If all you know about Malawi is that Madonna adopted a baby there, then listen up. Close your eyes and think about a country and a continent so exotic and far away that many people can't even imagine the startling blue of the sky when rain is coming, or the hippos dozing in the river. Sure, there are crocodiles and elephants and all the things that people expect in Africa. But there is also something else in Malawi, something that draws far-away African life into a comfortable niche that every equestrian can appreciate.
In Malawi, just like in York or Harrisburg, Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, there are young equestrians hoping to have their own horse one day, to become better riders, to compete and to win ribbons. They chase dreams that are as real as the dust on a hot summer afternoon, and as seductive and mysterious as horses themselves. Their dreams are waiting, while the dreamers spend their days like American kids do. They're in school and in sports. They struggle. They learn. They cobble riding equipment together and when they can ride, they do it with abandon and joy.
In Malawi, the skies and mountains and rivers are beautiful, but life is not always beautiful for the kids. The stunning landscape belies the often tragic circumstances in which many Malawians live. Like many African countries, Malawi has been profoundly affected by AIDS, which has orphaned hundreds of thousands of children. Periodic famines have disrupted the food supply. Given all these challenges, you might wonder what kind of role equestrian sports could play in the lives of Malawian children.
If you think about the first time you saw a horse, touched a horse, brushed a horse or rode a horse, you might remember being overwhelmed by a sense of wonder. That sense of wonder is a fire that Cindy Stys, of Stroudsburg, PA wants to keep stoking. Stys operates Cindy Stys Equestrian Properties, Ltd., in Stroudsburg, a boutique real estate firm dedicated to equestrian lifestyles. Even though her firm is located in Stroudsburg, Stys' focus is global. She has traveled extensively, lived overseas and worked for the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI). She understands how a lifelong passion for horses can be the core of professional development and success.
Service to the community—local and global—is important to Stys, and she recently created a program called Tackful Mission, to support an initiative developed by Zoe Kayes, president of the Malawi Equestrian Federation. Kayes has been working to bring more children into equestrian sports, and the children she's targeting don't have access to riding gear or basic equipment. Stys learned about Kayes' efforts through a Landmark Education course she took. Landmark Education is a global provider of training and development programs geared to helping people develop their individual potentials for happiness, fulfillment and success in business and relationships.
"I initiated Tackful Mission as a result of taking the Self Expression and Leadership Program in Landmark Education," Stys explains. "Part of that program involves creating a community project."
Stys' connections with FEI, and her lifelong involvement with horses and equestrian sports led her to Kayes. The Landmark Education assignment to create a community project had several criteria. "One of the criteria was that it (the project) was something that had to inspire you," Stys explains. "Since I have a background in international horse sport and am passionate about it, I wanted to invent a project which would help developing countries." Kayes was instrumental in creating the Malawi Equestrian Federation, and had appealed to equestrians for help in outfitting the youngsters she was bringing into her program.
"I was inspired by the thought of linking our local equestrian community with these countries," Stys says. "Our tack may be used to help equestrians in Malawi or Swaziland discover their skills and passion for riding. You never know! One of these riders could end up being their country's first representative at a future Olympic Games. That thought alone surmounts the logistics and monetary demands of this project."
Stys hosted an Equestrian Social on April 10, and asked her guests for donations of money or used tack. And on April 12, she set up a table at the Tack Swap at the Northampton County 4-H Center. "I enlisted the help of Alice Frable, a 4-H leader and her club, the Hunt Caps," Stys says. "The girls were a huge help in getting the word out by distributing fliers to all the folks who had booths." Stys was hoping that people would donate whatever they had left at the end of the tack swap. "This worked like a gem, since we were inundated with used tack: halters, bits, blankets, saddle pads, riding apparel. In fact, I could barely fit it all into my SUV."
Stys says that Kayes will expand her program into St. Andrews Primary School in Blantyre in September. "I would love to continue this project and send more shipments over because there is such a huge demand for tack, etc., in these developing countries. Plus it is relatively easy to get folks here to donate their unwanted items."
If you're interested in donating tack or in helping defray shipping costs, or if you'd like to know more about Tackful Mission, contact Cindy Stys via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.