DressageDaily.com's own Mary Phelps is now vice-chair of the Equestrian Aid Foundation Board of Governors. Mary has been a member of the EAF board since EAF was created 12 years ago to assist equestrians suffering with HIV/Aids. Over the years, EAF has expanded its scope to provide assistance to anyone in the equestrian community suffering from life-threatening illness, accidents and injuries.
EAF just announced this week that it has passed the $1 million mark in amount of money raised and distributed since its creation. Despite reaching this milestone, EAF continuously seeks donations to help fund its services, the costs of which continue to grow as EAF reaches out to more and more equestrians in need. As EAF launches its latest membership drive and enters a new period of growth, Phelps is proud to be a part of those efforts.
"It is an honor to be serving in a stronger capacity. Becoming co-chair along with Karin Offield creates the opportunity to implement ideas and support in a more effective way," Phelps said. "I would like to see us hit the ground running this year involving competitions, professionals, and even recipients of EAF Funds to network and lend their support, while helping us keep our administrative costs at a minimum in order to put the revenue where it is needed most – helping those in our equestrian community in need."
R. Scot Evans, president of the EAF, said the elevation of Phelps to vice-chair is a natural fit for the organization's expanded mission. "Mary has always been there for us and has always been willing to help. Hence, we thought we'd love to have her more on board so we could make more use of what she can bring to EAF. We see this as part of our plan to gather horse people with public relations skills who can assist in getting the message out there about EAF and what it does."
In addition to becoming vice-chair, Phelps also sits on the EAF Public Relations and Marketing Committee, a position for which she is certainly well suited. In that role, Mary said she intends to work diligently to promote the activities and work of EAF in order to help the organization attract the funds necessary to continue providing assistance to all those in the equestrian community who need assistance. She also hopes to use that role to help educate members of the equestrian community on the importance of preparing for a catastrophic illness or accident.
"It is also important that those in our world understand the responsibility they need to take by running their businesses in a professional and safety-conscious manner," Phelps said. "There is no getting around it, we all work in a high-risk sport, and we have seen the aftermath of what a catastrophic injury can do to families, friends and colleagues. Anyone who lives and works in the world of horses owes it to those who could be left picking up the pieces of their lives by having their affairs in order."
Photo: Mary Phelps and friend and Kentucky neighbor Debbie Atkinson who was crtitally injured in a fall.
One way equestrians can learn how to prepare for a catastrophic event is by looking at the application for assistance on the EAF website. "EAF’s application for assistance is an important tool for knowing what you need to have in order to receive help from a 501C3 organization," Phelps said.
EAF is a unique organization. It was created by members of the equestrian community for members of that community and its financial support also comes from the equestrian world. It has never refused help to any qualified applicant and has provided assistance in the form of paying for medical, healthcare, rehabilitation and essential expenses, such as housing and food to its grant recipients throughout their time of need.
Created by six equestrians in 1996 as the Equestrian AIDS Foundation, EAF expanded its mission in 2006 to include assistance to those suffering from any catastrophic illness or injury and changed its name to the Equestrian Aid Foundation. But with this expanded mission has come a growth in requests for assistance and that has also meant a need for additional funds.
"Our recipients are mostly ordinary people with an extraordinary love of horses," said Janise Gray, director of grant recipient services for the EAF and one of its former executive directors. As an integral part of the EAF since its inception, Gray added, "in many cases, I am the only person in the organization who knows a recipients' identity. I am privileged and honored to know them as I do. They have changed my life with their indomitable spirit, spirituality and love - of life and horses.
For long a silent organization, EAF was put in the spotlight this spring and made international headline news when Olympic event rider Darren Chiacchia, a member of EAF's Board of Governors, also became a recipient after a fall in competition. Most of EAF's recipients, however, remain in relative anonymity. Recipients have few similarities, other than a need for assistance and their love of horses. They come from all walks of life - riders (professional and amateur), farriers, show organizers, trainers and managers; diverse disciplines - both Western and English; well-known competitors and pleasure riders; ages ranging from 14 to 56; and living in all parts of the country - both urban and rural.
"Our many generous benefactors enable EAF to give its recipients the dignity, quality of life and the most fundamental - hope - they deserve." Gray said. "The ride for hope is more than a motto for those involved with the EAF - it's also the ride for life."
Last year EAF began offering multi-level yearly memberships and monthly donor programs to ensure a consistent income of support for its recipients. Since support from the horse world has become critical to achieving this new mission, EAF has also expanded into corporate and association sponsorships.
"This milestone is so much more than a number. It represents all the people who have needed the Equestrian Aid Foundation to get through a really tough time, as well as all the donors who understood the responsibility we have as equestrians to take care of our own," Evans said. "Thanks to our many donors over the years, the Equestrian Aid Foundation has been able to make a monumental difference in the lives of so many that share our passion for horses and horse sports."
Evans said EAF is now inviting everyone "to jump on board and become a member. We've expanded our mission in order to reach out to everyone in the horse community and now we need everyone to get involved." To learn more about becoming a member of EAF, visit www.equestrianaidfoundation.org.