A Young Cancer Patient Made a Wish to Meet a Single Horse. The Equestrian Community Brought Her More Than 70.

by Cheryl Witty-Castillo /

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rely is a four-year-old little girl fighting a rare form of cancer and is now in hospice care. All she hoped for was to one day meet a horse.

Her wish came true with the help of Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Family Alliance, a non-profit organization in Houston, Texas, dedicated to providing emotional, educational, and practical needs of families facing childhood cancer. They partnered with Pin Oak Charity Horse Show to make Arely’s dream become a reality.

When Pin Oak received the call last Monday, they were asked to make tentative plans; Arely might not be well enough to be released from hospice care and make the trip by Friday. But on Thursday, Lauryn Sanford, Director of Sponsorship, Development, and Marketing for Pin Oak, got the confirmation that Arely was coming.

“We basically just did a call to the barns: ‘Anyone and everybody who is available, please come.’ She wanted to meet one horse, but we figured we could do better than that,” Lauryn said. “We were expecting maybe 25 horses, and then when we were lining up, it was like a stampede. It was one of the coolest moments, by far, that this show has ever seen.”

When Arely arrived, instead of a single horse, over 70 horses (including a few sparkly unicorns!), along with their riders, were lined up and waiting to greet her.

Hesitantly, Arely reached through the car windows to nervously pet the first horse. Apprehension quickly gave way to excitement, and soon she was waving and meeting each new horse with confidence. Feeling strong enough to get out of the car, Arely found herself sitting astride a horse, on top of the world.

By the end of the day, Arely bravely took the reins during a cart ride courtesy of Noel, the rescue miniature horse from Madrone Ranch Stables, smiled for photos with the lovely Catalena Cowgirls and their glittery horses, and, of course, enjoyed plenty of delightful horsey pats and kisses.

Following the meet-and-greet, Arely was presented with a custom fascinator from Philip Hannel Bespoke Millinery, made just for her so she could attend the post-derby hat party with her family.

For Lauryn, and everyone at Pin Oak, Arely’s visit was a chance to come together and remember what the show’s mission, as well as the joy and community of horses, is all about.

“What we thought was going to be a 30-minute meet-and-greet ended up being about an hour-and-a-half. Everyone wanted to stay. Arely got to love on every horse as long as she wanted. It was just really wonderful,” Lauryn said.

“Arely’s family didn’t have any family photos; they had never gone on a family trip or taken family pictures. We took tons of photos that they will have forever. We tried to just really make it not only special for her, but special for all of them.”

Linda Pena, a Candlelighters Parent Consultant, was there to assist the family and help with English/Spanish translations. “Like many, I too, was very touched by the love and support given to Arely on Friday afternoon by the Pin Oak Horse Show volunteers and staff. The smile on her face [was] priceless.”

Back at the clinic, Arely is still smiling. Maria Hernandez, Arely’s mom, would like to thank everyone for contributing to her daughter’s special day. "¡Muchas gracias por cumplir el deseo mi hija de conocer un caballo, bueno fueron un monton!" (Thank you for making my daughter’s wish to meet one horse come true, well she met a bunch!)

Arely added, “¡Muchos caballos!” (Lots of horses!)

Pin Oak Charity Horse Show is no stranger to supporting children and their families at Texas Children’s Hospital. Since making its first donation to the hospital in 1947, Pin Oak has donated over $6.5 million to the organization. To put it simply, this is what Pin Oak Charity Horse Show, and the equestrian community in Texas at large, is all about.

Seeing Arely’s eyes light up and hearing her laugh meant the world to her family, and they made priceless memories on that sunny April day to cherish for the rest of their lives. For the riders and their families, the stables, the Pin Oak Charity team, the photographers and, ultimately, the horses, it was an honor.

To make a donation to Candlelighters in honor and support of Arely, please visit the following link: (Donors can send notification to the Candlelighters office at 12919 Southwest Freeway, Suite 100, Stafford, Texas 77477, and they will notify Arely’s family on your behalf.) http://give.candle.org/generaldonation

Read this next: Lilian Schaffer Tackles Cancer With Support From NFL Player Adam “Pacman” Jones

Photos courtesy of Andrew Ryback Photography.

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Written by Cheryl Witty-Castillo

Cheryl is a former competitive figure skater turned book nerd and equestrian sport junkie. She views the written word and photography as an intimate conversation with the power to both tell an individual's story and unite a community with a shared passion. When she isn't writing or teaching, Cheryl loves spending time at home with her babies and their various furry rescue pets and carnivorous plants.