Keystone Heights farm to host woman's vision of horses helping children – The Florida Times-Union

Keystone Heights farm to host woman's vision of horses helping children – The Florida Times-Union

Kate Pearce has loved horses since she was a child in Colorado.
Even when she was unable to ride for years because of injury or illness, they somehow remained a cornerstone of her life. Now they’re back at the forefront as part of Horses for Hope, an equine-therapy program Pearce is developing at her family’s Keystone Heights farm in Clay County.
Horses for Hope opens June 1, but a launch party/fundraiser will be May 14 in Ponte Vedra Beach.
The program will mesh her love of horses with her empathy for children who have special needs or are fighting cancer: In the saddle they can develop muscle tone, balance and coordination and confidence. Pearce has had several friends with children who had to undergo chemotherapy and radiation and was frustrated by her limited ability to help.
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“What really led me to this,” Pearce said, was “not feeling like I could do anything more than provide meals.”
She first tried to do more by fundraising for those families — a dinner and auction collected $25,000 for one of them — and getting involved in cancer-advocacy groups.
“Watching the community pull together started me on this giving track,” she said.
In 2018 her own breast cancer diagnosis briefly interrupted her track. It was stage four and had spread. After three months of intense chemotherapy, scans showed no evidence of active cancer. But she later underwent a double mastectomy and a full hysterectomy.
“We hit it hard,” she said.
In late 2019 husband Kevin Pearce, a property appraiser, suggested out of the blue that they buy a farm. They were living on Fleming Island at the time.
He told her, “Let’s get you all those horses you’ve wanted since you were 5,” she said.
They ended up on a 50-acre farm in Keystone with a barn and stables. The family, which includes three children, is now living there in a camper while they build a house on the property. 
In her charity work, Pearce had learned about ‘how helpful animals” could be to people in medical treatment. She volunteered for an equine-therapy organization. And her friend Tori Bayliss extolled the benefits her son, Hunter, 5, who has cerebral palsy, gained from receiving equine therapy at a Middleburg program called Hope Therapy.
“It has had a great impact,” she said.
The therapy has strengthened Hunter’s core — the group of muscles that stabilize and controls the pelvis and spine — which “affects balance and coordination,” she said. 
At first Hunter was intimidated by the size of the animal, but the therapy has since increased his confidence around all animals. 
“He has grown to love it,” Bayliss said.
Equine therapy, also called hippotherapy, is a physical, occupational and speech therapy that “utilizes the natural gait and movement of a horse to provide motor and sensory input. It is based on improvement of neurologic functions and sensory processes, and used for patients with physical and mental disorders,” according to the National Library of Medicine. The word hippotherapy derives from the Greek word hippos, meaning horse.
With a farm and such endorsements of equine therapy, Pearce’s long-held goal of not only owning horses but somehow using them for good was coming together. The finishing touch was meeting Noelle Marx, founder of The Human Collective Foundation, a Fleming Island-based nonprofit that mobilizes people to actively help each other.
The goal of the foundation was simply “to rally together and do good,” Marx said. “So I created a hub, a platform if you will, to connect everyone to anything that was needed and if we couldn’t serve the need we would find someone that could.”
The collective’s volunteers have donated and delivered thousands of pounds of food to families, furnished homes for the homeless, taken graduating seniors shopping for prom and graduation clothes and served as mentors and supported children with no parents, among other things.
Pearce volunteered for the collective’s Christmas of Hope program for children and families.
“She has been an angel … sharing in the passion to serve our community to the fullest extent, wanting to create and spread hope to anyone she can reach,” Marx said. “These are the same values our foundation holds. This partnership was meant to be.”
The two women had the same vision for Pearce’s horses.
“I knew Kate had horses and a big heart,” she said.
She sent Pearce a message asking to use her horses for equine therapy for children with special needs and cancer patients, as well as improve veterans’ mental health, among other things.
“What I received back was quite a few very tearful audio messages on how this had been Kate’s dream for years. … I just said let’s do it. And we did,” Marx said. “One of my passions is to bring my friends’ dreams to fruition. Kate and I shared the same dream this time, but to be able to hand her the reins — literally — has been so fulfilling. All she truly needed … was support and she has it. We can’t wait to see this amazing program grow under her guidance.”
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Horses for Hope is now an initiative of the collective, with Pearce as development director. Ultimately, a veterans component will be added with them training the horses.
Six horses now live at the Pearce farm, with four for the equine-therapy program and two for the family. The therapy horses have been in training for months. A physical therapist, occupational therapist and speech pathologist will be on staff to lead the program, with trainers guiding the horses during the 45 minutes- to one-hour therapy sessions.
“There are so many people we hope to serve,” Pearce said. “I think it’s going to be phenomenal …The amount of growth the children will be able to have.”
[email protected], (904) 359-4109
HORSES FOR HOPE
The launch will be 5 p.m. May 14 at The Barn, 154 Canal Blvd., Ponte Vedra Beach, with a “BBQ-terie board” provided by Grub Brothers. Tickets are $100; purchase  at bit.ly/38OUm0K. To donate, volunteer or get more information text Kate Pearce at (904) 309-1981 or send [email protected]

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