Mary smiled down at the horse trainer, her hands firmly holding the horse’s reins. The trainer adjusted Mary’s foot in the stirrups before leading the two around the arena.
Eleven-year-old Mary was learning what it takes to be a professional horse trainer in the bluegrass state known for horses. She wasn’t thinking about the next doctor visit for treatments, daily pains or eventually being in a wheelchair due to her degenerative metabolic disease. She was experiencing her one, true wish in Kentucky by being a horse trainer for a day.
“Mary’s life can be hard some days. And, for six days we got to forget she had ML (mucolipidoses),” Mary’s mom, Liz, said. “As Mary said when asked what was her favorite part – ‘everything!’”
For six days Mary not only met and worked with a horse trainer in Kentucky, she toured many famous equestrian landmarks and met some famous riders and horses. She visited an equine hospital where she met some baby horses. She spent a day at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, where many international and national competitions are held, and witnessed Grand Prix training, the highest competition level of horse jumping. She went behind the scenes at Churchill Downs, where the Kentucky Derby takes place.
“My favorite part was seeing the smile and excitement on Mary’s face every day we were in Kentucky,” Liz said. “I will always remember the smiles from my kids and the friendly people.”
When Mary was a baby, her parents noticed that she couldn’t lift her arms all the way above her head. Doctors placed a brace on her foot when Mary was one year old to help it from turning out. At about four years old, Mary couldn’t stand up straight.
“After our first visit (at Mayo Clinic), she was diagnosed,” Liz recalled. “It’s hard to forget the day you are told that you will outlive your child … that she will end up in a wheelchair.”
The diagnosis brought the family together, Liz said. They built a house to meet Mary’s future accessibility needs. Mary underwent more than a dozen procedures, including injections to loosen her muscles and a hip reposition. Then one day Liz saw information about Make-A-Wish on the news and soon referred her daughter. And, it was no surprise that Mary, who loves horses, chose to be a horse trainer.
“What Make-A-Wish did for us was the most amazing thing ever,” Liz said. “Words cannot describe how much we appreciate everything that Make-A-Wish did.”
Photo credit: Wayne Litmer