Girl with HIV says working with horses gives her strength

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:15

    GOSHEN-Abby Harragin is 16 years old and living the dream of many young girls by spending every day this summer working around horses. She smiles and laughs, moving from one stall to the next at the Ray Allen Stable, cleaning, grooming, feeding, and joking with those around her. Although she has worked at the stable, located at Historic Track, for just seven months, she now envisions a future with horses, perhaps as a veterinarian. She enjoys physical labor. She jokes that as a girl between two brothers, "I didn't grow up too dainty." In a dusty world filled with dirty work, Harragin discovered an oasis. "I'd much rather be doing this than be sitting behind a desk or doing the mall thing," she said. "I find this peaceful. I find this helps me out. Horses are such straightforward animals. They let you know right away where you stand with them. They don't make judgements of you, and that's pretty cool." Harragin is familiar with the world where straightforwardness is rare and judgment is not. As an infant, Harragin was diagnosed HIV-positive, infected with the virus through her birth mother. She admits that "at times" it is difficult to live with the virus, not to mention the stigma associated with it. Yet she will look you in the eyes and say simply, "It is what it is," all with her seemingly ever-present smile. She perseveres and, among other activities, counsels young children with the virus. She is now a senior at Goshen High School and has plans to attend college, possibly overseas. "I've always liked making life easier for people," Harragin said. "I see life from a different viewpoint, I guess. I'd much rather go around enjoying life than despising it. I want to take this into my hands. I can't sit around and feel sorry for myself. I'd rather die living a great life than be someone who people look upon as they just gave up." Harragin was adopted by her uncle and aunt, Dave and Bonnie Harragin, although she said, "They're Dad and Mom, period." She has two sisters in addition to her two brothers. She has lived in Goshen her entire life, but until seven months ago never went to the Historic Track. She stopped by one day because she wanted to see the horses as they trained. Ray Allen joked to her as he drove by that she should go brush some of his horses. She did, and Allen's wife, Alice, invited her to return. Harragin spent weekends at the stable during the school year, and now is there daily. "I love my family and I love working here," Harragin said. "The Allens are an extended part of my family. It's good to have all that to fall back on. And that's why I love these horses. They're silent friends. They give you strength." Alice Allen understands how Harragin feels about the horses. She feels much the same way about Harragin. "People talk about being blessed for meeting someone," she said. "Well, you are truly blessed with Abby around. What you see is the way she is. She is truly special."