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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.