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Thank you, a thousand times!

“When I first heard about equine therapy, I was a complete skeptic. I had an unnatural fear of horses myself and felt it highly unlikely that horses could be therapeutic. The Red Barn came highly recommended, so I was willing to try it. We were desperate and desperation will often cause one to abandon one’s reservations and skepticism. I could hardly believe the difference the barn made in our family. It was a blessing and a treat for all of us. We have participated in all manner of activities at the barn and every one of them has been beneficial. Thank you, a thousand times! Thank you for all that you consistently do for our family and all of the families of the barn. You are making a tremendous difference, and oh my word! How can I adequately put into words the gratitude I feel when my children are at the barn? Their time there provides me with a much-needed respite. It provides them with independence, yet individualized attention; we all leave the barn better than when we arrived. It truly does mean so much to me to have my children participate in the activities there.” – their mom, Amy Martin

Raising three different children with their own unique needs and circumstances can be difficult at times. Amy’s teenagers, Shelton, Charlotte, and Maggie each have different needs and perspectives on how to meet those needs. Shelton has Autism, while Charlotte and Maggie were adopted at young ages. And like all siblings, there are times when they would clash with one another, or even their parents, and Amy never knew how to deescalate the situation. She felt breathless and unable to sense the air in the room as the friction between family members increased. 

Before coming to The Red Barn, Amy could not possibly see how interacting with horses would help her three children. As a healthcare professional, she could not understand how horses could be therapeutic. She was afraid of them and found the presence of these large creatures to be anything but calming. But, The Red Barn came highly recommended, and she was willing to try anything to help rein in the chaos and help better the broken communication within her household. 

The Martins began at the barn in a family group lesson taught by our instructor Ellen. Due in part to her skeptical nature and because of her earnest desire to strengthen her communication with her family, Amy tagged along as a participant. In one of the earliest lessons, Ellen asked her to move a horse with one finger. Amy struggled at first, having no idea how such a task was possible. However, Ellen helped her keep calm and walked her through the process of applying pressure and releasing. 

Then it clicked for Amy. It wasn’t about what was physically being done but how she felt about the action. As long as she remained calm during the activity, she was able to communicate with the horse properly, both verbally and nonverbally, and the animal would reciprocate that communication. The finger was simply a minimal amount of pressure that communicated to the horse where Amy wanted it to go. This lightbulb moment extended beyond just one activity with the horse. Amy realized that her own emotional escalation in tense situations with her kids had only been adding fuel to the fire. She learned to better calm herself and regulate her emotions, allowing her to think clearly and to effectively communicate with her children in those moments of discord. 

But Amy isn’t the only one who has benefited from the Martin family’s time at the barn. Shelton, Charlotte, and Maggie have become regular students at the barn, and have attended many different programs such as holiday camps, Job Skills, and even individual riding lessons. The Martins have an hour drive to reach the barn, but the excitement of visiting replaces any anxiety or frustration of three teenagers being crammed in a small car for that long. 

After his involvement with the barn, Shelton has become more organized and is now a huge help with chores around the house. Though he isn’t as much of a horse person as his sisters, Shelton loves the goats and feels most accomplished when he can do chores that directly benefit them. 

Maggie thrives in the barn’s encouraging environment. When upset in the past, she had difficulty using her words and controlling the volume of her voice. At the barn, she learned the importance of remaining quiet and using her voice and body language to properly communicate with her horse. These are crucial lessons she has carried over to her interactions with her family. She is much calmer now, and her mom better understands her needs and how to help her remain on a more even keel. Maggie is particularly drawn to animals with unique or unusual personalities – the more aloof they are, the more she wants to understand and love them. She and Billy the goat have become good friends as a result. 

Charlotte is a great kid who struggled with self-confidence in the past. The barn’s Job Skills program in particular has helped her. Before the course, Charlotte would shut down and remain quiet around strangers. The soft skills she has learned and the social situations she has experienced through Job Skills have led her to becoming the most talkative of the siblings. She is the best at directly communicating her needs, as well as the needs of the rest of her family, to The Red Barn staff. She’s the oldest and seems to have fully accepted the responsibility of being the leader and role model for her siblings. Charlotte does an outstanding job of positively encouraging and working alongside both Shelton and Maggie during their Job Skills lessons. 

The Red Barn, thanks to scholarship programs, have had a healing effect on the entire family, drawing them closer. Amy shared, “I wouldn’t know how to thank the people who gave so that we could get scholarships. I was never told I couldn’t come here or do any certain programs because it costs money.” 

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She feels healing, no matter what

“It brings many emotions to the surface. When your child feels safe, happy, looks forward to the experience, the staff, and her surroundings…it is everything. The tranquility is felt when you enter the gates. Alexis is what I would choose for her in a big sister. She looks up to her, trusts her, and they share a love of the barn and horses.” – Tori’s mom, Lisa Barnes

Tori will not let a single person she encounters at The Red Barn remain a stranger. Gregarious and polite, she greets everyone with a smile and, “How are you today?” 

Before coming to the barn, Tori’s life was mostly about lists and structure. These lists helped some, but her mother Lisa wanted her daughter to find a place that could both help Tori grow and learn while also having fun. Tori has always loved animals, so when Lisa heard about the barn she decided Tori would enjoy being around horses and signed her up for several camps. 

It didn’t take long for Tori to connect both with the people and the horses here. She quickly befriended everyone she could and those bonds she formed were an obvious sign that she found a place where she truly belongs. Tori became a regular at The Red Barn holiday and term-long camps such as Bully in the Barn and Social Skills. 

Lisa quickly noticed a change within her daughter. While Tori has always been incredibly friendly, deeper communication has always been more difficult for her. Tori became much better about sharing her inner thoughts because she was so eager to relay details about all of the different activities she took part in during camps at the barn. Her time during the camps also sparked new interests for Tori. Lisa recalled when Tori learned to make butter during Pioneer Camp. Following that experience, Tori began eagerly offering to help her mom out in the kitchen, gaining interest in learning new culinary skills. 

After more than two years of being a regular on The Red Barn camp roster, a riding spot finally opened for Tori. Although Tori had hands-on ground experience around horses, riding presented a new and exciting challenge for her. Horseback riding requires a very precise and intimate communication between horse and rider. At first Tori took that for granted and assumed that riding was simply a fun activity that would help her with physical exercise. It didn’t take long for Tori to realize it was much more involved. She realized she had to fully follow her instructor’s directions and be both firm and decisive in her communication with the horse while also being gentle and understanding of the horse’s needs. Being on horseback helped Tori better understand the back and forth nature of relationships, an abstract concept that Tori was able to grasp through the natural process of growing as a rider. 

Lisa has seen Tori transform during her time at the barn. For the first time in Tori’s life, she displayed an independent drive to improve herself through her desire to learn new riding skills. Even though Tori has found her passion in riding, she is still a regular in camps. Her mom reflects, “There is a spirit here and the people make it great. Tori can come to a class or lesson and she feels healing, no matter what.” 

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Biggest Smile in a While

“The Red Barn is a genuine source of support for my daughter. Their well-trained, compassionate staff provide a fresh set of eyes and ideas to help Sapphire develop goals and grow.” – Sapphire’s mom, Melissa Allen

Sapphire’s mom, Melissa, wanted to find an activity that would enable her child to express herself. She recalled a day camp at The Red Barn that Sapphire had attended years before with another organization working with the barn. The two of them visited for a tour and evaluation and instantly fell in love with the horses and the people. However, as a single mother of two adopted kids, Melissa was worried about being able to afford the cost of lessons. Luckily, The Red Barn’s scholarship program had an available spot for Sapphire.

In the summer of 2019, Sapphire attended both a teen social skills class and a family group with her mom through the scholarship. Despite having thoroughly enjoyed the day camp from several years previously and her excitement to be around horses again, Sapphire couldn’t help her nervousness on her first day. It was a change in her comfort zone, and she had little experience around horses. Though horse lovers can attest to the calm and gentle nature of these animals, many people are often unsettled in their first few close-up encounters simply because they’ve never been so close to such a large animal. 

Despite her initial concerns, Sapphire instantly connected with Panda. In her first week, Sapphire was tasked with matching her breathing and rhythm with Panda’s. Horses have a naturally slower respiratory rate at about 10 to 12 breaths per minute. Sapphire was able to match Panda’s breathing, and both she and her horse noticeably relaxed. Since then, she has found the presence of horses to be a natural source of calmness. Not only that, Sapphire has carried over these lessons on regulating her breathing in her home life and is often able to calm down with the help of the family dog, Pharaoh. 

Last autumn, Sapphire began receiving occupational therapy with our on-staff occupational therapist, Ellen. One of Sapphire’s primary improvements is evident in her posture. She no longer slouches her shoulders and stands up much straighter. Sapphire was able to connect her improved posture with her previous social skills lessons on presenting positive body language when speaking with others. This change of posture greatly enhanced her confidence as well. With her shoulders back and her head up straight, she no longer looks down as she walks, helping her better connect with peers at school. 

Amidst the chaos of the pandemic and when she needed a stable activity the most, Sapphire began taking riding lessons for the first time in May 2020. She had never ridden a horse before. Upon hopping down after her first ever ride, Sapphire said, “I haven’t smiled this big in a long time!” 

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Blake’s Story

“We are so thankful for The Red Barn. Blake works so well with y’all and everyone at the barn works well with him. We love that you have the Saturdays where he can show family what he has learned. He won a first-place award in the fall. Blake was so humble when he said ‘It wasn’t about winning, it’s about having fun.’” – Blake’s grandmother, Margarita Roe 

Blake lost his father at 6 years old. He was then adopted by his grandparents, who quickly saw the overwhelming grief was affecting Blake at a very deep level. A typically polite, gentle, and patient boy, he withdrew within himself and began needing frequent redirection in school. To help him overcome and properly express his grief, Blake’s grandmother Margarita began searching for help. That was when a family friend mentioned The Red Barn.

Margarita was instantly intrigued. Blake’s late father owned a horse, which Blake often rode as a young child. Margarita hoped the barn could be a place that could not only help Blake to heal from his grief, but also allow him to better remember his dad and the happiness they shared in outdoor activities such as fishing and riding horses. 

Blake began riding at The Red Barn in 2017, and in his own words calls it, “my happy place.” Margarita also grew up horseback riding but has been amazed at how much love and care the barn exhibits in teaching its students and caring for its horses. She says The Red Barn is like a big family, and that she also feels at peace when here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not only is the barn a place where Blake has found peace and happiness, it has also fostered personal growth. Having ridden here for more than two years, Blake is one of our more experienced riders and has graduated beyond the need for sidewalker assistance. He’s also ridden a number of different horses at the barn. One of the moments that best reflects Blake’s growth was clear when he began riding Luna. 

Luna was new to the program at the time, so she wasn’t as accustomed to the different patterns or routines as Blake’s previous horses. Blake was also growing more independent and needed a horse that would challenge him to properly communicate. It was a match made in heaven, though it certainly didn’t come without its challenges. Early on, Blake struggled to steer Luna in a pattern, particularly when guiding her in circles around a barrel. Despite the difficulties, he didn’t get frustrated, nor did he ever blame her for the miscommunication. Blake noted to his instructor Sylvie, “Steering Luna is a lot like talking to a new friend.” With practice and perseverance, Blake and Luna broke through and were able to properly understand one another, and the two are now great friends. 

The Red Barn has enabled Blake to grow in ways outside of riding, too. Blake expresses his appreciation through acts of service and prefers to clean his horse’s stall or refill their water bucket while his volunteers get his horse groomed and tacked. His assistance with chores at the barn has carried over to his home life. Margarita says Blake is more mindful of helping around the house and is more organized in all aspects of his life. 

Perhaps the moment that best reflects Blake’s growth and healing from his time at The Red Barn came during the 2019 Fun Show. Blake felt extremely nervous on the day of the show and even asked his instructor if he could pull his name from the show. Fortunately, his grandfather convinced him to push through his fear. Not only did Blake ride, but he won first place in his class. He was overjoyed and showed his blue ribbon to everyone. The sense of accomplishment was palpable. 

Though his father may no longer physically be with him, Blake understood he was watching, too. And the first words Blake said after receiving his ribbon? “My daddy would have been so proud of me.” 

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Owen’s Story

“It means an affordable activity for my sweet boy. An activity that expands Owen’s world and helps his development.  It means a safe place that I can take Owen where he is understood, loved and accepted.  It means help and healing. It means my boy is going to get some horse lovin’. Thank you, Red Barn!” – Owen’s mom, Jennifer Ward

Owen has always been a joy to those who know him. He eagerly tries his hardest to please anyone and everyone that he can. However, he has struggled with change in the past.  And while Owen is well-behaved, his social development lagged slightly behind his peers. He would display behaviors such as intentionally wearing his shoes on the wrong feet. It was not a defiant act, but instead for sensory stimulus; when the shoes were worn incorrectly, they applied additional pressure that helps those with Autism Spectrum Disorder feel more regulated and secure. 

Owen has taken part in several different therapies to help with such challenges. However, therapy is expensive, and they didn’t provide Owen the assistance he needed beyond the clinical office setting. In the waiting room for one of these therapies, Owen’s mother found an alternative solution: The Red Barn. 

After a bit of research, Owen’s mother determined The Red Barn was the ideal place for Owen to grow and to feel secure. She desperately wanted her son to feel the joy of bonding with animals and new people, and she knew this would open new feelings in Owen’s heart. Unfortunately, Owen’s family was already paying so much for other therapies that they could only afford for him to come to The Red Barn on a scholarship. It took more than two years on the waitlist, but eventually a space in the riding program opened up for Owen. 

Since he began riding in June 2019, Owen has made incredible progress in many different ways. His core muscles have gotten much stronger, which improves his posture, coordination, and balance. Owen’s mom also noticed that her son no longer puts his shoes on the wrong feet. She mentioned this change in behavior to one of Owen’s therapists, and he responded that the change is likely due to Owen’s sensory input needs being met through riding and other activities at the barn. 

Owen has also learned how to better accept change in his life from his time at the barn. During his first two riding terms, Owen exclusively rode Zeus and was not receptive to riding other horses. However, a new horse named Buzz finished his trial period training and was ready to step into The Red Barn’s riding program by January 2020. Sylvie, Owen’s instructor, determined that Buzz’s movement would be more beneficial both for developing Owen’s core muscles, and in being more flexible with the “go with the flow” nature of Owen’s lessons. 

Owen quickly bonded with Buzz, and the transition went so smoothly that it surprised even his mom. Owen demonstrated his deep appreciation of his new friend by intentionally wearing Buzz Lightyear shirts to the barn. However, Owen would pointedly ignore Zeus whenever he walked past his pasture. His mom mentioned that Owen had trouble accepting when people he had been close to moved away or were unable to be around as frequently. He would ignore these friends and family members after they had been absent, which often strained those relationships. Sylvie and Owen’s mom discussed his detachment from Zeus, and brainstormed ways to help rebuild the relationship. They wanted Owen to understand that though he wasn’t currently riding Zeus, the horse with whom he first bonded was still his friend. 

To help Owen reach this realization, Sylvie and Owen’s team of volunteers would make a big show of waving and speaking to Zeus with a fond, “Hello!”  whenever they walked by him. They would also make sure to give two peppermint treats to horses at the end of Owen’s lesson. One went to Buzz of course, and for the first couple of weeks the other went to Buzz’s best equine friend, Woody. Sylvie explained that although Buzz and Woody weren’t currently spending time together, that Buzz would be happy knowing his best buddy was also getting a treat. 

After those initial weeks, Sylvie started allowing Owen to choose who would get the other peppermint. He eventually chose to give Zeus the treat on two occasions. He also started waving with the rest of his team whenever they passed Zeus’s pasture, illustrating a regard for his former riding companion. 

Owen’s mom is overjoyed with the progress her son is making. Yet she is happiest that Owen has a place where he can be himself and connect with animals and people, and that his instructors are always willing to listen to his needs and adjust to what best suits him. His mom says visiting the barn is “the favorite part of my week, driving to a place where people love my kid and it’s just peaceful. You couldn’t be in a more healing environment.”

 

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Future Videographer

Others may see his physical and behavioral differences, but we see how far Jackson has come because of The Red Barn. Jackson was born with Cerebral Palsy after he suffered a brain hemorrhage and stroke during his birth. Doctors said he would never walk or talk. Later, he was also diagnosed with Autism and struggled with grief after losing his mother at age 5. Therapy at The Red Barn has helped him with all of that. His motor skills, core strength, balance, and communication skills have all improved.               – Jackson’s adoptive mom, Leah

He arrives at the barn with a smile on his face. He runs to the board to see who Miss Sylvie has him riding that day. His name is Jackson and he has a passion for filming. 

Fortunately, The Red Barn is able to incorporate his love of filming into his lessons. The barn’s videographer will often stand in the middle of the arena filming as Jackson completes each task. He asks to view the video after every task, but his instructor tells him that he must wait to see the video until the end. It serves as motivation to complete each task. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jackson works hard doing everything the instructors and volunteers ask him to do. His overall health has improved, but he has also improved as a rider. Jackson has learned how to retrieve stuffed animals during riding games, as well as how to maintain concentration while riding. His increase in stamina shows, as well, as he trots around the arena. When he finishes each lesson, he has a huge smile on his face as he finally gets to watch the videos from his lesson. 

In addition, The Red Barn has helped Jackson emotionally. When one of the horses, Red Flight, passed away, Jackson learned a new way to deal with grief. The instructors and volunteers were able to teach him that even though Red Flight was gone, we are able live on with the sweet memories we have of him. This was a pivotal moment for Jackson, as he could relate it to his mother’s death. 

The best part about Jackson’s time at The Red Barn is that he has no idea that it is therapeutic! During sessions, he exerts all his efforts into doing his best which he usually doesn’t do for other therapy sessions. The results evident to his parents are cause for great joy. 

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She Lived

The Accident

On January 10th, 2009, we came home from the baby shower for my son. Someone had left a loaded gun in their vehicle. When they tried to remove it, it dry fired. It went through the seat and the door when my daughter Hailey Grace was walking around the side of the car. She was hit on impact with shrapnel from the bullet. The doctors told us she wouldn’t live through the night. That day is now known as ‘Hailey Grace Day’ because she did. She lived.

  • Hailey Grace’s mom, Christy

In the blink of an eye, Christy Leslie went from having a typical child to having one who is legally blind, cognitively impaired, and suffering from PTSD. After the accident, Hailey Grace was forced to re-learn everyday activities most people take for granted; she spent months in the hospital learning how to walk, talk, and eat. She also struggled to find adequate therapeutic opportunities. Hailey Grace graduated from her occupational therapy program because there was “nothing more they could do” for her physical and speech impairments. The Red Barn not only offers physical benefits, but also a sense of comfort and hope that traditional therapies cannot. 

 

 

She LIVED, and Now She Rides

Being at The Red Barn has given Hailey Grace confidence and autonomy, on top of the physical benefits. Hailey Grace’s instructor pushes her to do things because she knows she is capable. She makes her clip on the reins and buckle the saddle’s girth underneath the horse, which strengthens Hailey Grace’s right-sided weakness. She has also learned the meaning of cause-and-effect; if she doesn’t do what she’s supposed to do, then she’s not going to get to do what she wants to do: ride horses. 

Hailey Grace loves The Red Barn so much that she even created a braille calendar so that she can count down the days until her next riding lesson, which are marked on the calendar with a sticker. 

The Leslie family now celebrates the anniversary of Hailey Grace’s accident with cupcakes and happiness. They don’t want the memory to haunt Hailey Grace and tear her down, but rather to empower her. They want Hailey Grace to look back on the day and remember it as “the day God decided that I was going to live and I was going to prove to everybody that I could do anything.” The Red Barn has helped Hailey Grace find the ability, both physically and emotionally, to prove that.

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A Home Away from Home

No Care in the World at the Barn

James laid across the hammock in front of the white barn, relaxing as his instructor, Barratt, gently rocked it back and forth. His sister, Lily, returned from a visit to see the goats and bunnies on the lower half of the property. She was hand-in-hand with her instructor, Alexis, who bent down to listen as Lily whispered something into her ear. Both children were giggling wildly, without any apparent care in the world. 

For years, James and Lily’s mom questioned whether this day would ever come. Repeated traumas threatened to steal their childhood innocence and no amount of traditional therapy seemed able to repair it. The two experienced a wide range of after effects, from separation anxiety to generalized anger, which only seemed to worsen with time. A family friend recommended The Red Barn. 

A Safe Place to Belong and Learn

Lily, an avid animal lover, was instantly hooked. She found that she was able to bring her love of stuffed animals to life while simultaneously gaining confidence and independence. At the barn, Alexis encouraged Lily to make her own decisions, whether that meant choosing her horse for the week or choosing which direction she wished to ride. The Red Barn provided Lily a safe place to belong and be herself, which translated to other areas of her life. Though still shy, she no longer dreads going to school. She learned to actually enjoy it.

James was slower to attach to the barn. Unlike Lily, he was initially afraid of the horses; to a boy of barely five, they were larger than life. That all changed when he started taking weekly lessons. He began by establishing a close bond with Barratt over their mutual love of nature. James excitedly examined rock after rock by her side, as she shared a constant stream of information which he soaked in like a sponge. As he grew to love and trust Barratt, he also grew to trust the horses. James had confidence that Barratt would never place him in harm’s way. After weeks of ground lessons, he finally agreed to ride. He then began riding weekly, with each session being just a little longer than the last one. At the barn, he got to quench his constant thirst for knowledge while regulating his emotions through riding and playing. 

Therapeutic Benefits of Riding are Undeniable

Neither James nor Lily was comfortable establishing boundaries of their respective comfort zones, and they each had to learn the value of the word “no.” Outside of home, Lily would merely shut down, while James was more likely to act out. Each is now willing to speak up when asked to do something they don’t feel comfortable doing. They learned to be assertive.  

Mom largely attributed their success to the relationship between instructor and child; without the support and trust of their instructors, neither James nor Lily would have ever been willing to get on a horse. She believed the therapeutic benefits of riding, however, are undeniable.  

I have heard that horses help with kids who have been through trauma. I have noticed in our own involvement in lessons that it has given my children confidence. They work with an animal that is so much bigger than them. The instructors empower them and help them realize they can do anything they put their mind to. Riding the horses gives them a sense of control because they think they are the ones steering the horse, even though the horse is under control of the horse handlers. Everything about the lessons help them not only in their barn work, but also at home.  –James and Lily’s Mom

These benefits only seemed to increase over time, as each child spent more and more time on horseback. Although the physical benefits of horseback riding were clear, James and Lily illustrated the emotional benefits, as well. 

Something to Look Forward To

As they headed out the barn’s gates, James and Lily reluctantly waved goodbye to Barratt, Alexis, and all of the horses. Until they returned, they wouldn’t stop thinking about what the next visit would hold. James wondered which rocks and plants Barratt would show him under the microscope. Lily looked forward to wrapping her arms around Mazie, her favorite horse of the week. Mom slept a little easier, knowing her kids had found a home-away-from-home.

Alexis, left and Barratt, right While Barratt is no longer at the barn, the love she gave the students and horses while here will never be forgotten. Barratt, you are missed!

 

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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

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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.”