Horses at Churchill Downs: Most people wouldn't be surprised by that statement, but for a local business owner, knowing that her plushie toy horses have made it to the gift shop of the historic race track was exciting news.
"We were just jumping up and down, we were just so excited," said Kimberly Rogers, developer of Piccoli Horses. The store ordered 200 horses ahead of the track's opening day on April 27.
Rogers said her Kentucky-based sales representative, Vivian Montgomery, worked on getting the toys into the gift shop for about a year.
The horses are a two-fold operation. The toys themselves can be played with, but the company also created an app that children can tap into to help them learn language.
While Rogers created the company from the ground up, she said she found most of the inspiration through her two children: Daughter Anna, whose love of horses has led her to the equestrian team at Villanova University, and son Dylan, whose struggle to learn language was made easier through play.
"Both are my greatest blessings," Rogers said of her children.
Dylan was born with a rare brain condition called gradual onset hydrocephalus. Among the complications from it is that Dylan's language development was slowed. Kimberly and her husband, Sean, were told that English was like a foreign language to him, and occupational therapists recommended developing language through physical activities like running and playing.
The family lived in Birmingham, Ala., at that time. Kimberly said that everyday after preschool she would take Dylan to the zoo.
Then the family decided to move to Kentucky, and chose the Somerset area both for the lake and to have an area for horses. It was one of the selling points to their young daughter, Kimberly said. If they move to Kentucky, they would get her a real, live horse.
But some of the experts helping with Dylan warned the family on moving to a small community that didn't have as many opportunities to someone with his disability, Kimberly said. It was advice she said she is glad she ignored.
"Every day, when he went to school he was greeted with nothing but love," she said. "I have found that Somerset is a very caring community."
Dylan started at Oak Hill Elementary, then Meece Middle and now is enrolled in Somerset High School. Kimberly Rogers said he has received a wonderful education throughout the years.
"His regular and special ed teachers and assistants have been amazing. Mrs. (Wanda) White, who is the special ed teacher at SHS, is a true treasure!"
She added, "The teachers in the Somerset Schools were amazing, the faculty and students are great. The whole experience helped him to grow into the 19-year-old he is today."
Dylan is now exploring options for colleges that cater to his learning needs. He still struggles with language, but his mom says he is a very active and social teen.
Kimberly admits that the original motivation for beginning Piccoli Horses and the accompanying language app was to help children like Dylan learn language, but the focus has changed into finding a way to create a fun, learning app for all children to learn words in new languages.
"As I was testing the beta version of the app and working on my business plan, I saw statistics like one in three children is obese, and one in seven is violent," she said.
"The experts agreed that children born during dot-com globalization were 'plugged in' and needed to realize their phones and tablets are amazing tools, but are not friends. That's why our horse is a classic, non-electronic toy. And why our apps get children talking aloud and moving their whole bodies in physical play. It's all designed to counteract the negative effects of screen time on children's developing minds. For them it's just a super fun app where they learn how to slither like a snake, but in French!"
The app also supports English, and Kimberly said the plan is to add Spanish and Chinese in the coming year.
For more information about the company, visit www.piccolihorses.com.