No ‘horsing’ around for Gold Award project

Ball tosses to help individuals with disabilities


Completing the necessary work in order to receive a Gold Award — the highest possible achievement in the Girl Scouts of the USA — is no easy feat. The project involves years of dedication to Scouting, as well as countless hours of planning and diligence.

But for Abigail Murnane, a senior at Sanford H. Calhoun High School, in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District, the work came easy. She created a ball toss game for HorseAbility, an equine therapy facility in Old Westbury. HorseAbility provides professional equine-assisted activities for children and adults with developmental disabilities.

Murnane, 17, told the Herald she began volunteering with HorseAbility, at 223 Store Hill Road, when she was in the seventh grade.

“When I got the opportunity to do the Gold Award, and I could help out an organization with something, they were the first ones I thought of because I had been with them for so long,” Murnane said.

Murnane joined the Girl Scouts when she was in kindergarten, and has since been a member of Troop No. 2454, which is based in North Merrick and led by troop leader Jen Corrigan.

Murnane began planning her project about midway through the 10th grade, when she asked HorseAbility if they’d be interested in benefitting from her project. Last summer, she filled out a Gold Award application, and worked with an advisor to get the project approved. She began working on the physical project in August 2023.

She came up with the idea of building a ball toss for the horse trails at the Old Westbury facility, as a way to help individuals with disabilities and sensory disorders undergoing different types of therapy at HorseAbility.

“When the kids are going around the trail on a horse, it gives them something to do, where they can throw the ball into the holes of the ball toss,” Murnane explained. “It’s supposed to help with sort of keeping them in the moment, and it’s sort of like a sensory thing, to just help them with their therapy.”

All Gold Award projects involve 80-hours of work, which, in Murnane’s case, was mostly dedicated to building the actual project. But she also had to complete Impact Hours, educating the community about the project.

“I did research on equine therapy and its benefits,” she said. “And I made a presentation, and approached a bunch of the PTA presidents of a bunch of local schools. And a bunch got back to me, so I started going to PTA meetings and presenting to the parents of the children that would benefit from equine therapy.”

While Girl Scouts are allowed to fundraise for their projects, Murnane received building supply donations from Ace Hardware, which allowed her to construct the ball tosses. She asked Carefree Racquet Club, her tennis club in North Merrick, to donate old and used tennis balls for the toss.

In late January, Murnane dropped off a ball toss for an indoor and an outdoor trail. While she hasn’t seen them in use yet, managers of HorseAbility said they’d be able to send her videos, once the ball tosses were being utilized.

As a longtime volunteer at HorseAbility, Murnane said she believes that equine therapy truly benefits people with disabilities.

“I think it helps a lot with building confidence,” she said. “A horse is this big, strong animal, so if you’re able to control it, it makes you feel more confident, just being on and around horses.”

While Murnane has not yet decided where she’s going to college next year, she plans to study biology — which connects full circle to her Gold Award project.

“I think it’s interesting,” she said. “I’ve always liked science, and working with nature and animals — that kind of stuff — which does link back to HorseAbility, because the whole thing is about being outside and working with animals.”

Murnane still has to complete her final paperwork for the project, discussing challenges she encountered. Later this spring, a ceremony will be held for Scouts who’ve completed their Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards.

“It was a lot of learning about how to build relationships and communication,” she said, reflecting on the experience as a whole.

For more on equine therapy and HorseAbility, visit