Has your child ever begged to see a unicorn? Well, Mebane photographer Katie Smith can make your child’s dream come true.
Smith, owner of Katie Smith Photography, in cooperation with the North Carolina Therapeutic Riding Center (NCTRC), started the Unicorn Portrait Fundraiser in 2019.
Smith met Lara Katz, who works at NCTRC, at a Mebane Business Association meeting two years ago. That’s when Katz ran the idea by Smith, who loved it.
Each year, there are 10 available spots for the photoshoot, and 50 percent of the proceeds go to the NCTRC. Smith said, in 2019 and 2020, the fundraiser has raised roughly $1,000.
The NCTRC’s mission is to “children and adults with physical, mental, emotional and social challenges to create more active, healthy and fulfilling lives through equine assisted activities and therapies.”
The NCTRC was located in Mebane for more than a decade, but recently relocated to Snow Camp.
Felix, a miniature horse, plays the unicorn for Smith’s photoshoots.
“His name is Felix and he's kind of used as the riding center’s mascot and sometimes as a behavioral therapy horse,” Smith said. “That day, we put a little crown on him and we paint his hair rainbow and, for the most part, he just grazes happily and eats grass. He eats out of the girls’ hands while they pet and hug and pose with him.”
The short time the kids who participate in the unicorn photoshoot get to spend with Felix becomes a memory they won’t soon forget.
“They just get to come in and pose and say, ‘I met a unicorn,’ and then they go around telling everybody, ‘I met a unicorn,’ for the next year,” Smith said. “That's what my daughter has done, because she's been my model for last three years, and just tells everybody that I get to meet a unicorn.”
For neurotypical children, this is simply a fun experience; for children with disabilities, this time can be therapeutic.
“Horses have, almost, like a biofeedback, where they help kids, adults and veterans regulate emotions better,” Smith said. “Because horses react to how you behave, they're very sensitive to the emotions and everything that's going on for the people.”
The NCTRC offers a wide array of Equine-Assisted Therapy (EAT) for children, teens and adults.
EAT is “treatment that includes equine activities and/or an equine environment in order to promote physical, occupational, and emotional growth in persons suffering from ADD, Anxiety, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Dementia, Depression, Developmental Delay, Genetic Syndromes (such as Down Syndrome), traumatic brain injuries, behavioral issues, abuse issues, and many other mental health problems.”
Smith got into photography nearly 12 years ago, after her first son was born. At the time, her husband was in the military and deployed in Iraq. Photography gave her a “great outlet” while he was deployed.
“Not long after he got back, I started a business,” Smith said. “We kind of ping-ponged around a little bit until we moved to Mebane in 2017.”
When she started her business, Smith knew she wanted to focus on using her skills to give back to the community.
That’s why she takes headshots for women at the Women’s Resource Center in Burlington and has, in the past, taken photos of animals at local animal shelters. But, perhaps, the Unicorn Portrait Fundraiser is her favorite way of giving back.
“Being able to do the unicorn portraits fills my need to give back and do more within the community using my skills as a photographer,” Smith said. “It's definitely a memory that [children] truly don't forget. I provide crowns and dresses and thank you gifts, so they leave with this magical memory.”