Blog By Nikki Alvin-Smith
The joy that a horse innately brings to people is truly a gift worth giving. At just 32 inches high at his wither, mini therapy horse Dominique may be small in stature, but the amount of pleasure he brings to folks is HUGE
Everyone deserves love and happiness in their lives, especially folks that are suffering distress, trauma, loneliness and pain. The calm and gentle presence of this sweet miniature horse wins the hearts of all he meets.
His name is no accident. His owner, Sandy Smith, is the founder of the 501c3 charity organization Dominique’s Smiles based in Brogue, PA. Lifelong horsewoman Sandy is more than just a horse owner. Her expertise with horses spans many riding disciplines, and includes a career as jockey and a licensed racehorse trainer. She is an all around equine aficionado. Sandy’s compassion for horses and her love and empathy for people is clearly evident when you speak with her. Here’s her heartfelt account of Dominique’s backstory (bring your tissues, it’ll tug at your heart):
“I was working with Mick Rodgers, the owner of Outback Survival Gear (located in Saratoga, Springs, NY) at the PA Farm Show when we first met Dominique. She was being pushed around in a wheelchair by her grandfather and had just undergone cancer treatment at Hershey Children’s hospital. Mick and I spent a lot of time chatting with Dominique. She was cheerful, engaging and funny and we listened to her stories of happier times out West with other ‘horse crazy cancer kids’ as she called the group. Whenever she spoke about horses she just lit up. She seemed to entirely forget about her cancer when she thought about horses.
A month later we were set to meet her at the Harrisburg Horse World expo as our special guest for the evening show, but sadly she couldn’t make it as she was back in the hospital. Later, Mick stopped by the hospital and gave her one of his specially designed Aussie hats to cheer her up. She loved it and wore it everywhere instead of the bright bandana she sported before.
I called Dominique the day after the show and asked if there was anything I could bring her when I visited. She wanted me to bring a horse – but of course she was joking, she knew I didn’t have a horse I could bring into the hospital. But I promised her that one day I would. I’d train a horse for therapy service and take it to hospitals to comfort kids with life threatening health issues.”
Sadly Dominique lost her battle with cancer but Sandy did not forget her promise. It took some time for Sandy to train the mini horse she found and fell in love with and she named Dominique. Mick Rodgers of Outback Survival Gear sponsors Dominique’s Smiles. Other sponsors such as Horizon Structures LLC, a leading modular horse barn company, The Mill at Red Lion and Saratoga Saddlery, have also joined in to support Sandy’s efforts. For the past year Sandy and her mini horse have visited many children’s hospitals, nursing homes, shut-ins and attended many special events for charitable causes to help spread love and happiness wherever they can, lighting up faces one smile at a time.
“Covid has made things very difficult. Of course Dominique is up to date on all his health requirements, vaccinations etc, and I have all the PPE and do all the sanitizing measures so I can bring him safely around people. This is obviously especially important for people that are so vulnerable to the virus due to their compromised immune systems. Years ago, I worked in an ICU that had an isolation section so I know the protocol. We’ve been to birthday parties outside, attended small gatherings outside libraries with social distancing where I bring Dominique and I read to the kids.
The tough thing is that now people need the calm and companionship that therapy can bring them more than ever and yet it is so difficult to get access to give folks what they need, which is to give them comfort and hope and cheer them up. Staff and care providers need their spirits brightened up too. I need to find some forward thinking Doctors who realize the benefits we can bring and invite us in. We can suit up!” lamented Sandy.
And access isn’t the only difficulty that Dominique’s Smiles organization faces. Transportation and more particularly, parking, can be an issue too.
“We are visiting hospitals in cities with a pick up truck and a bumper pull horse trailer. As you can imagine when we get to their parking lots there is not much space for us to set up or even to park for a short period. What I desperately need is a mini-van. I wish I could locate a car dealer as a sponsor for us. Even a used mini-van would do. Dealerships can visit our sponsor page on our new website, and see how we could highlight their business. A van would be seen every time Dom goes out and it certainly would be in a lot of places and photos. “ The van of choice for Dominique,” I can see it now! His van is the Magic Carpet ride that brings him to kids and adults alike. I also plan do offer adventures of Dom doing stuff like getting out on the trails in the woods, visiting racetracks and experiencing life outside that I can relay to people that can’t get out themselves and explore anymore that they can enjoy virtually,” explained Sandy.
When you meet Sandy you will encounter a positive, vibrant person that has a heart of gold and the energy of someone half her age. Dominique follows Sandy around like a loyal dog and has a definite ability to instantly bond and find rapport with folks.
Whether he is the center of attention at a party or busy weaving his tiny equine self between hospital equipment and beds to come in reach for petting and hugging, Dominique the cute miniature horse and his inimitable owner will be loved by all that come into contact with them.
If you would like to offer some love and support to their organization please visit their website and donate what you can. Or reach out and set up a visit with a local hospital, care facility, school or community event to help spread the smiles and brighten up the world one smile at a time.