Christmas Day Swim – Hands and Hooves United

The joy and excitement was palpable as Christmas morning swimmers and their vocal supporters lined the beach in Mattapoisett on December 25, 2018. For the fifteenth year, the festive and fun Christmas Swim, a fundraiser for Helping Hands and Hooves, brought out family and friends who have made this event part of their holiday celebration.

From small children to those whose salad days had long passed, this Christmas plunge has become a fun way to celebrate the season of giving, sharing, and, most of all, caring for one another.

The sky was clear and bright above the calm water with temperatures for both hovering in the low-40’s range as the participants and their fans prepared to baptize themselves in Mattapoisett’s historic harbor. Some of the shore huggers remembered past swims that found only a few brave souls shoveling snow off the beach to gain access to the water. But that was not the case this year as some declared the weather “balmy” with participants crowding the beach.

Julie Craig is the driving force behind the annual swim that raises money used to offset expenses associated with her therapeutic horseback riding program, a program that has been helping people with special challenges for well over a decade. When TheWanderercaught up with Craig in 2004, she, along with her family, friends, and students, were grieving the loss of a very special horse, one that Craig used to help launch her program. That horse was named Cooper.

Craig’s background as an equestrian is exceptional. Having started at the age of three, Craig trained with several Olympic medalists before earning USEF certification as an instructor. She shared with me that in the beginning it was a friend’s brother who has autism that inspired her to begin thinking about using horses for therapy. Fast forward, with her business partner and longtime friend Debbi Dyson, the duo created a non-profit program for people with special needs, thus was born Helping Hands and Hooves.

Each year, some of Craig’s students participate in the Special Olympics, a high point for all involved. Yvonne Haitsma, a volunteer at the stables, said that Craig’s program always has representation at the Olympics.

Pat Goss whose family has been involved in Craig’s program and the annual swim since 2004 said that there are a variety of programs available for youths and adults with special needs, but unless one searches for them, one might not be aware of their availability.

“They can’t go into the schools, for instance, because of privacy issues,” Goss explained. She said that having a program such as Craig’s located in Mattapoisett was a blessing. Goss also shared that the Christmas swim has grown substantially over the years due primarily to the efforts of Craig and Dyson and the families they serve.

And how did this year go? Well there were 47 registered swimmers with donations coming in at $2,500.

To learn more about Helping Hands and Hooves visit

By Marilou Newell

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