HAPPY CAMPERS: Horses in the Hood volunteers Gizelle Whaley (left) and India Whitecloud have fun teaching the kids enrolled in the program that introduces them to horses. (Photo courtesy Vivian Nagy)

HAPPY CAMPERS: Horses in the Hood volunteers Gizelle Whaley (left) and India Whitecloud have fun teaching the kids enrolled in the program that introduces them to horses. (Photo courtesy Vivian Nagy)

There‚Äôs an expression in the news business, be it newspapers, radio and especially on TV: “If it bleeds, it leads.” This translates to “bad news sells,” or the gorier the details the better the ratings. It seems these days that the only news fit to print is bad news.

This is true even in sports. On Monday, Major League Baseball handed down sanctions for the use of performance-enhancing drugs by 13 players. Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez, aka “A-Fraud,” topped the list with a 211-game suspension. (Challenging the old adage, “Winners never cheat and cheaters never win.”)

And for weeks now jailed pro football player Aaron Hernandez has dominated the news with allegations of murder and even possible serial murder. (Gee, is that all?) Sadly, the modern day sports page has become like a police blotter.

And last Saturday on the Venice boardwalk, only blocks from Santa Monica, Nathan Campbell, 38, allegedly plowed his car into a defenseless crowd. It was a seemingly intentional hit-and-run act that injured as many as 16 and killed tourist Alice Gruppioni, 32, here on her honeymoon.

Hours later Campbell turned himself into Santa Monica police. He‚Äôs being charged with three dozen felonies, including murder. Reportedly remorseful, through his public defender Campbell said, “I don‚Äôt consider myself a homicidal person.” Terrific. What‚Äôs his plea going to be, “Guilty, your honor, but with an explanation?” Who knows, maybe he‚Äôll blame the murderous mishap on his car‚Äôs faulty GPS.

Bucking this “negative news sells” phenomenon, occasionally I come across positive stories. I can freely attest that none has been more uplifting than the brainchild of a remarkably accomplished woman who also had the determination to see it through.

Kathy Kusner is a three-time Olympic equestrian and a silver medal winner in the 1972 Olympics. Four years earlier, in 1968, and only after lengthy civil rights court battles, she became the first licensed female jockey in the U.S. (How’s that for taking on the status quo?)

But Kusner’s accomplishments have gone well beyond riding. She was the first woman to work as a Learjet pilot for executive jet aviation and holds commercial, multi-engine, instrument, seaplane and aerobatics ratings.

In addition, Kusner has been scuba diving all over the world, including the Red Sea, Great Barrier Reef, and South China Sea. She also has competed in many 10,000-meter marathons and ultra-marathons and is a member of the Show Jumping Hall of Fame. As I once mentioned to Kathy in passing, “It‚Äôs a shame you‚Äôre so lazy.”

With all her accomplishments, however, Kathy may be most thrilled with her helping to establish “Horses in the Hood,” an outstanding nonprofit organization. It combines her passion for horses and her compassion for economically disadvantaged kids.

Beginning in 1999, Horses in the Hood (HHLA) sends children from inner-city neighborhoods like Watts, Compton and South Central Los Angeles to summer horse camp at the lush Mill Creek Equestrian Center in Topanga Canyon. The goal of this noble organization is to allow students to bond with animals while teaching them skills to develop improved self-esteem, confidence and social skills with their peers.

HHLA teaches the kids about riding and caring for horses. The camps last five days, ending with a riding demonstration and a pizza party for friends and family on “graduation day.”

The HHLA camps are uplifting and perhaps life-changing, not only for the campers, but also for the staff. Most are volunteers and many are the same age as the campers, including some who live in Santa Monica.

It’s not uncommon for campers to be seeing the ocean and driving into the mountains for the first time in their lives. In addition to learning to ride and horse care basics, there are demonstrations by horse care professionals, such as veterinarians and horseshoers. Kids, many of whom start camp frightened of horses and even of life (given some of their tragic experiences) blossom right before their teachers’ and parents’ eyes.

Horses in the Hood survives totally on private donations. And if your heartstrings aren’t tugged by these kids, you might want to consult a cardiologist.

As opposed to my moderately lazy self, I’m always in awe of individuals like Kathy Kusner who have a vision to help others and the fortitude to get it done. Kathy is proof, to me at least, that good news is fit to print, too.



To learn more about HHLA, and how to donate, go to www.horesinthehood.org where you can also check out the cool HHLA T-shirts, baseball caps and visors. Jack can be reached at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth or via e-mail at jnsmdp@aol.com.

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