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A wish and a Star

From Horsetrader staff reports - January 7th, 2016 - Feature Article, General News
Antonya Moeller photo

Antonya Moeller photo

RIVERSIDE — Six-year-old Katherine King may not have much experience in the saddle, but you can bet she’ll lead the nation in ribbons won this year.

The youngster from Placentia, known in her circles as “Katherine The Brave”, is battling a rare terminal illness, and her village of supporters has grown to include trainer Heather Spies and clients at HS Performance Horses in Riverside. After devoting themselves to give Katherine a special day with a unicorn via the Make A Wish Foundation on Nov. 28, the barn has dedicated itself to the youngster and her family.

“No National Championship moment, no Regional Championship or any ribbon will ever compare to that day,” said Spies, whose former horse, a retired Arabian now owned by Lori Chiodini, made the perfect unicorn.

Katherine has diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas (DIPG), a rare illness with highly aggressive and difficult to treat brain tumors found at the base of the brain. Nationally, about 300 children are diagnosed with DIPG each year, usually between the ages of five and nine. Last year, she was given a window of less than a year to survive.

To help find the perfect wish, the Make A Wish Foundation asked Katherine to pick pictures out of what she loved.

“All she picked were horses,” said Spies.

For the unicorn encounter, the Foundation sought help finding the right horse. It contacted Arabian trainer Bill Melendez, who remembered WN Spanish Star//++, once owned by his friend, Spies, whom he had worked with at El Camino Ranch several years ago. After Melendez connected Spies with Katherine’s Make A Wish contact, a chapter unfolded for Spies that she says has been life-changing.

“It’s been a wake-up call,” she said. ” Bill contacted me because he knew I had had Star. He’s pure white, and he’s child-safe. He asked if I could do it, and I said, ‘absolutely’.”

The whirlwind that followed came during the holidays, and the camaraderie of the barn helped bring it together in quick order, as Katherine’s condition demanded such. The tail came from Custom Tails in Idaho. Enchanted Attic provided perfect costume that matched Star’s halter, which was Katherine’s favorite color, purple. Each of her clients and family  bought or made something to adorn the unicorn. The horn came from a company called If Wishes Were Ponies. When Spies told the company Katherine’s story, it donated the horn and expedited shipment.

“They said, tell us the size of his head, the colors and the type of sparkles, and we’ll get it to you,” Spies said.
“Then I had the horn the next day because Katie was kind of struggling. They rushed the horn to me, I put it on, and did his hair.”

They took the unicorn’s photo, and Spies snipped a locket of his hair to include in a letter to her from the unicorn — an invitation to the special day.

1601A Katherine PHOTO_C

Antonya Moeller photo

“When she got it, she cried and slept with the picture,” said Spies. “It gave her hope until the actual day we would see her with the horse.”

Photographer Antonya Moeller of New Mexico, who is spearheading a project nationwide called the Secret Garden for kids to experience dream moments, captured on camera, orchestrated the day. When Moeller learned Katherine’s struggling health was a deterrent from the orginal location, another member of Spies barn, Linda Larson, volunteered her Brea home just 15 minutes from Katherine.

“Everyone was excited that Linda’s house fit the theme perfectly,” said Spies. “Linda came home early from Thanksgiving in Big bear to prepare her house for Katherine’s big day.”

As well as anyone, horse show veterans know how to prepare for such a pressure-filled spectacle.
“The girls arrived, and Star was ready,” Spies said.
“Everything fell into place. They played and had a great time.”

Even horse show veterans,though, had a tough time at day’s end.

“We all went up to the house to give Katherine’s mom the halter star wore and a necklace for her with Katherine and Star’s picture,” Spies said. “Katherine put the necklace on her mom, then she hugged each of us.

“Then, she asked when she could to see Star again,” she added. “There were lots of tears. It was hard to say good-bye.”

Spies says Katherine The Brave has a permanent place in the hearts of her barn family.

“I can’t begin to explain how Katherine has touched each and every one of us involved,  forever,” she said. “Thank God, I have a great barn. Every client stepped up — I have a great barn. Such good people. If called again, we would drop everything to do something like this.”

Spies says this experience altered the way she will see things, that purposes behind actions are powerful and meaningful.

“I want people to be aware. This disease is deadly, and there is no cure,” she said. “If you contribute a little bit, it makes such a big difference. Every ribbon we get this year, it will be for Katie and her family.”

She sees potential for horse shows to play a role in both awareness and even fund-raising. The concept is still brewing, and in the meantime, she and her barn will conduct a fund-raiser for the King family on Jan. 16 at Riverside County Park. Moeller will photograph a session of photo shoots with Star the Unicorn, with the proceeds going to offset mounting medical expenses.

“It’s one thing to take a picture on a regular-looking horse, but Star actually looks like a unicorn,” said Spies, who works as an administrative assistant at Akra Plastics in Ontario when she is not training horses. “I shared some of our pictures to people not in the horse industry, and I threw the idea out there of doing a fund-raiser where people come and pay for a picture. One lady said, ‘oh my gosh, you’d have 100 people right here in this building’.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Donations or support to the King family can be sent to Katherine King, 1629 Oak Street, Placentia, Calif. 92870. Those interested in the fund-raising photo shoot with Star can go to: Http://bit.ly/601A_Star
MORE ONLINE: Http://bit.ly/601A_Kate


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