RICHLAND COUNTY, SC (WIS) - On her 11th birthday, Amber Meeker could have gotten gifts to enjoy herself. But instead, she gave her gifts to retired racehorses waiting for permanent homes.
"God has blessed me with so many things," she said. "I thought, 'Why not just give back? Help the animals?' Because they're so sweet and I didn't really need anything else."
Instead of gifts for herself or her Quarter Horse, Coosa, Meeker asked people to bring necessities for South Carolina Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation horses to her pool party.
"Everybody brought money and things and it turned out really successful," she said. "Probably a thing I would do for years and years to come."
The horses are kept at Wateree River Correctional Institution, where inmates prepare the horses for adoption after their racing careers are over. If the horses aren't adopted, a they may not have much of a future after their careers are over on the track.
"Everything is important," said Joy McMillion, Meeker's riding instructor. "Every sponge. Every bucket. The horses tear up things constantly."
Meeker presented the gifts to the local chapter of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation at the Wateree River Correctional Institution's Seabiscuit Stables, where inmates go through the Second Chances program. Inmates learn skills to work in the equestrian industry and the horses are prepared for adoption.
Prison officials and William Cox with the South Carolina Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation presented Meeker with a plaque of appreciation made by inmates in the Prison Industries Frame Shop.
"She is absolutely a loving, animal person that has incredible character and it goes beyond just her," McMillion said. "The way she's been brought up. The way she believes in her church and giving and community. It's been really a joy to watch."
McMillion will be watching Meeker a lot for the next few years. This year is her first year as a member of the Hammond School Equestrian Team, which McMillion coaches. After years of watching her older sister ride on the team, Meeker gets her chance.
"Amber is a bundle of energy that I'll look forward to having her a part of the team," McMillion said. "She's always been there as one of our best cheerleaders...now it's her turn to step up and be a part of it."
And Meeker said she wants to win.
"I like just working for something. Having a goal," she said.
One of those goals is her career. She wants to be an animal specialist at Walt Disney World.
"I think I'll be working around animals at the very least."
To make a donation, checks can be sent to the South Carolina Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, P.O. Box 2248, Camden, SC 29020. Any donation will be matched, dollar for dollar, up to $5,000.