Dennis and Dionne Newton

Dennis and Dionne Newton
Dennis & Dionne Newton

Saturday, July 1, 2017

"But We've Also Got Families That We Acquire..." Jackie French

Quite the Engagement Ring


It all started when Emin was teaching a riding class and saw this lovely young lady who would become his pupil. Senada's beauty startled him. And soon a love blossomed built on a foundation of their joint love for horses. Although she traveled to Pennsylvania for a year to become a certified therapeutic horseback riding instructor, these two were meant for each other.

Emin, Senada, and their son Isa. Son #2 should be arriving any day now.
And so when it came time to pop the question, Emin gave Senada a very unique engagement ring; a horse named Dona.

Senada's ring.
The two of them had a dream to build a riding center here in Sarajevo. But they probably did not realize that what they were really building was more than a riding center, they were actually building a family. They both have strong Bosnian families who have contributed immensely to fulfilling this vision of theirs (Emin talks about building the barn by hand with his brother). But there can never be enough family in our lives.

The lodge and part of the barn. The barn is one of the few wood structures that we have seen in Bosnia. Emin felt strongly about building it from wood although it was hard to get anyone to insure it.
And these two have created a strong horse family which is a wonder to behold and a pleasure to be a small part of.

Riders of Hope

More on the horse "family" in a minute.

Emin and Senada's barn is home to three main components: a) Riders of Hope, b)Konjičko Equestrian and Recreation Center Pegasos (riding club and lessons) and c) Unlimited (camps and adventure activities). I want to talk about all three in order.



We found Senada because of Rider's of Hope. It was a miracle, really. Dionne and Senada almost immediately recognized how much they needed each other in their lives. With assistance from the young missionaries, Dionne has been teaching therapeutic riding lessons since we arrived here.

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This was our first time working with Tarik. He has high energy and enthusiasm but limited physical control of his body.
We mainly work with children and young adults. Some are on the autism spectrum. Others have physical disabilities. We did an assessment with one young man who has cerebral palsy and is generally confined to a wheelchair. The benefits of riding will be significant, but now we are just trying to figure out how to work him into our schedule.

Epke is curious about this mysterious device.

We required two large side walkers and Elder Echols and King served nicely...let's just say Sister Martineau did not make the cut!
The missionaries love serving at Riders of Hope with us. Some come with years of horse and farm experience...others have never touched a farm animal before. But they all overcome their fears (even Sister Rougeau) and eagerly jump in.

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Sister Martineau and Rougeau side walking with one of our regulars, Aren. Notice Martineau's smile and Rougeau's "non-smile." She's concentrating hard on not stepping in anything as she walks. (Love ya Mary!)
The missionaries generally serve as sidewalkers for Riders of Hope. But they have also done several service projects at the barn. Elder Rasmussen and Isom, in particular, bonded with Emin, and he often put them to work last Fall.

Sisters Higlee and Locey hard at work.
Emin and Elder Rasmussen working on the water pump. Their water system has been problematic for them. Seems to go down nearly every day. Tanja made a huge mistake the other day when she asked me to go look at it...but she quickly realized her mistake and sent one of the young Pegasos riders to go fix it. They realized there is nothing so broken that I cannot make worse by trying to fix it.
Elder Echols working on the sensory trail...a little obstacle course that riders do on horseback.
As Dionne works with these riders, we become close with their families. For example, Aren's mother, Ezra, seems to find great satisfaction in sharing Turkish treats with us. She has brought us pistachios and treats from Turkey and has made wonderful treats for us. They invited us to stay at their villa in Turkey once we are done with the mission (and an offer that we are seriously considering for a couple of days!). His dad travels all over Bosnia and we share restaurant suggestions. He helped us find a wonderful lava cake in Tuzla just recently.

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Aren showing his skills.
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Esma's 22nd birthday was this week and she invited us to join her and her family for ice cream in Bašćarsića. I spent an hour talking to her younger brother and learned that he does short-track speed skating during the winter. I am resolved to go watch some short-track racing once the season returns.

Esma had us take this selfie with her family. 


Esma's Story

Esma is the rider that Dionne has worked with the most. She is a wonderful woman who I consider a good friend.

I noticed that there was not a single picture of me in this post. So I decided to sneak in this selfie.
She has written down her story for the Riders of Hope website. In her own words, this is her story.

My name is Esma Zajimović. I am from Bosnia and Hercegovina, a small European country. Five years ago I survived a massive stroke. I was not able to move even my finger and I could not speak at all. Since then I have had to re-learn how to walk without any assistance. 

Esma riding Gypsy.
Like every other individual whose life was stopped at one point and took other direction, I was looking for something that could improve the quality of my life. We 90’s children grew up with Disney movies. In each movie my hero was the horse and not the main character. I have been dreaming about riding horses like Pocahontas, Merida and Mulan. During my rehabilitation I found information about hypotherapy here in Sarajevo offered at a horse barn called Riders of Hope. I contacted them immediately and scheduled an appointment. 

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Prepping to ride.

When I first arrived, I was afraid of getting on the horse. That day my task was to brush the horse I was going to ride. When I came in front of the horse, I have started looking in his eyes and all I saw was love and encouragement. When I first got on the horse, it felt magical and I didn’t want to get off. Every rider has a horse and so do I. My horse’s name is Gypsy. He is a Bosnian mountain horse. He has showed me another dimension to life; he gives me hope. 

I find Gypsy cantankerous...Esma finds him charming.
He is my Prince Charming. I have been riding for three years. I have seen many improvements physically because of the horseback riding. First, I am able to speak freely now. Second, my ability to walk has improved. Third, Gypsy motivates me to live my life. He is the one from whom I have learned what love truly is. Gypsy has a great sense of humor. Each riding lesson on Gypsy is extremely funny. My aim is to continue with riding. To do a dressage show someday. I can see myself competing with other equestrians and taking first or second place.


Esma preparing to compete at her first dressage show.
Aren waiting for his turn to compete. (not until he gets his helmet on!)
After the show wearing her medal.
To the victors go the rewards.

"Nothing Worth Having Comes Easy"

Riders of Hope is just one small part of a much bigger riding community at Pegasos. Just as impressive is the riding club, Pegasos, which they operate. As Senada tells it, she never turns anyone away who is interested in riding the horses. Many cannot afford to ride. For Senada that is not an obstacle but an opportunity. An opportunity to work for riding privileges and lessons.

The barn works because everyone "pitches in" including the very young. 
Thus the riding club Pegasos. These are mainly young riders who come help out at the barn. They take lessons, they teach lessons, they school horses, they clean stalls, they care for the horses, and they enjoy every minute. They do not know how much work they are really doing. This is their barn, these are their horses, and this is their passion. It is remarkable to watch these 10-16 year old girls running things so efficiently.

I can hardly carry a bale of hay...she makes it look so easy.
All of these girls ride English. Senada asked Dionne if she might be willing to give some dressage lessons to some of the Pegasos riders. That is like asking a bear if he wants a jar of honey. Dionne jumped at the chance. She now teaches dressage lessons to 6-8 riders per week (schedule permitting). And she has fallen in love with these Pegasos Club riders.

Dionne working with one of the horses.
Gioelle and some of the other Pegasos Club riders leading ponies for camp.
During the dressage show, Dionne was as nervous as the riders were. Both Dionne and Emin teach lessons. So it was fun to watch them nervously pacing as their riders were going in front of the judge.

The two coaches watching their prodigies.
I learned that you do not want him to "ring the bell" on you...that means you must stop because you've missed something.
Horses and riders all dressed up for the big day.
Whenever the Pegasos Club riders are at the barn, the place buzzes with electricity. They bring so much energy and excitement. They are truly the backbone of this place.

Rain or shine, snow or heat, they are there. 
And I am so impressed by the life lessons that they learn every day they spend at the barn. The value of hard work, compassion, love, service, and patience. But most of all, they are learning how to follow their dreams.


Dionne doing dressage lessons.

The Pegasos family


Immediate family is important to Bosnians. Maybe even more important than in America. But Bosnians are willing to expand their definition of family. Friendships can also become "family-like."

At dinner with Emin and Senada.

And the Pegasos family is very close and very loving. It starts with Senada and Emin. But quickly extends to their partner, Tanja, and her boyfriend Alan.

Senada and Tanja holding newborn Isa.
And then there are so many others. John the volunteer Brit handyman who is currently spending his 4-week holiday helping out doing youth camps. Ilia, the Ukrainian volunteer who has snapped many of the pictures included in this blog. Riding instructors, barn maintenance, catering, etc. Everyone has a role. But everyone is part of this big family.

John readies the outdoor movie theater.
We've hired Ilia to shoot some of our humanitarian videos (see prior post)
The riding instructors.
And somehow they have invited Dionne and I into this little circle. Senada invited us to lunch the other day. She was being a little sneaky about it and did not give us much information. But we suspected something was "up" because she told us to bring our passports. She took us to the NATO facility...where Emin and John work. They checked us onto the compound and took us to the commissary for lunch. It was nice to have real "dressing" with turkey! But even cooler, they took us to an American PX store on the base. We have found a few American stores (Slovenia and Croatia) but they are quite expensive ($15 for a 12-pack of Dr. Pepper). So it was heavenly to shop at the American PX and see U.S. prices. And now we have a source here in Sarajevo for things like Oscar Mayer bacon and salt-vinegar potato chips. It is amazing how much you miss this stuff once you cannot find it!

Senada and Dionne talking barn stuff.
Isa enjoying his čevapi a little too much.

And, of course, the animals are also part of this extended family. Certainly the horses. Part of Senada's problem is that she loves her horses too much and is unwilling to "retire" some who can no longer pull their weight. The other members of this family, however, are three large dogs (two belong to Senada, one to Tanja). They immediately make their presence known and are quite the characters.


During the Winter months, the dogs and I spend as much time as possible in front of this fire.
Guess what happens to "other" dogs (including puppies) who try to take up residence at the barn?

It's as if Girl's Camp was on Steroids and Lasted All Summer

The final component at Konjičko Recreation Center is camps. This is mainly run by Tanja. Birthday parties run all year. School classes and kindergartens visit the center on weekdays.

A birthday celebration at Pegasos.
And when school is out (Winter or Summer), they run week-long sleepover camps. Each week they have about 25 campers ages 6 to 14. The age mix does not seem to be a problem.

These kids usually do not know each other when they arrive for the week. But it all seems to work out.
Tanja and her staff entertain them all week long. And then it starts again the next week. I am exhausted whenever I visit for an hour or so. They do so many fun and cool things.

Summer or Winter does not seem to matter. They just have fun.
I close this post with some of the camp pictures that Ilia and Alan have taken. Somebody needs to recruit Tanja as a Stake Camp Director!

From Dionne: I'm so blessed to have these wonderful people and animals in my life! They keep me sane when things get hectic and recharged when I'm running on low fumes. I love every minute I spend at with this fantastic family away from home!



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