When Mr. Magnolia Zip ? ?Ricky? to his friends ? was in the western pleasure show pen, his friends and competitors called him ?Gangster Rick? because of his intensely focused attitude ? and because few of those competitors managed to stand up to his assaults. The Zippo Pine Bar gelding accumulated a rap sheet of championships and top-10s at the AQHA World and Youth World championship shows and the All American Quarter Horse Congress that few could rival, most recently with owner Dennis Pathroff.
But in 2008, Dennis gave his 18-year-old champion gelding over to a new calling as a therapeutic riding horse at the Victory Junction Gang Camp in Randleman, North Carolina. There, Ricky?s confidence has served him well in his newest and possibly most important job ? bringing joy to sick or disabled children and their families.
Victory Junction was started by the family of one of Ricky?s former show partners, Montgomery Lee Petty ? the daughter of famed NASCAR driver Kyle Petty and the granddaughter of ?The King? Richard Petty. Victory Junction is a year-round camp that serves children, ages 6 to 16, with a variety of health issues. Campers and their families attend free of charge, as their fees are paid through donations to the camp. During the summer, the camp offers weeklong, disease-specific sessions with up to 128 kids per session. During the fall, winter and spring, family weekends are offered, with 32 families per weekend.
The idea for the camp formed in 1999 when Adam Petty ? son of Kyle and Pattie and brother to Montgomery Lee ? participated in a charity ride for a similar camp. When Adam was killed in 2000, his parents were inspired to fulfill his dream and began working with actor Paul Newman and his Hole in the Wall camps. Pattie is the chairwoman of the board of directors for Victory Junction.
Since opening the doors June 20, 2004, the camp has hosted more than 10,000 campers from 47 states and three countries. In May 2009, ground was broken for a second location in Kansas City, Kansas. Spread over 84 acres of wooded forest, the original Victory Junction?s NASCAR theme is everywhere ? from photos of Adam, his father and grandfather scattered in the welcome center to the car hood sounding boards and spark plug wall decor in the theater. Camp includes a huge variety of activities for kids no matter their level of disability, including a water park, indoor softball field, a seven-acre lake with fishing access via boat and indoor dock and a NASCAR race shop ? and a fully staffed hospital just in case it’s necessary.
While the camp has about 75 full-time employees, it is brought to life by volunteers. They range from corporate sponsors who donate buildings, to individuals across the country who send unique, hand-crafted quilts or knit afghans and teddy bears that are placed on each camper?s bunk bed to use and take home. Doctors and other professionals donate their time and expertise to help campers, and all the horses at the camp are donated.
The equine center resembles a circus tent from the outside and is a barn-in-the-round with stalls facing into a center area, allowing employees to see every animal and every child at all times. The kids are free to interact with horses, ponies and various farm animals. Small groups are taken for rides in an attached temperature-controlled riding arena with rollup doors (for an outdoor riding experience if weather and health conditions allow). The camp?s 40 horses rotate, with 10 staying at the camp and the rest allowed vacation time at the Pettys? nearby ranch, where the four-legged volunteers unwind in the pasture. The horses may be used for traditional hippotherapy, or they might just provide a sympathetic ear for their camper friends.