Joan Benavidez was born in Kentucky but grew up in Oracle, so she’s right at home as an LHBH volunteer. Joan currently works at the Hilton Conquistador in Oro Valley but looks forward to retirement and the opportunity to spend more time with her special equine friend, Lillie Jean. Joan loves to groom, walk and sit with the minis. She also likes to accompany our horses on visits to nursing homes and assisted living centers, where the residents are all smiles in the presence of these gentle creatures. As Joan puts it, “I love that we make their day.”
Joyce was born and raised in the small Dutch community of Witchert, Illinois. The people of Witchert did things the old fashioned way, and the heavy work on her family’s dairy and gladiola farm was done with horses, not tractors. She remembers being put up on one of her father’s work horses when she was only two. Joyce learned how to get her hands dirty at an early age and started working in the fields when she was 10. Back then, who would have guessed that she would eventually become the Human Resource Manager for Apple Computer. Having lived all over the country—Illinois, Indiana, California, Nevada, Florida, Tennessee and now Arizona—the one constant in Joyce’s life has been her involvement with horses, whether riding them for fun, showing them or judging them in equine competitions. She considers herself truly fortunate to have found LHBH.
Phyllis grew up in Colorado and, like so many other volunteers at LHBH, has always had a special bond with animals, especially horses. When as a child she couldn’t have a real horse because her family moved around too much, she began collecting the toy kind and now has a “stable” of 134. Phyllis eventually got her own horse, named Pet, to go with a pig named Lady Macbeth and a lamb named Winkles. Both Lady Macbeth and Winkles won blue ribbons at the 4-H fair. After attending the University of Arizona, Phyllis began what would turn out to be a 25-year career with the Brunswick Corporation, a world leader in bowling products and equipment. She took up the sport in a big way and is the only person at LHBH to have been inducted into the Arizona chapter of the U.S. Bowling Congress Hall of Fame. Phyllis loves taking the minis on visits to nursing homes. Witnessing the joy they bring to the residents, she’s “found her niche in life” as one of our volunteers.
The daughter of an Army officer, Dale Flannery moved around a lot in the first half of her life, but she’s been an Arizonan since 1985, when she moved here to teach school. After spending a total of 35 years in the classroom with 4th and 5th graders, including 30 years at Copper Creek Elementary School in Oro Valley, Dale retired and began volunteering at Little Hooves. Her time with us has given her the opportunity to reconnect with horses, which she hadn’t been around since taking riding lessons at summer camps in Alabama. Dale describes LHBH as a peaceful “haven” for its clients, and she says there’s nothing better than to experience the look of awe on the face of a child. Her hobbies are reading, scrapbooking, hiking and running.
Wendi Nielson is the poster child for how equine-assisted therapeutic programs can change lives. Born in San Manuel, Arizona, Wendi came to LHBH as a young adult with a physical disability, and two years later she emerged from treatment as a fully functioning, confident woman who is now one of our most committed volunteers. Her favorite horse to relax with is Dolly. Wendi especially enjoys watching others with disabilities interact with the minis and “come out of their shells,” just as she did.
Sue Queenan was born in Illinois but has spent most her life in Arizona. She knows the state well, having lived in 11 different Arizona cities and towns over the years. Proud of her five children, 14 grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren and one great-great granddaughter, Sue has been around horses since she was a little girl. As an adult she also enjoyed riding and packing mules in Arizona’s White Mountains and the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico. No longer a rider, Sue fills a void in her life by volunteering at LHBH. Because she worked in nursing homes for 16 years, Sue has a special appreciation for how a visit by the minis can brighten a senior’s day.
Sonja Saroni, born in Indiana and raised in Texas, is a true Texas girl who loves people, animals and life. Prior to her retirement, Sonja worked as a teacher’s aide and later as a flight attendant, and now she puts her people skills to good use helping others. In addition to grooming and walking the minis, especially Daisy, Sonja loves to work one-on-one with the special-needs kids and seniors who come to visit us in Oracle. “LHBH is a refuge for anyone who needs to find peacefulness,” she says.
Paula Sims was born in Texas and raised on a sheep ranch until she was nine, when her family moved to Arizona. Like many of Little Hooves’ volunteers, Paula has a background in education, having spent 25 years as an elementary school teacher. Active in her church, she works in children’s ministry and conducts a weekly bible study. At LHBH, Paula hopes to help make children and seniors feel the same “comfort, joy and blessings” that she experiences when in the company of our miniature horses. Her hobbies include sewing, quilt making and embroidery.
Born and raised on a 330-acre farm in Illinois, Marilyn acquired her love of animals and the great outdoors at an early age. 4-H projects and fairs were a favorite part of her childhood, and while she didn’t have any minis to care for, her family had plenty of chickens, sheep, cows, pigs and full-size horses to keep her busy. After graduating from the University of Illinois, Marilyn moved to Virginia, where she began a long and rewarding career as an elementary school teacher. That’s when she first started working with special-needs children. Retirement brought her to Arizona. As a volunteer at LHBH, Marilyn loves her time outdoors with the kids, the seniors, the minis and the rest of her LHBH family. As she puts it, “All of them have enriched my life in ways they will never know.”
Having graduated from Northern Arizona University with a degree in education, Joe Starman taught for four years at Oracle Middle School before embarking on a career in the private sector, first working in the mining industry and later, for over two decades, for Southwest Gas Corporation. Joes admits that prior to becoming a volunteer at Little Hooves, he’d never been around horses, but he’s quickly come to appreciate how therapeutic they can be for individuals facing special challenges. Joes hopes to eventually become a certified equine-assisted facilitator so that he can work directly with the clients of what he describes as a “wonderful organization”.
Born and raised in Arizona, Janet Walker grew up as a “country girl” and had two pet pigs to prove it–Petunia and Popeye. Janet attended Northern Arizona University–where she met her husband, Rob Walker, who’s also a Little Hooves volunteer—and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s in educational leadership. After Janet and Rob moved to Oracle in 1988, she spent the next 15 years putting her degrees to work in the classroom and in school administration. An avid quilt-maker, Janet is active in her church and has hosted women’s bible studies for over 20 years. In addition to quilting, her spare-time activities include camping, fishing, gardening and watching old westerns.
Rob Walker grew up on a farm in California and has been around horses since he was five. After graduating from Northern Arizona University with a degree in forestry, Rob spent several years working in the forest-products industry. He then began a 30-year career with Southwest Gas, holding positions in construction, customer service and supervision. Now “retired,” Rob is on call as a substitute teacher and sometimes wrangles at the YMCA camp. Like his wife, he is also very involved in church life and has led men’s bible studies for more than 15 years. In addition to spending time with his grandchildren, Rob enjoys a variety of outdoor activities and especially likes working with the minis at Little Hooves.
Growing up on a dairy farm in a small Midwestern town, Trudy Webb only read books about horses, wallpapered her room with horse pictures and counted the days until she finally had one of her own. As an adult, much of her working life has been spent in the classroom. When Trudy first visited Little Hooves with her special-ed class from Copper Creek Elementary School, she was reminded of what she had learned years earlier: The bond between children and horses can be magical. Now that she’s one of our volunteers, Trudy considers herself extremely fortunate to be able to put her extensive teaching and child-care experience to work in such a nurturing, equine-centered environment. Says Trudy, “LHBH makes life complete for children and adults alike.”