To help the less fortunate of Madera County, one family in Oakhurst will offer free pony rides Christmas Day to any and all children and their families who are willing to make their way to their home.
Rides will be given from 2 to 5 p.m. at the home of the Prentice family, 49997 Pierce Drive.
Lori Prentice, a teacher at Ezequiel Tafoya Alvarado Academy in Madera, says rides will happen regardless of the weather.
“The happiest pony rides I’ve given are in the rain,” Prentice said. “That kid would have had a pretty dismal day,” if not for the ride, and a gift.
Prentice said that she has been giving rides since 2012, and was inspired to do it the previous year, when she assisted a boy by the name of Kenny Mackey, the son of a friend. Kenny, who was 9 at the time, had experienced turbulence in his family following the 2004 murder of his brother, 9-year-old Kristopher Turner, whose life was taken while he was helping the homeless.
Mackey had become withdrawn and disconnected, according to Prentice, until she invited him to visit and ride one of her horses on Christmas. It was at that point, Prentice said, that everything changed. According to her, young Mackey began to open up more due to this encounter with the pony.
In total, Lori Prentice, and her husband, Jay, have 6 ponies and miniature horses available, and the number of guests in any given year ranges from a couple to dozens. Whatever the number, according to Prentice accepts contributions of money, toys, and food from, and outside, her community — including donations from complete strangers.
“Several times a day, people come by, dropping off toys and food,” Prentice said. “We don’t really ask people to do it, but I think they’re just touched to do it. I don’t even know the people that stop by.”
One such person to donate to her cause was Leigh Anne Tuohy, the legal guardian of NFL player Michael Oher, and the inspiration for the 2006 book, “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game,” and the subsequent 2009 film.
In addition to pony rides, the Prentice family also runs a ministry from their home, in which they take in homeless families to stay with them. According to Prentice, this began in 2010.
“There are people sleeping in the streets,” Prentice said. “A lot of these people that we take in are abused women.”
This has also created risks for Prentice as well, especially in taking in abuse victims, whose abusers have come to her doorstep on numerous occasions. Blood has been spilled on her porch, she said, and loaded guns have been pointed at her.
Along with rides, food will be served for guests of all ages, and Prentice has stated that all are welcome, regardless of religion or denomination.
Prentice is also the author of the children’s book, “The Best Dinner I Never Ate,” which tells the story of her ministry’s origins.