Citra-based Horses N Heroes is one of 13 equine-related nonprofits in the country, and the only one in Florida, to receive part of a $128,000 grant this year from the U.S. Equestrian Federation Opportunity Fund.
Thanks to her parents, Mindy Morrow was fortunate enough to grow up with horses in her life. And now thanks to Morrow’s nonprofit Horses N Heroes, young girls, who would otherwise not be able to be around horses, have that opportunity.
“As my parents, who did not come from wealthy backgrounds, began to do well in life, they wanted to find a hobby to do together,” explains Morrow, who grew up on Long Island, New York. “My mother had always loved horses and there was a horse farm near us, so the hobby they chose was horseback riding. They would bring me along when they went for their riding lessons. I started riding when I was 4 years old.”
Morrow got her first horse when she was 6, and by age 10 she and her father were foxhunting together. To the latter endeavor, Morrow added showing hunter/jumpers until she was 18. Horses then dropped out of her life while Morrow bounced around to colleges in Florida and Massachusetts.
“I originally majored in fashion design and then business,” says Morrow. “I never graduated with a degree but did go into retail management at 22 in the Fort Lauderdale area. My retail career began in 1987, when I was hired as an assistant manager. Over the years, I kept moving up the ladder and did quite well.”
But being around horses again started being on her mind more and more.
“In 1994, a friend told me about an opportunity in Lake Worth where I could teach riding to young girls and I started doing that in my free time,” notes Morrow. “Soon, I started getting calls from mothers whose daughters wanted lessons but couldn’t afford them. My parents had always taught me to give back and that’s how Horses N Heroes got started.”
Morrow’s retail management career ended in late 1997 and Horses N Heroes became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. In 1999, Horses N Heroes moved to an equine facility in Del Ray Beach, where it would remain until 2005.
“I was dating Colin Morrow, my farrier, who was from Ocala,” says Morrow. “We wanted to get married and had to decide where to live. I had never been to Ocala but loved it the minute I first visited. We moved to Citra in 2005, got married in 2006 and Horses N Heroes continued on.”
Horses N Heroes is based on the Morrows’ 16-acre farm, which is currently home to the 25 horses used in some way in the program.
“The majority of my donated horses come from the hunter/jumper world,” says Morrow, who is the executive director and lone staff member of the program. “These horses are the heart of the program. Through horsemanship, the focus of the program is teaching girls responsibility, teamwork, time management, compassion, self-esteem and independence.”
The girls, ages 7 and up, come to the Horses N Heroes program mainly by word of mouth, often by another girl who is or was involved. Morrow generally has 20 to 25 girls in the program at one time, many of whom stay through high school graduation. No fee is charged.
Morrow notes, “The majority the girls live at the poverty level and below. Some have a parent who is incarcerated or are being raised by a grandparent or relative. One of my former students came to me through a hospice program where her mother was dying. Last year, four of my girls lost a parent due to a drug overdose.”
While Horses N Heroes is a safe haven for these girls, it is not a summer camp.
“We generally run seven days a week; the girls come after school, on weekends and through the summer,” explains Morrow. “It’s a hands-on working program, from cleaning the barn to washing water troughs to grooming, feeding and riding the horses.”
There is no shortage of Horses N Heroes success stories.
“In the 29 years that I’ve been doing the program, all of the girls that have completed it have graduated from high school and gone on to college, trade school or the military,” boasts Morrow. “One of my girls graduated from the University of Florida veterinarian school and is now a small animal vet. Another is studying nuclear propulsion in the U.S. Navy while one owns her own film production company. From nurses to a welder, the success stories go on and on.”
And Morrow is especially proud of the Horses N Heroes graduates who still live in the area and return to the program to volunteer.
“Our graduates who volunteer can relate to the young girls in the program and be role models for them,” says Morrow. “That is very important, as are all our volunteers and donors. We couldn’t operate without them, and we can always use more of both. We did receive a grant from the U.S. Equestrian Federation this past June and that money will go directly back into the Horses N Heroes program.” OS
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