:aura Smiley grasped the waistline of 13-year-old Branbt Franco’s jeans as they paced along a fenceline at The Saddle Light Center for Therapeutic Horsemanship near San Antonio, Texas.
Smiley, a fourth-year veterinary student at Western University, was helping Branbt stayed centered on the back of a slow-moving chestnut mare named Nugget. Branbt was diagnosed at birth with chondrodysplasia, a rare genetic disorder that causes deformities in his limbs and affects his cognitive development. For Branbt, who struggles to walk and speak, support on each side of the horse is necessary during his weekly hippotherapy sessions.
Smiley and Kelley Jones, DVM, a fellow at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, Ky., encouraged Branbt Nov. 18 during the American Association of Equine Practitioners’ (AAEP) inaugural Good Works For Horses Outreach Project. They were part of a group of AAEP members who took time to give back to the local equine community during the 57th Annual Convention in San Antonio.
Kerstin Fosdick, director of The Saddle Light Center, says it takes a village to get a special needs child on a horse. Members of her village include veterinarians Kelsey Sapp, DVM, of San Antonio’s Bracken Equine Clinic, and Michael Martin, DVM, and Keith Huffman, DVM, of Retama Equine Hospital in Selma. Both AAEP-member veterinary practices support the center by providing low-cost veterinary care and resources. Often the center’s older therapeutic riding horses require special veterinary attention, which places a significant financial burden on the nonprofit center.
For the reliable and sturdy Nugget, her continuous battle w