When DressageDaily’s Mary Phelps met Gary Johnson at the Dressage Nationals Championships at Gladstone, she knew there was something very special about that day! Johnson, one of the students at the Driving for Surviving program part of the SharingVillage Cancer Survivor Group in Far Hills New Jersey was to have performed during the event, but the relentless rain caused the program to be cancelled. “That is when Gary and the program director Shelley Zlotkin came into the tent for a visit, and asked if we could help him find a pony,” said Phelps. Gary, who is also a recipient of funds from the Equestrian Aid Foundation, got a huge boost when Robert Dover published Gary's story on doversworld.com. Gary had lost his other pony to Cushing’s disease, and was unable to participate in the programs held daily at the beautiful facility dedicated to the program.
“I knew Johnny Robb, media director of the American Shetland Club was on the hunt and trying ponies, but time was running out for Gary to begin practicing for their upcoming event to be held at Gladstone, October 11. So as soon as I got home from the Young Horse Championships, I loaded up my little carriage pony Buddy and drove from Kentucky to Gladstone in 14 hours. We arrived at my friend Tracey Higgins Farm at 9PM, and by the time I was ready to turn in, he was lying comfortably in deep bedding.” The next morning Tracey, Mary and Buddy headed over to the training center where everything but a red carpet was there to greet them.
Gary, who has Cerebral Palsy and is also a cancer survivor, was ready and waiting. “I brought all of Buddy’s stuff; he has more blankets and sheets than I have shoes!” The 4 wheel cross country vehicle, a Hardwick’s Tadpole Puddle Jumper, was perfect and easy for him to get out of.
As soon as Gary picked up the lines it was as if they had been a team forever. “Gary has a natural talent, and Buddy softened to him right away. I knew there was nothing to worry about, for either Gary or my pony!” Former USA Four in Hand Driver Sharon Chesson teaches the program, and there is a fabulous staff of knowledgeable caring people.
“This works our perfectly, not just for Gary but for me also,” said Phelps. “I know he is the best of hands, literally and that during the next two busy months he will be getting conditioned and have lots of fun with all the other ponies, minis, and participants in the program.” It is another way we can promote not only this program, but also the Equestrian Aid Foundation which does so much for members of the equestrian world in need. On hand was EAF director of applicants Janice Gray, who helped to put the whole plan together.
“Whenever I am having a bad day, I’ll make myself remember this one,” said Phelps. “Being involved with EAF and now this program has taught me to reach beyond the day to day obsession and self involvement we all have a tendency to get wrapped up in, and just to do good things, just because. The 14 hour drive home tomorrow will be a piece of cake, and I’ll have a smile on my face the whole way!”