Orland Park teen gets dream gift: her own horse
By Donna Vickroy firstname.lastname@example.org April 4, 2012 9:48PM
Sandburg High School student Mimi McParland is surprised with the gift of a horse named Sinatra from Illinois Horse Rescue of Will County Wednesday, April 4, 2012. McParland is a volunteer at the rescue in Beecher. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 6, 2012 8:18AM
Mimi McParland walked out of Sandburg High School on Wednesday afternoon to find a horse in the parking lot.
Her horse, she would later learn.
The Orland Park teen, an honors student and tireless volunteer for the Illinois Horse Rescue of Will County, was speechless.
“I think for the first time ever,” said her mother, Miriam McParland.
Among those who had gathered around the horse trailer parked in the school’s circle drive was Tony Pecho, founder of the organization.
“We’re giving you this horse because of all your outstanding achievements, at school and at the rescue,” Pecho announced.
Mimi, 18, quickly relinquished her book bag and phone and hurried to the trailer.
Inside, Sinatra, a 7-year-old Georgian Grand that had been rescued from a farm in Will County last fall, whinnied. Mimi has been working with him for months, teaching him how to follow directions and giving him the affection he apparently had gone without for too long.
“They have a special bond,” said Myra Young, barn trainer for the rescue. “But it was a lot of work to get to that point.”
Mimi described Sinatra as “a really quiet, gentle and friendly horse. He responds well to me. He loves me.”
Pecho said the gift was intended to reward Mimi for her dedication to the rescue group and for the positive effect she has on others.
“She is always encouraging, always positive,” Pecho said.
“You’d never know she ever had a bad day,” Miriam added.
But she has had plenty of those. When she was 6, her 4-year-old brother died from a rare heart condition. A few years ago, her dad drowned while on a family vacation.
“The day after her father died, she went to school and scored the highest grade on an exam,” Miriam said. “She’s a resilient, focused, dedicated kid.”
Mimi, who also holds a part-time job, works at the rescue center three or four days a week, baling hay, painting fences and training Sinatra, who came to the farm completely untrained.
Pecho said she exemplifies what the rescue stands for.
“She has the best attitude, always encouraging, always uplifting, never down in the dumps,” Pecho said. “She’s a great role model for other teens.”
Pecho has long emphasized that his group is as much about saving people as it is about rescuing horses.
Horses, he explained, have a special healing effect on people.
Mimi first fell in love with them when she went horseback riding with the Girl Scouts in fourth grade. Owning a horse has been a dream ever since.
She has been working at the rescue center for three years.
“Every child should have a passion,” Miriam said.
Pecho contacted Sandburg school officials in the fall about presenting Mimi with a horse in the school parking lot. He had to wait until Sinatra was ready for a public appearance, however.
Assistant Principal Terry Treasure said the event was a first for the school, which had never had a horse on the property before this one.
“She’s a great student and the hours she has given to other people is just amazing,” he said.
Orland Park Trustee Patricia Gira said, “It’s exciting to honor Mimi for all her volunteerism. She represents our community well.”
But, Mimi’s mom said, “She’s still a normal teen. She loves to shop and hang with friends.”
Mimi will attend the University of Illinois as a pre-med major.
She also hopes to participate in equestrian events. Her ultimate dream is to jump in equestrian competitions.
Until then, she will board Sinatra at the Beecher rescue.
For more information on Illinois Horse Rescue of Will County, visit www.illinoishorserescue.org or call (708) 258-3959.