NEW PORT RICHEY — Kym Robinstein lived for years with grief.
It started when she lost her son Terran in September 2006. He had a congenital colon disorder called Hirschsprung's disease and died from complications a few weeks after a seven-organ transplant. He was 10 years old.
The community followed Terran's story and donated money for his care. The wake was held at the family home: Terran, who had spent much of his life in hospitals, lay peacefully in his bunk bed, dressed in Power Rangers pajamas.
Robinstein's world had shattered, she said, and it never quite came back together. Last year, her husband left her. She thought about ending her life. She had little else left, she thought, but dark days and $5,209 — the leftover money from what the community donated to Terran's transplant fund.
Then, she met Midge — a miniature horse she visits at Rockin' Horse Farm as part of Equi-Angels therapy.
"Equi-Angels pretty much saved my life," said Robinstein, 48, who still lives in Port Richey.
So she decided to give back. Last weekend, she presented a donation at the farm: a check for $5,209.
Equi-Angels is an equine assisted psychotherapy program. Participants meet with horses once a week. Mental health counselor Ariel Breen runs it with Ruth Squires, a riding instructor who helps round up the horses for each session. Anyone can participate — people who are grieving, depressed or anxious, who need a self-esteem boost or have problems with relationships, communication or trust, Breen said. The horses are the same ones used by Horse Connections, a therapeutic riding program for children with disabilities. But the Equi-Angels participants don't ride.
"The horses are really the therapists," Breen said.
On her first day, back in May, Robinstein wasn't too interested.
"I thought it was going to be a bunch of hooey," she said.
But since her therapist suggested it, she gave it a chance. In each session, which costs $35, horses freely roam in a round pen with participants, whom Breen invites to roam around, too.
"Halter your favorite horse," she tells them. "Groom them. Get to know them. Name them."
Robinstein named her favorite horse Midget, or Midge for short. Meeting with Midge gave her hope, she said.
"When you're depressed, you're in such a deep, dark hole," Robinstein said. "You don't want to connect with human beings."
But you can't help but connect with animals, she said. Breen agreed. The connection, Breen said, can pull people out of ruts. The process — how they choose to spend their time with the horses and how they feel throughout — can be a metaphor for feelings and thoughts that clients have yet to address.
For Robinstein, it works.
"It's really, really hard to get over someone like Terran," she said. "My heart was very, very broken. (After he died) I didn't go out much. I pretty much stayed put."
But since joining Equi-Angels, she said, things have changed. She is learning to love again, and to trust. She is making friends.
"I can't get my old life back," she said. "So I have to start a new one."
For the progress she's made so far, she gives the horses part of the credit. And for that, she gave the rest of her son's money to Horse Connections.
"We were so excited to get that support," said Amy Baird, executive director of Horse Connections. "It's support from the community that will make it possible for families to participate."
Therapy for children with disabilities costs a lot of money, Baird said. And insurance doesn't always cover it. She will put part of Robinstein's donation toward scholarships for kids and part toward taking care of the horses.
It's a cause Robinstein says Terran would find worthwhile.
"I wanted to know that Terran would be proud," she said. "I wanted to know they were going to do good by him."
To see his money helping other kids would have meant a lot to him, said Robinstein.
"I know he's happy I did it," she said. And "I'm very happy I did it."
Arleen Spenceley can be reached at (727) 869-6235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.