GIANT STEPS THERAPEUTIC EQUESTRIAN CENTER is a non-profit that was founded on the belief that caring for and riding horses can be a powerful tool in the healing process for individuals with physical, emotional and developmental challenges as well as children who are considered to be at-risk. While the organization and its founders have been honored several times over the last ten years of its service, the real heroes, those 1,000 pound therapists and best friends who provide daily miracles for their young riders, have not. That is not until now.

This month, The Sonoma County Horse Council has chosen Mered, a Giant Steps therapy horse, as the first equine member of the Equus Hall of Fame because of his outstanding talent and work with special children.

Mered, a Tennessee Walking Horse, was born and raised in Sonoma County. He was bred specifically for work with disabled children, and began training at an early age. His disposition and intelligence were so impressive that his career helping children began when he was only three years old. Mered has been a hero ever since.

Mered is now ten years old and is the backbone of the Giant Steps Program. He shows the poise, steadiness, and positive attitude that one would expect from an older, more experienced horse. Robert Pope, Executive Director of Giant Steps shared, "Mered is the smartest horse I have ever seen...Since he is so good at his job, he can hardly wait to show new volunteers just what to do." Although Mered works with riders of any age, he is especially good with children. Mered's first rider was a child named DJ, with cerebral palsy.

DJ's parents were told that DJ would never walk, or even feel his legs. They brought him to Giant Steps not quite knowing what to expect. From the moment DJ and Mered met, it was clear they had a special bond. Mered became DJ's new best friend. After a few months of therapeutic riding, DJ was walking, and after six months, DJ's mom received a phone call from his teacher complaining that DJ was running too much in the classroom. DJ's mom laughs as she reports that her gleeful giggle wasn't the reaction her son's teacher had expected.

The professionals at Giant Steps have many more stories about Mered. One day he was carrying a small child when a deer bounded into the arena, causing alarm among the therapists. Mered just stopped and stood absolutely still until the deer bounded back out. He moved again when the command was given. Mered gaited for a ninety-four year old stroke survivor who wanted to ride a Tennessee Walker one last time. The weakened rider had difficulty with the leg commands, but Mered safely and gently carried her around the arena, compensating for her mistakes. Mered has touched children and adults with severe anxiety, autism, and developmental delays. Mered is eager for each day, taking his job very seriously, and enjoying all of his riders.

In his free time, Mered enjoys kids, carrots, and walking on the beach. He loves to hang around with his best friend Shiloh, an older horse with whom he bonded as a youngster. In the pasture he is playful and energetic, kicking up his heels and stirring up the herd. Mered has no plans to retire; he will likely continue his magical work until he's twenty-five or so. That means he'll help thousands more children before he retires to a life of leisure with the clover and the dandelions.