The story began some 30 years ago when Dena climbed aboard her friend’s little Shetland pony, Polk. It was not necessarily an auspicious beginning, as Polk was not headed to fame and fortune; instead he was a wonderful teacher, bestowing on Dena the virtues of discipline, compassion, love, courage and the determination to persevere through hardship.
After Polk had bestowed his many life lessons, Dena was forever smitten by horses and ready to move into competitive showing. Dena showed very successfully as a hunter jumper through college. Her showing taught her many more life lessons; most importantly, at least for her and later for Storybook, that it was the constancy of her relationship with her horses (always there for her during any of life’s difficult moments) and sense of responsibility for their wellbeing that truly mattered that could change a heart.
While reading “Practical Horseman,” she happened upon a story about a woman (Elizabeth) in Fairfax, VA who ran a horse therapy farm for children with terminal illnesses and emotional problems due to grief. The story struck a chord and Dena’s hazy plans began to take form. She immediately started a correspondence with Elizabeth and was soon off for Wisconsin to gain certification for her farm to provide equine-assisted therapy for children in need of support.
A partnership with Auburn University is formed. They had one of the top Veterinary Schools in the country and 25,000 bright, energetic and capable young students. She soon enlisted the help of both and Storybook’s first chapter began: a barn with 6 stalls, 3 horses, 3 riders, 10 volunteers and a Storybook board member from the Auburn School of Veterinary Medicine.
As the word spread, enthusiasm grew and so did Storybook’s outreach. Parents would call asking if their child’s particular condition would qualify for riding at Storybook. Dena welcomed all. Storybook relocated 20 minutes away to a beautiful 25 acres in Opelika, AL. With great support from the community, a house and a 12 stall barn (Papa Bear Barn) was built.