By Catherine O’Hara
It’s a cold, damp January afternoon and a heavy fog envelops a Sheffield property, making it difficult to see beyond the pasture. In the centre of the outdoor paddock, people are milling about. At the heart of it all, a young girl’s dream is unfolding.
Wearing sturdy boots, toques and bulky mittens, four teenagers and their moms tend to the numerous ponies roaming free in their respective enclosures. Carrying flakes of hay, buckets of grains and the odd treat, the volunteers approach the once-neglected animals and invite them to eat. And without much coaxing, each of the ponies wrinkle their snouts, extend their necks and dig into their evening meal.
It’s a scene that unfolds daily on the farm of veterinarian Dr. Paula Dupuy, owner of Troy Veterinary Services. The property is also home to Wind Dancer Pony Rescue, where a crew of dedicated volunteers turn out to the Hwy. 8 property daily to fulfil their responsibilities of feeding, cleaning and caring for the ponies that have been afforded a new lease on life thanks to the not-for-profit organization.
Established in 2011, Wind Dancer Pony Rescue honours the memory of Dupuy’s young daughter, Isabel, who died in a tragic Flamborough car crash in March of that year. The charitable organization, named after Wind Dancer, the white speckled pony the 11-year-old Lee Academy student rescued and adored, has grown rapidly into a magical place where Isabel’s vision of one day owning a rescue lives on.
“It has become bigger than I ever imagined,” said Dupuy, as she looked over to the group of volunteers, who, despite the frigid temperatures, snow-covered ground and falling rain, were taking meticulous care of the animals, just as Isabel would have done.
The Sheffield property is currently home to seven ponies that are being rehabilitated and nursed back to health. Once in tiptop shape, Dupuy hopes they will be fostered. But should they find themselves in need of a new home in the future, they’ll always have a forever home at Wind Dancer Pony Rescue.
In a fenced enclosure on the 38-acre property, volunteer Amelia Tziougras slowly approaches Babe, a new addition to the pint-sized herd. A bit unsure of the gentle youth’s next move, the six-year-old pony shies away from Amelia’s hand.
“She was left to forage like a deer,” said Dupuy of Babe’s story and how she came to fall under the loving care of Wind Dancer Pony Rescue.
Dupuy surmises that, once upon a time, someone had gained Babe’s trust. But after years of being left to her own devices on a large, forested property, the pony forgot about that unmistakable bond between horse and human.
That bond, explained Dupuy, can be rebuilt. And over time, the more that rescue volunteers work with Babe, the stronger it will become.
The relationship between volunteers also builds quickly on Dupuy’s farm. Just as she and her beloved daughter spent countless hours riding and bonding, families who lend a helping hand at Wind Dancer benefit from the same experiences.
“This is very similar to how Isabel and I enjoyed our time together,” said Dupuy. “I think for moms and daughters, it’s a nice way to hang out and spend time together and talk about things while you’re working alongside each other.”
For Kathi Karpinski and her 15-year-old daughter, Bekka, spending a few hours in Sheffield is an opportunity they both look forward to weekly.
Karpinski, who first met Dupuy through 4-H, remembers Isabel as a beautiful and inspiring young girl.
When she heard that her veterinarian was establishing Wind Dancer Pony Rescue in memory of Isabel, there was no questioning their involvement.
“It’s an incredible foundation,” she said. “This is something we hope will keep (Isabel’s) memory alive and do what she wanted to do.”
As rain begins to drizzle down with more force, the volunteers gather at the side of the property, where a special shed was constructed to house all of the necessary supplies. On the side, the organization’s logo is blazoned – Isabel astride Wind Dancer, speckled with colourful pink and blue dots – a constant reminder of her passion for ponies, love of riding and innate ability to bond with the animals. Her legacy.
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Wind Dancer Pony Rescue relies on the kindness of volunteers and the generosity of strangers to help it in its ongoing quest to care for abused, neglected and unwanted ponies.
Funds raised at events, such as the recent Lee Academy Pennies for Ponies, which boosted the foundation by $1,400, go a long way to ensure the gentle, but sometimes sassy creatures are well cared for.
Recently, the foundation invested in heated troughs to ensure ponies had access to fresh water during winter’s cold months. The project’s price tag hovered around $10,000 – dipping into the rescue’s capital reserves.
Donations are always welcome and community residents interested in lending a hand at the Hwy. 8 farm can inquire about joining the 50-volunteer strong group by contacting 519-622-4575 or firstname.lastname@example.org. They can also take part in Wind Dancer’s upcoming events to show their support of the rescue. Events include an Easter Egg Hunt, held at Lee Academy on March 30, followed by the charitable organization’s volunteer banquet, the Wind Dancer Pony Palooza at the Rockton Fairgrounds on Saturday, May 4. The family event, open to the public, will feature a barbecue dinner, raffle, auction and special appearances by furry guests.
On June 2, riding enthusiasts and their families are invited to take part in the second annual Isabel’s Ride, in support of the rescue.
For more information, visit http://winddancerponies.org.