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Horsey House Calls brings smiles
Program helps cheer ailing kids
Horse WEB 1
Will Abernathy rides Romeo around his back yard during a Horsey HouseCalls visit last week. The effort is part of the nonprofit Because God Said, which helps families fighting childhood cancer. - photo by Jim Dean

Walk on, Romeo.

The magic words got the horse’s hooves moving, and a smile lit up Will Abernathy’s face.

“Faster, faster,” he said, and his head began to bob up and down as the horse trotted across his suburban back yard.

About an hour earlier, 5-year-old Abernathy answered the door to find a miniature horse and a pony in clown costumes standing in front of him.

Horsey HouseCalls brought the equine friends over for a little fun, knowing Abernathy has spent more than two years of his life in and out of hospitals, fighting cancer.

Kellee Christian launched Horsey HouseCalls a few months ago as part of the nonprofit Because God Said, which helps families fighting childhood cancer.

The house call program was a natural fit for the organization’s volunteers, who have a passion for horses and kids, Christian said.

For many children, riding is their favorite part, program director Jennifer Clancy said. It’s also what makes her appreciate being involved.

“That grin when you put them up there,” Clancy said, “it’s just mountains of cuteness.”

Christian said the kids are typically “shocked” when they first open the door, but the parents get equally as excited about the visits, Christian said.

“These kids have been in and out of the hospital, so for the parent to see them do something they enjoy and just being a kid, it means a lot,” she said.

Abernathy was diagnosed in October 2010 with stage 4 neuroblastoma. The cancer develops from nerve cells in the body and typically affects children 5 and younger.

His mother, Melody, said her son “has been through a lot,” including several rounds of chemotherapy treatments.

“Nothing we do will make it go away yet,” she said, “but he has no pain. He has no symptoms.”

Abernathy also had the biggest smile a 5-year-old boy could as he brushed Ned, the miniature horse.

Ned, whose name stands for “no evidence of disease,” returned the favor by nuzzling Abernathy’s side.

“Awww, he likes you, he’s giving you some sugar,” Christian said.

Christian became interested in helping families of children with cancer through a friend whose daughter is a leukemia survivor, after being diagnosed at age 3.

“We started learning of other families. We learned of a little boy named Ricky James, and he had just gone to heaven, just shy of his fifth birthday,” she said. “While I was trying to find out what to buy my child for Christmas, his mom was trying to figure out how to pay for his headstone.”

That’s when she began fundraising for the families by selling custom T-shirts for the kids.

Horsey HouseCalls are also available for hire at birthday parties, with the costs being returned to the program to visit kids with cancer, Christian said.

“We cannot change their diagnosis or the countless hospital visits,” she said. “What we can do is create a happy memory when they are at home.”