Horses Healing Hearts Vaulting Program Instills Teamwork and Self-Confidence in Children of Alcoholics

Horses Healing Hearts Vaulting Program Instills Teamwork and Self-Confidence in Children of Alcoholics 
Wellington, FL – July 14, 2016 – This winter show season, the annual White White West party to benefit Horses Healing Hearts had record success. Maria Bernal, long-time supporter of the organization and coach for its new vaulting team, attended the event with the program’s vaulting students. Bernal proudly watched her students perform their skills on their trusty wooden horse as the crowd cheered them on.

Bernal said, “I could see the faces of not only the people that attend our event but the children – they were very motivated and they wanted to show what they have done. What they have achieved. They were very enthusiastic about it.”

The Horses Healing Hearts Vaulting Team.

All proceeds from the party went towards benefiting Horses Healing Hearts, a nonprofit organization that devotes time and volunteers to improving the lives of children, who have been affected by the disease of addiction in their family system, through equine activities. This year, the addition of the vaulting performance brought the children to center stage.

“They were the focus and they are normally not,” said Bernal. “They are normally the problem at home and here they were, people were there for them, and they were cheering them on. It was great for their self-esteem.”

A nonexistent childhood is the unfortunate reality for many children whose parents suffer from this disease of addiction. A low self-esteem is common and a result of silent suffering and feelings that it is not safe to talk, trust or feel.

Before becoming a part of Horses Healing Hearts, Maria Bernal grew up riding in Colombia. She started her competitive career as a show jumper, earning herself national and state titles. Bernal then moved to Ecuador with her family, where her daughter suffered a bad fall while riding. As a result, Bernal was compelled to educate the younger generation about safety and risk management around horses. That’s when she discovered vaulting.

Ivonne Flamand, Marta Medina and Horses Healing Hearts Vaulting Coach Maria Bernal.

“I started a vaulting team, and we participated nationally and internationally,” said Bernal. “Then I moved to Bogota, Colombia and we did it there too with the schools, and we had more than 300 children doing vaulting. When we moved here to Wellington we were the first ones in Florida, me and my husband, giving vaulting lessons.”

Bernal’s Florida team competed for a few years before she adjusted the focus of her program to help dressage riders improve their balance. Through her new program, Bernal met Liz Olzsweski, founder of Horses Healing Hearts. Olszewski rode in the program, and the pair’s friendship grew as they continued to stay in touch.

“Liz would call me from time to time asking about children or horses and everything in between,” Bernal explained. “And when I had the time, I started to work with her with Horses Healing Hearts, and I ended up going on Saturdays to give back to the children – working on vaulting on the wooden horse.”

She continued, “I started doing this to help in the community, but when Liz invited me and when I met the kids, I fell in love with them. And I admire Liz because she knows the story of every kid and sometimes when you know more about them, it’s hard for you to go home and not think about it anymore.”

Bernal now trains the children every single Saturday, working with them to improve their skills. A typical lesson will begin with stretching and a discussion of what that rest of the lesson will entail. They quickly get to work, bouncing on their trampoline or learning new skills on the wooden horse.

Bernal said, “What is cool about vaulting is that the children need to work together if they want to succeed. You can see their personalities come out all the time, so if I put on music, they’ll start to dance and sing. You see them participate and be themselves there.”

Vaulting team demonstration at the White, White West Party, benefiting Horses Healing Hearts.

Bernal has become an influential part of Horses Healing Hearts, and continues changing the lives of the children involved. The addition of the vaulting program gives the children new outlets to learn and grow. Bernal admires Liz Olszewski’s vision for the program and the efforts of all of the volunteers that work tirelessly day-in and day-out.

“I think that it’s showing the children that they are important, they matter and they don’t have to fix every mistake that their parents have made,” Bernal said of the program. “It shows there is help, and that if they ask, someone will help them. That is the most important part of this program I think. I love horses and putting them together with the children is like a dream come true.”

Horses Healing Hearts is a 501(c) 3 not-for-profit organization utilizing horses to help children of alcoholics and addicts. To learn more about Horses Healing Hearts or how you can also help with donations of money or time, log onto or e-mail Liz at