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Gabriel and Arya Then and Now

Gabriel riding

The Search for Help

Even before Gabriel had an official diagnosis, we were seeing signs of developmental delay. He was late to walk, struggled with some fine motor skills, and was very delayed with his speech. For the first two or three years of his life, every verbal communication was monosyllabic. He would not answer questions with “yes” and”no.” He did not really respond to directions. In spite of our involvement with early intervention and his pediatrician, we felt like there was something more we could do. In speaking with other parents, I know this is a common sentiment. This was frustrating, because we weren’t certain where to look outside the medical community.

We passed a horse riding place every day on the way to school and Gabriel began pointing out horses.  In an effort to expand his team of therapists, we started working with Puzzle Piece as a supplement to his services. Renee from Puzzle Piece noticed Gabriel’s fascination with horses, and was delighted when we asked about equestrian therapy. We immediately found one program, but we were told the wait list was years. YEARS!

Gabriel then and now- at 4 and now at 11- still smiling and riding!

Putting Two Words Together

When The Red Barn was really starting to put roots down, Renee mentioned she had worked with Joy in the past, and suggested we call her to inquire about availability. From there, everything else fell into place like magic. Gabriel was able to start riding soon thereafter; he had just turned 4 years old. Both he and our family fell in love with the staff, the barn and most important: the horses.

What was an interest became a passion. If there was a horse within 1,000 feet, Gabriel would spot it and point it out! I remember one time he proclaimed, “HORSE!” and I told him, “no buddy… I don’t think that is a horse,” thinking there was no way he could make that determination from so far away. We kept driving, and as we closed in on the location I gasped. “Gabriel – that IS a horse! How did you know from so far away?” The answer was obvious. “Horse. Barn.” I laughed. He laughed.  

He loves it here. It is impossible to come up with just one story to share because there are so many. Gabriel’s lessons are filled with smiles and laughter. There have been so many wonderful volunteers and staff members that have connected with him and helped him. The Red Barn is the first place he put two words together when he one day told a horse to “walk on.” There were tears of joy and gleeful clapping! He has ridden backwards, trotted through most of his lesson – thank you handlers and side walkers for those – and even ridden a miniature pony during our time here.

He looks forward to it every week and knows when I get him from school on riding day that we are heading here. He has gone from finally putting two words together to helping direct his lessons. It is amazing the growth he shows every time he comes.

What Has Changed

Riding helped Gabriel develop more core strength, has helped with following directions and discipline, and believe it or not, continues to aid him with his verbal development. Gabriel grew with The Red Barn.

Now, in addition to “horse,” “walk on,” “let’s trot!” and other commands, Gabriel can also tell you if he wants to go ride in the barn or do the pirate trail. He can tell you what horse both he and Arya rode that day. He can tell you he wants “chicken and fries” or “‘roni pizza.” Decision making, following directions, vocabulary, the strength to jump up and down…  a lot of kids take these things for granted. At The Red Barn, every new accomplishment makes our hearts soar, and when I think back on everything we’ve worked on in 8 years with Gabriel, I genuinely believe that we are far, far better off with Gabriel having a favorite place to be, around his favorite people with his favorite animals.

Now Arya Rides Too!

His sister, Arya, and I used to sit on the sides at every lesson and play with the trucks or jump in the puddles after it rained or walk around and say hello to the horses in their stalls. One day, she asked Ms. Joy when she would be allowed to ride too and now, luckily, she rides as well. She loves coming here. She loves learning and is so proud of what she accomplishes every time.

Arya then and now
Arya has been riding at The Red Barn since 2014. She has always been a big helper. Her latest project has been creating activity books for the other kids to use when learning about our horses! We have loved watching you grow, Arya!

 

We have grown with the barn over the years, from being able to get into lessons immediately to there being a wait list and triple the staff. All of the people we have encountered have met the diverse needs of both of our children, as those have continually changed. They facilitate shifts with laughter, joy, and fun, and it is amazing to watch and be part of. We are lucky to be part of The Red Barn community and I am so glad they are part of my children’s lives.

– Gabriel and Arya’s mom and dad

Interested in volunteering? Get more information here or contact us.

Want to help more kids like Gabriel and Arya ride at The Red Barn? Give now!

This is called independence and strength!
Gabriel and Arya getting their student awards from Danielle Burroughs, their instructor
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Happiness and Solace at The Red Barn

Kristina’s Story

By the time Kristina was three years old, she had been deserted by both parents and had lost her closest friend. She was adopted by her grandmother, Carol.  Carol tried her hardest to provide Kristina with the type of love and support she needed. Kristina, however, still struggled to accept the losses in her life. She stopped playing with other children and would instead watch them from afar. She was soon diagnosed with clinical depression.

Kristina began talk and play therapy where she used dolls to express her feelings. After nearly a full year, she was able to say, “I’m mad at my mom.” This therapy alone was not enough to help her, though. She continued to struggle with empathy, self-confidence, and overcoming the feelings of inadequacy she felt from being abandoned. No matter how hard Carol tried to convince Kristina that it was her mom’s own problems that caused her to leave, Kristina continued to blame herself.  

Carol was familiar with another family who had been helped by The Red Barn in a time of tragedy and loss. Their experience prompted Carol to enroll Kristina in weekly riding lessons. Carol watched as, over time, Kristina developed self-esteem and independence. The horses and peers at the barn have taught her such empathy that Kristina says she plans to give back to The Red Barn by volunteering when she is old enough to do so. 

Kristina has finally found a place where she is accepted and loved. She knows that no matter how hard life might be at times, she will always find happiness and solace at The Red Barn. It has helped Kristina restore her faith in “family.”

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Budding and Blossoming- Nick and Lee’s Story

Nick and Lee

“We had tried most everything to bridge the communication gap caused by Lee’s autism, but it wasn’t until The Red Barn that we were truly able to communicate clearly and effectively. The Red Barn has helped Lee develop confidence, independence, and the ability to work well with others.” -Lee’s mom

 

For five years now, our students Nick and Lee have been coming to The Red Barn for their weekly workgroup. Every Friday morning during terms, Nick and Lee labor alongside staff and volunteers to make sure the horses are cared for and the property is beautiful. The workgroup was designed to enable some of our older students to experience a routine work schedule and list of chores to complete within an allotted time. The goal is to help students reach a higher level of independence in their home lives. We also hope to build their confidence and skill set to one day enter the working world.

Nick and Lee’s first few terms introduced them to a wide set of chores, which they tackled with staff assistance. Examples of these tasks include cleaning water troughs, scrubbing and refilling horse feed and water buckets, cleaning the goat pen, and many, many others. Staff and volunteers would lead the two boys through these tasks, breaking the tasks down step by step. Slowly, the staff stepped back, encouraging the boys to lead the transition from one step or task to another.

Growing Independence

As the staff have slowly stepped back, Nick and Lee have blossomed. Their independence has grown with every term. One morning, as staff offered our normal assistance to muck Black Flight’s stall, Lee replied, “Actually, I have this one by myself, thank you though.” He quietly toiled away, finishing the stall without any assistance. A short while later, Nick waved the staff help off when we grabbed brushes to help them scrub water troughs.

Both students have also participated in multiple terms of The Red Barn’s Job Skills program. Job Skills is a more formalized version of their workgroup. The instructor introduces and coaches participants on the soft skills required for employment. Such skills include courtesy, personal appearance, time management, and showing initiative, among others. Most sessions have anywhere from five to ten participants. Teamwork and communication are strongly emphasized so participants will have experience working with others before they enter the working world.

The Job Skills program has greatly accelerated both Nick and Lee’s growth and independence. Staff no longer directly assist in their tasks, but merely oversee their work. Nick and Lee are now capable of thoroughly completing every step of a task without issue. They may occasionally need a reminder to stay on task when they get too talkative, but their chattiness reflects another way they’ve grown.

A Budding Friendship

“I have truly enjoyed watching their friendship grow over the years. They have both developed into such kind, thoughtful, and hardworking young men.” – Becky Shuler, Nick and Lee’s volunteer helper

Back when the workgroup first began, Nick and Lee would only speak a sentence or two to one another before moving on from the conversation. As time went on, they began joking back and forth, as Nick often asks Lee if he has ants in his pants or the time Lee pretended to be a hitchhiker while Nick rode back to the white barn to dismount. I can’t help but laugh along with them, largely because of how genuinely funny they are. But it is also because I am thrilled seeing them feel comfortable and confident enough to emerge from their shells. The two have become close friends not only to each other but also to the staff and volunteers they work beside.

Nick is a huge Alabama fan and was dismayed to see me wearing an Auburn cap one day. Since then, he often takes friendly shots at me whenever I have any sort of goof up, saying, “Connor, you Auburn fan!” Nick also has a near-photographic memory. If you tell him something that he interprets as important, he will check on it every week. He met my parents at the 2016 Red Barn Christmas party and still asks how they are doing every week.

Lee loves technology and science-fiction, especially space travel. He has brilliant ideas for different robots and schematics he could design to make life easier at the Barn. He even came up with his own idea for a novel called “Terror in Space,” which he plans to adapt into a movie. Before lessons and during work breaks, he will regale us with fine details of the plot. However, when it is time to work, Lee will lock in and focus on his task (until he gets asked if he has ants in his pants).

Learning to Ride

Since 2017 Nick and Lee have been taking a joint riding lesson. Lee did ride for a few years prior to the workgroup, so he often serves as a positive role model in carrying out their instructor’s directions. Lee rides with only a horse handler and is working towards steering his horse off lead at the walk. For his part, Nick does a great job following his friend’s lead and has shown steady improvement. He initially struggled with leg cramps that would lead to early dismounts. But he has built up his leg strength and balance to the point he can stay on for the duration of an hour-long lesson without any pain.

Friday mornings are a highlight of my time here at the Barn. Seeing the two friends embrace before parting ways after each lesson encourages me to reflect on my own journey here. I hope to continue working alongside both Nick and Lee much more in the future. Watching the two of them grow has been one of the most fulfilling experiences I have had since beginning work at the Red Barn.

–  Connor Samples

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Upcoming Thanksgiving Camps

Our parents are so thankful for our Thanksgiving week camps! We offer Art Camp, Pioneer Camp, and Nature Camp from November 20th – 22nd. These camps are open to children with or without disabilities and special circumstances. All Thanksgiving week camps are unmounted and for students in grades 2nd-8th. Each camp costs $50 per student. Don’t forget to pack a lunch! Further paperwork and evaluation may be required. Scholarships are available upon request.

Art Camp
Date: November 20th, 9:30-1:00

Create fun, Thanksgiving crafts that you can show to your family. We will be making Holiday wreaths, feather necklaces, and more!


Pioneer Camp
Date: November 21st, 9:30-1:00

Come learn how Pioneers survived cold winters. We will do creative, educational activities to learn more about the pioneering lifestyle, such as making cording and goats milk soap!


Nature Camp
Date: November 22nd, 9:30-1:00

Explore our beautiful property along the Little Cahaba and learn about the surrounding wildlife! Discover what our small animals do around the barn during the holiday season. We will be walking across lots of uneven terrains and down by the river so being able to move around safely and somewhat independently is important.


If you’d like to check availability or sign-up for any of the camps, please visit this page.

-Connor

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Recent Work Groups!

Last week, three different work groups assisted with various projects around the Red Barn. Monday morning, Leeds High School’s Key Club paid us a visit. On Friday, the accounting firm Barfield, Murphy, Shank, & Smith held an all-day serve day at the Barn. And finally, a volunteer group from UAB came out on Saturday morning. We’re truly thankful for all their help!

The LHS Key Club was the largest group, consisting of nearly 30 students. Due to the size of the club, our staff split them into three smaller groups to divide and conquer. Group one deep cleaned the bunny hutch and surrounding pen before clearing the roadside ditch in front of the white and brick houses of mud, pine-straw, leaves, and other debris that clogged it after Hurricane Nate. Group two deep cleaned the goat and duck pens. They also picked up sticks in the goat pasture and changed out the water in their buckets and troughs. Group three kept our trails tidy by ensuring the obstacles were all clean and by picking up the countless sticks that scattered the trails following Hurricane Nate.

The BMSS serve day was the smallest group in size, but worked for seven hours! They helped with all sorts of projects: stripping and replacing shavings in stalls, trimming rose bushes, cleaning all of our horses’ buckets and troughs, and more. Fridays tend to be busy days lesson-wise, and luckily the BMSS group filled in to complete several weekly chores our staff would have struggled to finish without the extra hands.

UAB’s work group split the difference with about 15 students, which we also divvied into three smaller groups. Bunnies, goats, and ducks are very messy animals, so we again focused on cleaning their respective pens. In addition, the volunteers spread ant killer on the numerous ant beds popping up all over the property, picked up poop in horse pastures, and painted the wooden spools in the goat pasture.

All three groups were absolutely amazing. Due to the small size of our staff and limited time we have between lessons, we heavily rely on these large volunteer work groups to help with many of the more daunting tasks that come with the upkeep of a 33-acre property and the care of over two dozen animals. Thank you so much to the people at Leeds High School, Barfield, Murphy, Shank, & Smith, and UAB for donating your time to assist us. The Red Barn wouldn’t have the time or resources to serve all our wonderful students without your help!

-Connor

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Intern Insights: Sylvie

Sylvie “Sunshine” Daggett is a long-time volunteer at the Red Barn. This past Summer, she accepted a position as an intern and worked three days a week at the Barn. Sylvie helped with lessons and daily operations while receiving training in order to become a certified instructor through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH). We appreciate all the hard work Sylvie puts in to helping the Barn, and are thrilled to announce that she recently accepted a full-time position on our staff! I decided to sit down with her so she could share some insight into her experience over the past few months. I hope you all enjoy this exclusive, behind-the-scenes look into the life of a Red Barn intern!

Connor: You’ve been volunteering at the Red Barn for a few years now, correct? How’d you originally hear about the Barn?

Sylvie: Shelley Jones (a former Red Barn instructor) came to my school, Evangel Christian School, for a school orientation and mentioned the Red Barn as a place to volunteer. I had been looking for a place to serve and like horses so it sounded cool to me.

ConnorWhat drew you towards pursuing an internship at the Barn?

Sylvie: Having the opportunity to work more with so many of our awesome students, like Hailey Grace.

Connor: In what ways has your experience as an intern differed from your experience as a volunteer?

Sylvie: You get to see the background, like all that behind the scenes jazz, at the Barn more as an intern and how much work goes into everything. As a volunteer, you’re more guided from lesson to lesson.

Connor: What advice do you have for anyone interested in becoming an intern?

Sylvie: Just to get ready to fall in love with the hardest job that gives back the mostest.

Connor: Do you plan on going into the field of therapeutic horseback riding or do you have another career path in mind?

Sylvie: Yep to the first part! I’m currently working on becoming a PATH-certified instructor.

Connor: Do you have horses of your own? How long have you been riding?

Sylvie: I’ve been riding consistently since I was 13 and I have two horses, Chica and Molly.

Connor: What’s your favorite color?

Sylvie: Uhhhh… Peach, it’s a happy color! Or maybe grey.

Connor: Anything else you’d like to add? Any shout-outs?

Sylvie: Yeah, I’d like to give a big shout-out to my boy, Billy the goat.

-Connor

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Welcome, Ducks!

We are very excited to announce four young ducks as the newest additions to the Red Barn herd! The ducks are American Pekins with all-white feathers and light-orange bills and feet. Though they were born this past winter, they are already fully grown. Two of them are female and the other two are males. We haven’t decided on any names yet, mainly because it is difficult to tell them apart individually (I, personally, think it would be neat to get different color anklets so we can distinguish them).

The ducks are living in the same pasture as the goats. During the day, the duck squad will wander around the pasture, playing in any rain puddles or in their plastic baby pool. At night, they go into a cage to help protect them any potential predators. The four ducks always move as a single unit, never straying more than a few feet from one another.

Though they were cautious when they first arrived, the ducks quickly warmed up to both people and the other animals. Originally, we had to herd them into their cage every evening. But after a few weeks, they learned to trust us and now eagerly wait outside their cage come bedtime. The ducks can still be a bit shy when people try to approach them directly. However, a handful of seeds is all that is needed to bridge this barrier. They will eagerly eat out of any hand that offers them food, much to the delight of our students.

While initially distant towards the goats, the ducks now seem to enjoy the company of their four-legged pasture pals and often follow them around. They have even grown to trust Xena whenever she wanders into the pasture to receive her daily tribute.

We’re happy to see the ducks adjust to becoming fun and friendly members of our herd. They did great in groups this past Summer and hopefully they’ll continue to be amazing for all individual lessons this Fall term!

-Connor

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Fall Term Meetings!

Over the course of the past two weeks, and continuing through this current week, the Red Barn invited both parents and volunteers to meet with instructors to discuss goals and to plan for the upcoming Fall term. Understandably, not every parent was able to attend in person, so several of these planning sessions were held via phone conference. Either way, the meetings aided our instructors in preparing lesson plans for the Fall and helped our volunteers better understand the needs of their students.

For the parents who could make it out to the Barn, we offered ground lessons for their children. Some students spent time grooming and painting our horses, others played with the small animals, and one pair even staged a dramatic sword fight using inflatable swords and pool noodles. Everyone appeared to have a blast, including our staff.

It is less than a week away from the term’s official start. Anticipation is at an all-time high here at the Barn. We cannot wait to share laughter and learning with each and every one of our amazing students. We’ll see you all out here starting on August 28th. Here’s hoping this will be the best Fall term yet!

-Connor

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Summer 2017 Wrap-up

The 2017 Summer term is officially in the books! Even with the flooding, heat, and humidity, we had a fun and busy term.

While Spring and Fall terms tend be heavy on individual riding lessons, Winter and Summer terms focus more on group riding and unmounted lessons. A handful of our students, those who we believe would lose significant progress during the 3 month layoff, still had individual riding lessons, but that load was significantly lighter overall. Trying to teach 15+ separate riding lessons per day in the Summer heat would be brutal for everyone involved, especially our horses.

In order to conserve human and horsepower, the Barn offered four distinct group riding lessons this Summer. For these groups, we partnered our students by similar age, from preschoolers to high school students. The younger groups had different themes each week, such as the wild West or a Hawaiian luau, while the oldest group worked on an art project for the ground portion of their lessons.

The Barn also hosted several unmounted camps. A group from JBS visited us Monday mornings during term. We had a blast grooming horses, visiting the small animals, and fishing together. Every Thursday morning, we hosted a job-skills training camp for several of our teenage students. Each student had their own consistent task to complete each and every week, which ranged from deep-grooming to cleaning feed and water buckets. They also had a variable task that would change from week to week and included chores like mucking stalls or doing yard work. Their instructor, Ellen, introduced them to different soft skills such as courtesy, punctuality, and initiation. Other unmounted groups included Social Skills and JAYC, both of which we typically offer year-round.

In addition to all these weekly groups, we had several visits from our friends at Mitchell’s Place, Urban Kids, Grace House, Jessie’s Place, and the Amelia Center. In June, both our Student Banquet and the third annual Take the Reins Run took place. Needless to say, the Barn was a very busy place this Summer!

It is important to note that we could not have served so many kids without the help of an amazing crew of Summer interns. All of our interns were great not only at assisting in lessons and camps, but also at stepping in and completing the long list of daily and weekly chores that come with operating a barn. It’s not easy mucking stalls when you are sweat-soaked and exhausted after an 8-hour day, but the interns never once complained. Thank you interns all for your hard work and dedication this past Summer, we appreciate each and every one of you!

This was possibly our most successful Summer yet. We’re thrilled we got to share it with all of our wonderful students, parents, volunteers, and interns. The Barn is already gearing up for the Fall term, and everyone here is doing our best to ensure this Fall will be just as fun and successful as the Summer.

-Connor

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National Purple Heart Day

Today, August 7, is National Purple Heart Day. The day commemorates the creation of the oldest American military decoration for military merit, the Purple Heart, and honors the men and women who are of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. Created by General George Washington in 1782 to be presented to soldiers for “any singularly meritorious action”, the decoration was a purple, heart-shaped piece of silk bound with a thin edge of silver and the word “Merit” embroidered in silver across the face. The modern Purple Heart dates back to World War I, and is awarded to any United States military personnel who are wounded or killed in service.

Here at The Red Barn, we are proud to offer the Take the Reins program to our veterans.   Take the Reins provides therapeutic activities that assist in the treatment of PTSD and other disabilities for active and inactive military personnel and their families.

We have several individual veterans, as well as family members of veterans, who are weekly students during the Fall and Spring terms. A group of veterans with the Lakeshore Foundation visits the Barn on a regular basis. In fact, they have a date at the Barn later this month, which we are very excited about! Earlier this Summer, we held the third annual Take the Reins Run in honor of Corporal Clay Anthony Ward. The Run helps the Barn raise funds for the Take the Reins program.

Thank you to all of our veterans for bravely serving our country. Your service and sacrifice enables the Barn to freely assist all of our wonderful students.

-Connor