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Valor brings comfort to many

June 23, 2015

Meet LASD's volunteer, Valor, a miniature horse

Weighing in at 70lbs, Valor is registered with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's department. Valor serves to provide comfort and joy to those who are suffering and in need. Lieutenant Jennifer Seetoo, of the LASD's Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff's Station, said Valor, a trained therapy horse, joined the department as volunteer in January. Valor's trainer is Victoria Netanel, who has a deep passion for the work that she does. Our bureau is seeking to incorporate Valor's abilities to enhance our community service.

The following is an interview conducted with Ms. Victoria Netanel from Gentle Carousel therapy horses:

Q: What type of work does Valor specialize in?

A: Valor specializes in comforting children and adults experiencing trauma. She is a very sociable, confident, and loving horse.

Q: In one sentence, what is the mission behind the program?

A: The mission is very simple: to bring comfort and joy to children and adults who are suffering and in need.

Q: What makes this breed (miniature horse) special for the task?

A: Because of their small stature, intelligence, and sweet demeanor miniature horses are very trainable. Of course, like K-9 dogs, you have to pick an appropriate candidate and have good training for positive results. There also has to be a trust and bond with the handler to make a successful therapy team.

Q: How often does Valor conduct visits?

A: Valor conducts visits approximately two to three times a week. There are five horses with Gentle Carousel West and we rotate the horses so they always enjoy their work and have plenty of time between visits to rest.

Q: Who are Valor's primary targets?

A: Valor works primarily with disabled children, patients from the Veterans' Hospital, with children from Ronald McDonald Houses, and as a First Responder for the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff Station and their community outreach program. She does a lot of other special events and school programs for children and the Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.

Q: How has Valor made an impact on those visited?

A: On a technical level, visits with Valor help lower people's blood pressure, reduce anxiety, and alleviate feelings of isolation and depression. She helps promote interactions between patients and their advocates and medical staff.

The real power lies in her ability to lighten people's hearts. There is such magic in seeing and being with such a small horse. Most people don't even know that this breed exists. The ability to bring this astonishing, small horse into their lives gives them a unique and memorable experience that is very healing.

Q: How long have you specialized in this type of work?

A: I have been helping children and adults with my therapy horses for the past eight years. I joined Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses over a year ago and became Gentle Carousel West. My partners have had their 501(c) (3) nonprofit charity over eighteen years.

Q: Why have you chosen to pursue this?

A: I've loved horses my whole life and have been a horsewoman for over thirty years. After I purchased my first miniature horse I realized that these beautiful creatures have a very special power: to melt the hearts of anyone who interacts with them. My passion is training these little angel horses and sharing their magical abilities to bring positive interaction and change. The horses had such huge potential to make a positive impact on people's lives and I wanted to share them with people who were in need of comfort and joy.

Q: Please describe one instance when an individual(s) have been impacted by this program.

A: a.) Valor visited a child about to have a surgery that was staying at Ronald McDonald House Los Angeles. He was frightened and his family was very stressed. I had him walking Valor with me and it completely transformed his mood and elevated his anxiety. He spent time petting her and asking questions and was totally engaged with Valor. His mother relaxed for the first time in a long time. Being with the horses helps the parents and siblings as much as the kids going through procedures.

b.) I received a call from the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff Station that a five-year-old boy was taken out of a home and being brought to the station and could I bring a horse. Within 20 minutes I met them with therapy horse Willow, and brought her in the small child friendly room to visit with this traumatized little boy. Through their interaction of petting and brushing and talking, he finally started to calm down. Willow is a dapple grey so it looks like she has spots. The child remarked that Willow looked like she "hurt". I asked him where Willow was hurting and he said, "all those spots hurt." The children often project what they are going through onto the horses and this information can be helpful to the deputies and then on to child and family services.

Q: How did Valor (and this program) get involved with the Sheriff's department?

A: Valor is named in honor of Officer Kenneth Tietjen of the New York City Port Authority, who perished in one of the towers during the 9/11 attacks. He shared the same July 4th birthday as Valor, loved children, and did a lot of philanthropic work.

One day, my partner in Florida mentioned people back east were honoring police and wearing blue ribbons. I was inspired by Valor's personal connection to the police department and immediately called our local Sheriff Station to see if I could bring Valor by to honor our local deputies. Luckily, I spoke with Lieutenant Jennifer Seetoo who looked up the Gentle Carousel website while I was explaining our special program and incredible therapy horses. She said, "When would you like to visit? I said, "How about now?" I arrived at the station within thirty minutes. My daughter took a wonderful photo of the Lieutenant and the deputies lined up with their memorial bands on their badges. The Lieutenant began brainstorming on how to integrate our program into the Community Outreach Program she was working on and the rest is history.

Q: Is there anything else that you would like to share with us regarding yourself, the program, and/or Valor?

A: Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses is an all-volunteer 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity. The twenty-four teams of miniature horses visit over 40,000 children and adults each year inside hospitals, hospice programs, Ronald McDonald Houses, and with families that have experienced traumatic events. Gentle Carousel West provides the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff Station Community Outreach Program with five miniature horses as First Responders for traumatic events, a "Giddy-Up and Read" Literacy Program, Anti-Bullying Program, community events and ceremonies.

Valor is going through a two-year training program. She travels in planes, cars, elevators, goes up and down steps and ramps, is housetrained to go on command, handles crowds and unexpected noises confidently and calmly and willingly goes up to people for petting and socializing. She also performs tricks that can be used in a therapeutic context. All the teams of miniature horses of Gentle Carousel receive the same high level and standards of training.

Valor and I flew to Washington, DC for National Police Week. I met my partners with their horse Magic and we spent a week visiting with children that lost a parent in the line of duty and going to memorials with families. We visited the 9/11 Memorial with Officer Kenneth Tietjens family and also Arlington Cemetery. The horses even visited 2 Congressman in The House of Representatives. Gentle Carousel West proudly represented the LASD.

For more on Valor, see additional stories below:

Valor visits the World Trade Center Memorial
Valor visits the World Trade Center Memorial

Valor stands with deputies
Valor stands with deputies

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