(WBIR-Rockwood) A horse breeder here in East Tennessee will give away dozens of horses to Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies Centers.
You can have a say in which horses go where.
"We are the largest Gypsy Vanner ranch in the U.S. right now," Mechelle Barton said.
Mechelle and Eric Barton raise an unusual breed of horse at LexLin Gypsy Horse Ranch in Rockwood. They are called Gypsy Vanners.
"The first thing they notice is their beauty. Their long manes, their long tails dragging the ground, the feather. Just how majestic they look running in the fields," she said.
The Barton's have established Gypsy Gift. Here's how it works. During the next two years, LexLin will donate 30 horses to be trained for placement at accredited programs that use horses for therapy.
"They love people. That's one of the best things about them other than their beauty. They just love people and they want to be around them. They just want to be by your side. They're like big golden retrievers," she said.
Online votes will determine which programs receive the horses.
Tiffany Midyett explained, "Vote for your favorite therapeutic program. There are write ups about their facilities. Also the list of horses that are going to be donated are on the website."
LexLin isn't giving away the horses to just anyone. It has to be a therapeutic program committed to training the horse.
"It is critical that there is a trainer involved, especially for a young horse because they're not born knowing this. They're not born knowing how to ride, they're not born knowing what a saddle is. That all has to be taught to them and they have to be very very comfortable in those shoes before they can actually help somebody else," Lynn Petr said.
Lynn Petr is Executive Director of Shangri-La Therapeutic Academy of Riding: STAR.
"STAR is a therapeutic horseback riding program. We integrate horses and humans that have special needs," she said.
Trainers at STAR introduce potential therapy horses to things outside their comfort zone, like bubbles in their faces and objects on their heads. STAR has one Gypsy Vanner horse already and would love to train another one.
"They have an attitude of oh what you got instead of oh what you got? And there's a big difference in that. They want to engage with you, they want to play with you, they want to be with you, and that's a real plus for the Vanners," she said.
Gypsy Gift will be a real plus for 30 horse therapy centers and a chance for LexLin to make a real difference.
You can vote online for your favorite center through July 3rd to help that program get a horse. Click here.