On a bright, sunny day in December, weather a beautiful 72 degrees, more than four hundred local horse-lovers gathered at Hennessey Arabians to see someone “kiss the horse” and to support literacy in Marion County, Florida. The third annual Kiss the Horse for Literacy event, put on by Hennessey Arabians, LLC and the Marion County Literacy Council, raised more than $35,000.
Visitors to the Hennessey horse ranch were greeted by donkeys near the ticket booths. The horses in the pastures surrounding the event grounds were also interested in inspecting the people, kids and adults alike, who came to meet them.
Riyan praises the event, speaking of the amount of time and energy volunteers put in to help others learn to read and write English. Frank Hennessey especially, she says, has proven passionate about bettering his own and the Arabian Horse communities:
“From an Arabian horse lover’s perspective, at a time when our community is struggling and breeding fewer Arabian horses than ever before, this event was a huge step towards showing people the beauty, history and gentle charisma of Arabian horses. To see young children spending the afternoon in awe of the horses, wanting nothing more than to touch and be close to them reminded me of my young years. My love, exposure and passion to be near the horses inspired me as a young girl and drove my life in a direction I can’t imagine not having lived. Without events like these, how will the children ever know what we know of these incredible animals? Where will our judges, our breeders and our trainers come from if not from the efforts of men like Frank Hennessey?”
Hennessey has earned record amounts of money for the literacy program, donating his farm, his horses and his time to give every adult in Marion County a chance to learn how to read.
The Kiss a Horse for Literacy event gets its name from a competition to see which of twelve candidates can raise the most money. Attendees of the event were asked to spend a minimum of $10 to vote on who they wished to see kiss National Champion Tulle El Jamal. Candidates included Thiroshan Chetty of Golden Ocala, David DeSantis of Greiner’s Clothing, Kelli Hart of Lilli’s Flowers & Gifts, Mary Ellen Poe of Hospice of Marion County, Howard Epstein of USA Scientific, Cindy Schad of ALTRUSA, Julie Sieg of the Marion County Library, Larry Whitler of WOCA Radio, Kelly Wright of WTRS Radio, and Jimena Carrasco AMWAY. Larry “the Giant” Whitler earned the most money for the foundation and had the unique privilege of kissing the amorous Tulle El Jamal. Unfortunately (or perhaps luckily), this was no Frog Princess. Both parties left the encounter in the same shape they approached it with.
A charitable highlight of the event was 13-year-old Sarah D. who was there representing the nonprofit she founded, Just1Book. Sarah began the organization as a way to get her school interested in donating books to a struggling neighboring community. Soon she was joined by charities and people all over the world who wanted to help. Just1Book has donated thousands of books to programs like Headstart and the Neighborhood Center for Families.
The Kiss a Horse for Literacy event brought out the best intentions of people from many different communities. Reading has been the great escape of this writer’s life and I am awed by the outpouring of support for those who have not yet had the chance to experience the incredible world of books – at least in English. It is an incredible and worthwhile goal to bring everything from Charles Dickens to Doctor Seuss, Dick Francis to Nora Roberts to the lives of anyone who wants them.
Much thanks to Frank Hennessey, the Marion County Literacy Council, JL Hardesty, Just1Book and the hundreds of others who are meeting this goal every day.
Story by Kylie Malstrom