parents' job transfer; but immediately set out to find a location where she could continue to interact and work with horses, broaden her understanding of behavior tactics, and improve her riding level.

Finding a local stable nearby allowed her to maintain a balance between college, work and doing something that she enjoyed. In October 2017, wildfires raged through northern California, volunteering to help the horses in need also allowed her to give back to her community.

"Horses are not only my pick-me-up after a rough week, but also an opportunity to always learn something new. Where ever I am - in Houston, Texas or 2,000 miles away in Northern California, whether it's cleaning stalls, filling water barrels, distributing feed, grooming horses before scheduled lessons, or a favorite bathing horses - having the opportunity to spend any free time I have with horses is something that I will never give up."

Taylor Santosuosso
New England Equine Rescue - North Inc. (NEER North)
West Newbury, MA
Taylor Santosuosso & Muffin
"Volunteering was never my thing," admitted Taylor Santosuosso, "but I knew that if I wanted to be accepted to college, I had to extend my resume."

Santosuosso began riding at four years old and currently competes in dressage, cross-country, and jumping with her two horses, a 24-year-old Quarter Horse named Muffin and a 9-year-old Thoroughbred named Andy.

She plans to continue riding at the collegiate level while she pursues a pre-veterinary track at college. "I am extremely grateful for the support the EQUUS Foundation has given me in achieving my goals!"

She began volunteering at NEER North in 2017 and, to her surprise, has loved every minute.

"In only one day, I felt as though I had made a big impact and find myself working with the rescues two or three times per week."

In addition to building new paddocks, feeding the horses, and getting to know some incredibly nosy (and naughty) sheep named Peggy and Paisley, Santosuosso also helps train the green horses. She has encouraged her friends and family to get involved, and many have also taken on a role as a weekend volunteer.

"Taylor is reliable, hard-working, and drama free," said Mary Martin of NEER North. "Her efforts and dedication to help our rescue horses and donkeys stay healthy and schooled increases their chances for adoption."

"Though I will be disappointed when college arrives, I will always hold on to being able to visit and help on as many holidays as possible. I now truly understand the importance of volunteering and have a long-term goal of adopting a rescue of my own."

Lily Stidham and Tex at Stirrups n' Strides
"Lily has a great attitude & loves to help in any way possible," said Betty Gray, Executive Director of Stirrups 'n Strides. "Without dedicated volunteers like Lily, we could not provide these wonderful services for people with disabilities."

Stidham's love of horses began at a young age although she has not been able to ride as much as she would have liked. It was after graduating from high school that Stidham was able to find riding and volunteer opportunities. At Stirrups n' Strides, Stidham gets the horses ready for classes, leads and side-walks during classes, and rides some of the horses.

Stirrups n' Strides not only provided her with the opportunity to help others, but also the opportunity to grow in her experience with horses in and out of the saddle.

Although she has not been able to be around horses as much as some, her experiences with horses have inspired her to pursue a career in the equine industry. Stidham is currently pursuing her Associate in Science in Equine Studies and Associate in Arts degrees at the College of Central Florida in Ocala.

Being able to turn her passion for horses into a career with equines really excites her. After graduating from the College of Central Florida, Stidham hopes to transfer to the University of Florida to pursue a Bachelor's degree in Animal Science with an Equine Specialization.

"Whenever I see a horse, I smile," said Stidham, which shows me just how much of an impact horses have had on my life. Whatever career path awaits her, Stidham knows that the right path will be continuing to work with these great animals.

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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