A Conversation with Kelly Slonaker

Kelly Slonaker has been with us for close to three weeks now and in a very short time she has managed to become an integral part of our lives, making critical contributions to our therapeutic riding program and fitting in so well with all our animals and staff and sharing our peculiar sense of humor!

Read on to learn a bit more about this wonderful person…

Kelly and Twinkle

Q: How long have you been riding?

A: My entire life! I was on a horse before I could walk, and began taking lessons at the ripe age of three.

Q: Who do you ride back home?

A: My horse, Sam, is my main man. I share him with my mom (or actually, she shares him with me). I also ride each of the horses at the center in which I work, with the exception of the miniatures and the donkey. Though, we’re working on the donkey!

Q: Where are you from?

A: ’Merica. I’m from North Salem, a small, horsey town in New York State, about an hour north of New York City.

Q: Who is your favorite horse at our stables?

A: It’s a tie between Poppy and Sea – I love them both! I guess I have a thing for thoroughbreds…

Kelly and SeaKelly and Poppy

Q: Why do you ride?

A: I love it – I consider riding my own therapy. It’s physically and mentally challenging, and there’s no rush like the one you get when you and your horse are truly in sync.

Q: What would you say is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from horses?

A: Patience and compassion are two of the biggest lessons I’ve learned – or really, am still learning, because horses never stop teaching you. Like every person, each horse has a story; you have to have patience to listen to what they’re telling you and compassion to understand where their behavior comes from.

Q: How and why did you get involved in therapeutic riding?

A: I’ve always loved working with horses and kids, so this was a natural fit. I started volunteering at a therapeutic riding center in my hometown and loved it instantly. I was fortunate enough to get offered a job there, and then began working towards my instructor’s certification, which I received last year.

Q: What do you like about it? Why do you do it?

A: I love everything about it. I get to work with remarkable people and horses, and no two days are alike. It’s a job that is both incredibly challenging and incredibly rewarding; I feel like I am constantly learning and growing, as an instructor and as a person. Horses are truly amazing, transformative animals, and they have profoundly shaped my life and who I am. I love that I can help share their power and impact with others.

Q: What was an a-ha moment for you as a teacher?

A: I think I have one every time I teach – I often feel like I’m learning as much or more than my students.

Kelly and Guiness

Q: What do you think of the Healing with Horses Therapeutic Centre and what we do?

A: Bulawayo (and Zimbabwe) are lucky to have a center like this with such caring, wonderful people and horses. The work you do is amazing, and I feel lucky to be here and be a part of it.

Q: Where else have you been in Africa? What were you doing?

A: I’ve been to South Africa twice, and to Kenya and Malawi. I first went to SA with my parents on holiday, about 15 years ago, and then came back in 2008 to volunteer for a month at The Dell Cheetah Centre in Parys. I went to Kenya in 2013 to work on some film projects for an organization I’ve been involved with for several years called The Thorn Tree Project, which helps fund and facilitate education in the Samburu region. After Kenya, I traveled to Malawi to visit a friend who was working with Peace Corps Response there. I’ll be adding more countries to the list on this trip, I can’t get enough!

Q: What do you think of Zimbabwe?

A: I’m blown away by the kindness and generosity of the people I’ve met, in particular Jill, Aileen and Swathi – they’re reason enough to come here! The beautiful scenery and wildlife are just the icing on the cake, really.

Kelly, Jutta and Swathi

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