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Spotlight: Black Flight

Our horses are the engine that power the Barn. Simply put, we wouldn’t be an organization without our amazing herd. So far in the one year history of blog, we have spotlighted bunnies, cats, camps, and staff teams. Somehow, we have yet to do a feature on any of our horses. Today that changes, as we turn the spotlight on the matriarch of our herd: Black Flight!

Black Flight, a 26-year old Thoroughbred/Hanoverian cross, has been at the Red Barn longer than any other horse in our herd. She first arrived way back in 2011, which is even before the Red Barn officially became a non-profit in February 2012.

Before coming to the Barn, Black Flight (then known by her show name “Pre-Flight of Fancy”) competed in Level II Dressage with her previous owner, Pamela Dawson. Black Flight is also the only mother in our herd, as she gave birth to a filly named Shamanic Dreams in 2007. Unfortunately, an injury prevented Black Flight from continuing her dressage career. But Pamela Dawson understood how great a horse Black Flight is, and was kind enough to share her with us.

Black Flight has touched hundreds of lives over the past five years. She is a calm, patient teacher who loves to be around children. She particularly loves large groups, and is our go-to option whenever we need a horse who will sit still and allow dozens of little hands to rub all over them. She also had the honor of participating in the 2014 Veteran’s Day parade through downtown Birmingham. It takes a very special horse to endure all the sights and sounds that come with parade!

Black Flight’s excellence can be expected given her ancestry. Her sixth great-grandfather was Man o’ War, arguably the greatest racehorse of all time. Her fifth great-grandfather was War Admiral, another great racehorse who won the Triple Crown in 1937. If there were some sort of awards for therapy horses, Black Flight surely would have won them all!

Thank you to Pamela Dawson for sharing your sweet, gifted horse with the Red Barn. Black Flight impacts each and every student and staff she works with in the best possible way.


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Our Superheroes

Comics define a hero as someone who saves the day. Each hero has their own unique and amazing skill set that they utilize for a noble cause.

Here at the Red Barn, we are fortunate enough to have such a group of superheroes: our volunteers. They are the reason we have been able to offer almost 85 lessons each week, care and work with 16 horses, host anywhere from 3 to 5 groups a week in our camp program, and maintain a property of 33 acres, 3 barns, and 4 program buildings.

Our heroes sacrifice their time by volunteering weekly as well as helping with the occasional major event. They freely offer their vast worlds of knowledge. They are professionals, students, lovers of horses, and advocates in the community.

I could go on for pages, but the point is: we could not do what we do without them! They outnumber our staff at least 8 to 1 and make every donation go even further. We truly have the best heroes in the world.

This week is National Volunteer Week. So if you happen to be here at the Barn, please make sure to take a moment to thank our volunteers for all that they do for us. We rely on them so much and they brighten the days of all of our students.

Thank you so, so, SO much to all of our wonderful volunteers! You are the heroes the Red Barn desperately needs in order to serve all of the wonderful students that we have here. Thank you again, and never forget that each and every one of you is a superhero.


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Spring Term Midpoint

The birds have started singing more, the world is coated with pollen, and the heat is already pushing towards sweltering. Ah, the joys of Springtime in Alabama. Here at the Red Barn, we’ve been able to enjoy all of the beauty, as well as endure the small handful of inconveniences, that come with Spring. This week marks the halfway point between the beginning and end of our Spring Term. It’s hard to believe we’re already six weeks in, and even harder to believe that in six more weeks we’ll be dreaming of these brisk 85 degree April afternoons.

The term is finally in full swing. It took a while for things to gel, with our best laid plans being derailed by student, volunteer, and staff illnesses, school Spring breaks, and a few days of inclement weather. Challenges exist in every profession, and we have weathered our literal and figurative storms. It’s not so difficult when we have our students’ smiles lighting our way to sunnier horizons.

Our Spring and Fall terms tend to have a much stronger focus on individual riding lessons, with Winter and Summer occupying more time for group lessons and unmounted camps. We still have the Social Skills camp on Wednesdays and an Art Camp led by the one and only She-she begins this Saturday, but the bulk of our students are here for individual lessons. Time between lessons is spent on various tasks, such as cleaning stalls, planning lessons, completing office work, or any of the million other chores that come with working at a barn.

On top of weekly lessons, we’ve also been busy with Farm to Table, volunteer groups, and preparation for both the Alabama Folkways event and the 3rd Annual Take the Reins Run in memory of Corporal Clay Ward. Alabama Folkways will be on April 29th and Take the Reins on June 10th.

We’re blessed to have the opportunity to work with the amazing students that we serve, and so far this term has been a blast. I know the remaining six weeks will be just as fun. Thank you all for all the ways you’ve supported us the past few weeks. We couldn’t serve our students without your help!


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Spring Events

Hi all! We’re now in our third week of the Spring term, which means we’ve just about adjusted to the weekly routine. There were some speed bumps the first couple of weeks, either due to weather cancellations or staff, students, and volunteers being out sick. But by now, things have more or less settled down. With several schools having Spring Break this week, we have a little lighter load before we dive into the meat of the term. While we’re in the calm between storms, I wanted to let y’all know a little bit about upcoming events!

  • The first ever Red Barn Parent Social will be on Tuesday, April 4th at the White house from 6:30-7:30. Our Red Barn parents have told us how much they love coming to the Barn and meeting other parents, so this is an excellent opportunity to have fun, mingle, and enjoy some adult time. Refreshments will be served at the event. Future Parent Socials will be held the first Tuesday of each month. If you have any questions feel free to email Grace!
  • The Horse Through Art class will be offered on Saturdays from 3:00 – 4:30 starting on April 22nd through May 27th. Students will learn about the seven elements of art as they paint, draw, photograph, and make dioramas of horses. The cost is $200, with scholarships available if needed. Register here.
  • The 3rd Annual Take the Reins Run in memory of Corporal Clay Ward will be held Saturday, June 10th at Veteran’s Park in Hoover. The run will consist of both a 5k and a 10k this year. For more information visit our site dedicated to the run here.

I think that covers it for now! Of course, our schedule is ever evolving, but we’ll be sure to keep y’all up to date as soon as any new events or classes arise. We hope everyone is having a wonderful Spring so far and look forward to see you all either at these events or during lessons!


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Spring Term Meetings!

For the first time ever, the Barn invited both parents and volunteers to meet with instructors the week before riding lessons officially began. Traditionally, we would speak with parents over the phone to discuss their goals for their child in the upcoming term. However, this time around we decided to invite parents and volunteers to meet in person. This way, everyone involved would have a firmer grasp on goals and expectations for the student. It should help with lesson planning and ensuring everything goes smoothly for the first week, which naturally has been a bit of a feeling out period in the past.

While the instructors met with the parents and volunteers, the students had ground lessons with other staff members. I was mostly a part of the ground lesson crew. Still, I want to share some insight not only from the ground lessons, but also from the instructor meetings I did attend.

The ground lessons were pretty diverse. For one group of boys, we went on a nature walk before ending up down by the bunnies and goats and spending time with them. For a pair of girls, we had a huge dance party and played a color matching game with saddle pads during breaks while we recuperated our dancing energy (side note: I now know every lyric to Taylor  Swift’s “Shake It Off”). Another ground lesson included herd observation to help a new student get to know our horses better. One final lesson consisted of a scavenger hunt for different animals and the tracks they make, followed by drawing said tracks with shaving cream. Unsurprisingly, the drawing turned into an all-out shaving cream war.

The meetings went well, too. Parents, volunteers, and instructors all met together and covered a range of topics. Both parents and instructors discussed their respective goals for the student. This helped both parties, as well as the volunteers, develop a clearer idea of how the lessons will be molded this upcoming Spring. In addition, we covered emergency and safety drills in case of fire, tornado, or any other serious event. If time permitted, we ran through a mock lesson of the mounting process – who would be the horse-handler, where each side-walker would be, and any other particulars for that individual student.

Overall, I think these meetings helped everyone involved feel much more comfortable going into this term. Parents were able to voice any new or important information about their children ahead of time, help shape lesson plans with their goals, and finally got to sit down and truly get to know the volunteers working with their kids. Instructors and volunteers now hold a firmer grasp on what to expect for each lesson, and students had fun ground lessons to kick things off.

Hopefully, this will enable lessons to run even smoother from the get-go. Today is officially the first day of the Spring Term, and our first lessons are already underway. Personally, I’ve never felt more prepared going into a term. Here’s to an amazing Spring, we can’t wait to see you all out here!


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Intern Insights: Dustin

Dustin Baker, an undergraduate Kinesiology student at UAB, has been interning at the Barn for the past couple of months. This internship will be the final step in his work towards his undergraduate degree. Afterwards, he plans on attending graduate school in order to become an occupational therapist. During the Winter Term, Dustin was a huge help in both daily chores as well as lessons. Dustin did a write-up on one such lesson, and I thought it was a unique insight into the progress that particular student has made. So, I decided to share it with you all. I hope you enjoy! (P.S. If you’re ever out here on a Thursday or Friday, please tell Dustin “thank you” for all of his hard work!)

“Over the Winter Term, I have witnessed Collin, one of our remarkable students, make great improvements in his cognitive ability. At first, Collin was having some difficulty maneuvering his horse with the reins. The instructor would give him a direction to go and he would pull the wrong side of the reins. As weeks passed, Collin has shown us that he is better at pulling the correct side of the reins and his vocal responses to the instructor are improving.

So far, in all the lessons, we are able to make out his words when he says, ‘walk-on’ and ‘whoa.’ His speech is difficult to understand at times and we have to get him to repeat himself on occasion; however, the phrase ‘walk-on’ and the word ‘whoa,’ have been all that I personally have witnessed him vocalize toward anyone while on his horse.

In Collin’s lesson last week, he started off with a good amount of energy but after 30 minutes or so, he seemed to start to doze off. His eyes were looking heavy and we started directing him toward the gate, without telling him that we were ending the lesson. When he saw the gate, he knew what was about to happen and he motioned his horse to whoa, then vocalized what I am sure to be the word ‘more.’ He said the word in a low tone so I informed the instructor of his discussion and we continued on with the lesson. He made so much progress that day cognitively.”

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Student Interview: Zach!

Last Friday, I was blessed with the opportunity to speak one on one with our student Zach, who began lessons at the Red Barn this past Winter term. In addition to riding, Zach also participates in a work session where he helps us out with chores as we help him develop life skills. Zach has limited movement due to Cerebral Palsy, but he has been striving to lead an independent life. Through the chores he completes and the skills we guide him through, we hope to help set Zach up so that he can ultimately accomplish his goal of entering the workforce.  

He’s made remarkable progress so far, both in riding and in the work group. His first lesson, he could only separate his knees by five inches. The final lesson of the term, Zach held his knees seven and a half inches apart, a 50% increase! He was also able to fold three shirts without a single mistake in under five minutes that final day. The same feat took him over fifteen minutes just six weeks earlier.  

Zach is a charming, kind, and funny young man. I believe all of those wonderful characteristics and more were captured in our conservation. Without further adieu, I present the unabridged version of our interview. I hope you enjoy!

Connor: So, Zach, this was your first term at the Red Barn. What was your first impression of the Barn when you arrived for you evaluation in January?

Zach: I can honestly tell you sir, that my first impression when I arrived for my evaluation was that I was going to really like it here. The people who work with me and who I work with are very amazing people and awesome at what they do. Their job is amazing and the help that they’ve given me, I’ve been so thankful for that ever since I first started here.

Connor: That makes me happy to hear, and we’re thankful to have you here at the Barn. How do those thoughts that you originally compare to the thoughts you’ve had after riding and working here for six weeks? Have they changed in any way?

Zach: Hmm… Could you please explain that question a little more?

Connor: Of course! When you first arrived, was there anything you didn’t know about the Barn that you now have a better understanding of – like the people or the horses you work with? Have your thoughts changed at all? And if they haven’t that’s completely fine!

Zach: Honestly Mr. Connor, my thoughts haven’t really changed. I like what I’m doing, I love what I’m doing here.

Connor: Well I know we’re glad to have you here! So my next question is, what has been your favorite part of being at the Red Barn? Do you have preference between riding or working or do you enjoy both equally?

Zach: I enjoy both equally.

Ashley (who is Zach’s work instructor and was sitting in on the interview): What is your favorite part of the riding and what is your favorite part of working?

Zach: The riding part that I like, I like it when you guys are helping me just a little bit, when I get off balanced or something, but that I’m doing it almost all independently. I also like it when my family members are watching me, because I can tell from the expressions on their faces that they are blown away by how far I’ve come. Now for the working part at the Barn, I am overwhelmed. I love working with the horses and feeding them, making sure they have the right amount of hay. And I’m really good with animals, I’m an animal person, so I enjoy that. And those are my opinions on the two things I’ve been doing here the past six weeks.

Connor: That’s awesome to hear! Have you carried over any of what you have learned into your home life? You can include anything from the balance you’ve gained from riding or folding laundry and any of the other chores you’ve done here.

Zach: Actually, I have helped my mom with the laundry and I have helped her vacuum with the big grey vacuum, not the shock vac though. And recently I was at my Dad’s house and I carried the laundry folder with me to his house so I could do my laundry there.

Connor: I’m glad that you’re able to apply what you’ve practiced here. That’s a huge step towards independence. As far as riding goes, is there anything you didn’t get to do this past term that you would like to do in the Spring?

Zach: One of the things that I would like to do in the Spring term is… Well you know every time I come here, I see that some of you are grooming one of the horses and that’s one thing I would love to do in the Spring term. And the other thing is, if you ever need help taking care of the horses in the pastures, I’m more than happy to do that.

Connor: We appreciate that man. I love the ambition and I know there are plenty of things you can help out with. And that kind of ties into my next question, which is the same question but for the work side of things – is there any work related skill or any chores that you would like to learn or sharpen this Spring?

Zach: I would like to restock the refrigerator. And I know that work-related skills don’t involve cooking, but I think that is one thing I would like to learn to do.

Connor: Awesome, we’ll have to keep that in mind come Spring. Have you always been interested in being around horses or is that something that has developed since you have been at the Red Barn?

Zach: Well, you know when I was growing up, I used to go horseback riding at this ranch in Pelham, so this isn’t my first rodeo.

Connor: And I know you mentioned your mother did barrel-racing earlier today, right?

Zach: Yeah, that was back when she was living in Texas.

Connor: I guess it runs in the family then! To take things away from the Barn, outside of what you do here, what other activities or interests do you enjoy?

Zach: I’m a big fan of guns. I like guns.

Connor: Oh cool! Do you enjoy hunting or are you more of a target shooter?

Zach: Well, I like hunting sometimes, but it’s usually cold and I get all stiff when hunting. I’m in love with going out and trying to shoot, you know, like target practice. I’m pretty good with my .243 bolt-action rifle.

Connor: I hear you, dude. My first ever gun was a .243. So that concludes the serious part of the interview, but I think all of the staff and volunteers who work with you can attest to your comedic skills, as you have us all laughing multiple times every lesson. For a closing note, do you have a favorite joke you’d like to share with the audience? You don’t have to of course, so no pressure at all.

Zach: (Zach did an impression of a Southern country boy that had everyone in the room in stitches. I feel it can’t be done justice in the form of written word. However, if you ever have the chance to meet Zach, I am certain he will be more than happy to recreate his “woo pig sooie!” for you.) 

And that concludes Zach’s interview! I hope y’all enjoyed getting to learn more about one of our many students at the Red Barn. I had a blast interviewing Zach and look forward to continuing to work alongside him this Spring.


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Spotlight: Bully in the Barn camp

This Winter term, I’ve had the opportunity to lead the Bully in the Barn camp. It is the first term-long camp I’ve led by myself, and I wanted to share some of that experience with you all!

The Bully in the Barn program started back in 2013. However, due to staff changes and the development of other camp programs, the Red Barn did not hold Bully in the Barn in 2014 or 2015. It began again with two separate, short sessions this past Fall. I helped in the second session and really enjoyed the kids and the style of the camp. Unfortunately, the staff member who led the Fall sessions was unable to work her schedule out to lead again in the Winter. Joy approached me about filling that role, and I was more than happy to.

We have five kids enrolled in the camp this session. Two of them took riding lessons here this past Fall, but the other three were new to the Barn going into this term. It’s been exciting tailoring lessons to keep both old and new students engaged and to bring them together. Also, I have to give a shout-out to the staff members and intern who have helped plan and run the sessions. Everyone please give Bekah, Elisabeth, JesseRuth, Jordan, and Alex high-fives whenever you see them next!

Each session starts with some sort of short icebreaker activity. We’ve played Big Wind Blows, Charades, and other fun games. After about 15 minutes, we move on to the main activity for the day. The first week we observed herd behavior of the horses, goats, and bunnies. We then compared and contrasted the three different herds and talked about which type of animal we identified with the most. The second week we did approach activities with all three animal groups. We discussed how different each one was, like how the goats happily approach and even jump on people while the bunnies often run or thump to signal that they want space. We then related those responses back to how people may feel differently about others approaching them. Finally, we paired up and did an approach game with our partner and talked about personal space bubbles.

Other activities have included brain game grooming and a five senses (minus taste) game where kids close their eyes and touch, smell, and hear several different objects before opening their eyes and observing a picture. Those two games work on cooperation and perspective, respectively. A few times we finished our activities early and had time for free art, which the kids loved.

I’ve really grown attached to this group of kids. Being in charge and directing the camp has helped me develop a better understanding of each child. I’m much more observant of every little mannerism they display, as I want learn more about them so that I can design each activity in a way that engages all five kids. They’re a diverse and fun group and I’m very glad this ended up being my first bunch of students!




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Winter Term Midpoint

As many of you already know, the Red Barn’s Winter term kicked off a little over three weeks ago. We patiently awaited the return of all our students during the holiday season, and have been grinning nonstop from once again seeing the faces of the kids we know and love. The weather has mostly felt like a mild October, but that’s been nice, as it means there have been far fewer weather cancellations compared to past winters. Needless to say, it has been a very busy term (hence, the gap in blog posts (I apologize!)).

Monday is filled with riding lessons both in the morning and afternoon. The facility/operations team also has time set aside that morning to work on any pressing projects. Tuesday is mostly filled by instructor and all-staff meetings, but there are a couple of lessons and the Bully in the Barn camp thrown in as well. Wednesday consists of both riding and unmounted lessons. Thursday morning contains our Social Skills camp, as well as a staff to staff ground lesson for some of our coworkers who are interested in sharpening their horsemanship skills. Friday is a bit lighter, mostly due to staffing, but we still have the student work group in the morning and riding lessons throughout the day. Saturday morning is usually open for volunteer groups, with the 4H camp in the afternoon and a couple of lessons strewn throughout the day. Sunday is typically a busy day in terms of completing chores, but we may also host volunteer training in the afternoon.

But that’s not all! In addition to our regular schedule, we’ve also hosted several awesome instructors or groups over the past few weeks. Lisa Wysocky came out and did training sessions on January 18th and 19th. Several of our staff attended a PATH clinic that following weekend, and I want to give a huge shout-out and congratulations to Elisabeth on becoming a PATH-certified instructor! UAB’s AED honor society came out for their monthly volunteer service on January 28th. And finally, the JAYC Foundation hosted their LEO program, which primarily works to supplement law enforcement officers’ awareness in the field, at the Red Barn this past Monday and Tuesday.

Normally lessons, camps, and other activities slow down in the Winter term, but that hasn’t been the case this year. We’re grateful to be this busy and to be able to teach so many kids. It’ll serve as a nice warm up before lessons really crank into gear when the Spring term starts next month.



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Misty of Chincoteague Camp

Three groups from The Westminster School came out to The Red Barn for a field trip this past week! The students are currently reading the book Misty of Chincoteague, and luckily we happen to have our very own Chincoteague pony: Salty. About 50 total kids visited over the course of three days, which means we’ve been very busy this past week.

Around 15 kids came each day, so we further divided them up into four groups. That enabled each child to have plenty of opportunities for the hands-on activities we planned. One station involved grooming and parts of the horse, with Black Flight and Ziggy being the stars of the morning. Another included discussing and cleaning different parts of tack and other riding equipment before meeting Salty and learning a bit about his story as a Chincoteague Pony. Yet another station revolved around barn chores, with the kids mucking stalls and learning the hard work involved with caring for a horse. The final station was arts and crafts, where they learned simple ways to draw a horse.

One purpose of having a variety of activities was so the kids could learn all the different vocabulary involved with taking care of horses. For example, they now know what to visualize when they read a word pertaining to a specific piece of tack or about the process of grooming a horse. They also now understand how much hard work and dedication goes into looking after a horse. Most importantly, they gained valuable hands-on experience while having fun.

Westminster brought a group of students for a similar camp last year as well. Hopefully this will become an annual camp, as we loved having them out. They were a blast to be around and extremely hard workers when it came to helping with chores. We hope to see them again next year for even more fun and learning!