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Max is Helping Children

Life-Changing Friend

Max has been a life-changing friend to many children whose lives have been dramatically impacted by the last year’s stressful events. He competed for years as a jumper and took a break from competing in horse shows before coming to the barn. Max enjoys teaching students the basics of steering, transitioning from walking to “whoa,” and how to sit in the saddle appropriately by putting weight on their heels.

He helps students develop patience, confidence, and learn how to build trust. Riding Max takes courage and could be intimidating at times due to his size. But he does a great job of taking care of his students and at the same time challenge them to make sure they’re giving him the right commands.

Because of our donors, Max and our other amazing horses are happy, healthy, and well-fed all year round. If you want to join our donors in helping kids work with Max and horses like him, you can donate today!

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Horse Show Season

Years in the Making

Have you ever been in a horse show? I have not, but after hearing about our students’ experiences over the past couple of months, I feel like I have missed out! 

The Red Barn staff is full of talented riders who have wanted to give our students that horse show experience for years. Seriously, taking students to horse shows has been on the strategic plan for a LONG time. Well, the stars have aligned, and students have been showing and having an absolutely wonderful time doing it, just like we knew they would!

They Took the Risk

A total of eight students have shown in two shows this season- the Alabama Charity Championship Horse Show and the Alabama Classic Horse Show. These kids worked hard, mastered some difficult skills, got dressed up all fancy, and took a risk competing while knowing that they might not win anything at all. While you can see that some of our students did win ribbons, they all grew in confidence, made friendships, bonded with the horses, and grew a little more in their belief that they can do what any other kid can do.

Our students aren’t the only ones who shined either! The Red Barn has the best horses in the world, and several of our amazing horses showed with our students. They knew exactly what each student needed and when they needed it. They worked hard for their kids and just had the best time. 

Made of Steel

Just LOOK AT THESE FACES! Our students shined bright at both shows. Their past doesn’t define them. Their abilities don’t define them. Their struggles don’t define them! Thanks to our generous donors, these kids went to a horse show and proved to themselves that they belong and are strong.  We already knew they were made of steel!

How did these kids prepare to go to these shows? I’m glad you asked! Most instructors at The Red Barn don’t just teach others how to ride horses. They ride, too.

Alexis Braswell has numerous championships and was an invaluable source of information for the parents and kids. In 2010 and 2011, Alexis and her old horse, Charm, were World Reserve Champions in their division. In 2012, she and Chili were Reserve World Champions in their division. She won world championship titles while riding friends’ horses in 2016 and 2017. Just this season, Alexis and Chili have been undefeated in their division! They won all of their 5 gaited country pleasure classes at Pro-Am Charity Horse Show, MidSouth Spring Premiere Horse Show, Alabama Classic Horse Show, and Alabama Charity Championship Horse Show.  Alexis and her other horse, Mac, took 2nd place at the MidSouth Spring Premiere and Alabama Classic.

Mary Beth Vaughn has shown in Birmingham Dressage and Combined Training for three years. She also now shows her personal horse, Havana, at the Full Circle Horse Park Schooling Shows. They have won some 2′ and some 2’3″ show jumping classes and placed third in their first Dressage test in intro A.  Mary Beth and Havana joined in on the fun at the Alabama Charity Championship Horse Show in Decatur, placing 4th in the open walk trot and 5th in the walk-trot championship. She also showed our very own Luna in Decatur last year, placing 1st in the walk-trot horsemanship and 3rd in the equitation academy class. She also showed our own Dolly in the Alabama Classic Horse Show in Rainsville and placed 2nd in the open walk trot canter and walk trot canter championship. Last October, she showed a friend’s horse and placed 2nd out of 11 in the open hunter pleasure championship class. 

Ivey Wise rode in the Alabama Classic Horse Show and placed 1st place in showmanship walk trot canter, 1st place in equitation walk trot canter, and 1st place in the walk trot canter championship. She also showed at the Alabama Charity Championship and placed 5th in showmanship walk trot canter, 4th in equitation walk trot canter, and 5th in the walk trot canter championship.

Jordan Belzer showed in the 2019 National Georgia Draft Horse Show. She showed a 6 month old filly named Athena and a 4 month old colt named Hector. Jordan says that entering and doing well at a horse show is the most rewarding experience!

most rewarding experience!

As you can see, our instructors are good at what they do. They love what they do so much that they ride and show their own horses on nights and weekends when they’re not at the barn! With that level of talent and dedication among our staff coupled with our well-trained horses and hard-working students, this is sure to be just the first of many successful show seasons for The Red Barn. 

 

Here’s to many more horse shows to come. Enjoy these super cute pictures!

 

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Get Your Eyes Fixed by Jason Daggett

As a kid, I used to watch a lot of baseball. I loved seeing the big leaguers get in the batter’s box, dig in, and get set for the ball to be delivered. I loved it all. Then I realized one day that the grass on the field was amazing. The different patterns and shapes that were on the fields were incredible. I was speechless one night when the Chicago White Sox came on TV and had the most intricate pattern I had ever seen. They had lines birthed by second base extending out to the fence that looked like the rays of the sun. I fell in love less with baseball but more with the grass patterns. They had even put the White Sox logo in centerfield. What a gorgeous sight! 

I had to know how to recreate those patterns, how to get the beautiful perfectly straight lines across my yard and the other yards in my neighborhood that I mowed. So, for the next five yards, I worked on cutting in straight lines. I started by trying to just use the edge of the sidewalk or driveway and just going with the pattern of the walkway. Then I would come back in the opposite direction twenty-one inches over and repeat until lawn perfection was achieved. Wow, what a mess! The first thing I discovered was the path I started with was not perfectly straight. I then learned that if the first cut path isn’t straight, the rest of the cuts just get farther and farther off. Lawn perfection was certainly not achieved after all! 

I puzzled for some time on how to get this straight. I thought of actually driving a stake in the ground and pulling a string to get a perfect line. It was a solid idea in theory, but not at all practical. I tried to just walk straight. I pushed the mower and made a conscious effort to go straight forward. Whenever I felt myself drifting, I would look down to correct my path. Then God spoke in a small voice about his friend, Peter. As I puzzled about how to get a perfect path, God reminded me of two different verses. 

Proverbs 3: 4-5, Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.

That is what I wanted, straight lines (paths) in my grass. Is that what Proverbs meant? Could God’s love of grass be the same as mine? This was exciting that the creator of lawns cared enough to put that verse in the Bible just for me. Wow!

Then I thought of Peter in Matthew 14. Peter is known for a lot, but his short walking on water gig will live in vacation Bible school curriculums for eternity. Peter took his eyes off Jesus and became a sinking rock. The Proverbs verse and the Matthew 14 story of Peter and Jesus hit me right between the eyes.

I grabbed my mower and went to the corner of the largest yard in my neighborhood. I picked a fence post on the opposite end of the 30-yard lawn. I stared at the post, started the mower, and walked straight at the post. I never blinked, never checked the ground to see if there were holes, I simply fixed my eyes on a target and went straight to it. My natural desire was to look down or to look back to make sure I was going straight, but I resisted that temptation. 

This yard always grew faster than the homeowner’s paycheck. The grass always grew taller than it should have been. When I got to the other side of the yard, I turned to see the status of my first line and was amazed. I was looking at a swath of grass that created a perfect 4-inch gulf in the unkempt lawn. And that swath was straight, laser beam straight! I turned and put the left side wheels on the edge of the swath and headed back the other direction. One hour later, as I was putting the mower in the back of my 1993 Chevy truck, a man stopped beside me and gawked in amazement at the perfect straight-line pattern. 

The man only said one word: “how?” I looked him in the eye and said you have to keep your eyes on Jesus! After a smile and shake of his head, he drove off. 

This was the start of a tradition that my family makes fun of me about to this day. After I cut a yard, the next time the family is going somewhere in our minivan, we drive by the yard and my wife and kids are required to give a heartfelt “ooooooh, awwwwww, wow…”

I started a new pattern of cutting that day. Each time I go to cut The Red Barn pastures, I alternate the direction that I cut. It is actually healthy for the grass to be cut from a different direction each time. The blade of the grass will start to lay down in the direction of the cut if cut in the same direction every time. 

Spiritual Applications: 

Our tendency as humans is to “lean on our own understanding.” It is easy to start taking back control of the reins and try harder to do right. Looking around at our circumstances and looking back to see where we have been will not help you get where you should be going. The best way to stay on a direct road to God is to fix your eyes on Jesus and walk every step with Him as your beacon. 

If this happens, and your life starts to look great, someone will stop and ask, “how?” Our job is to be able to point them to the target of our path. Then they can join us in the journey straight to God. This draw toward the beauty of your life is what a dear realtor friend calls, “curb appeal.”

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What It Means to Be a Red Barn Horse by Alexis Braswell

Thank you, Alexis Braswell, for this beautiful tribute to Jessie.

If you know me, you know that it was no secret that Jessie was my favorite Red Barn Horse. In fact, Jessie was one of my favorite horses ever – and I’ve been around a lot of horses over the last 30 years. As cliché as it might sound, she was special.

Jessie was the first horse that I picked for The Red Barn as the leader of the Horse Team. I had taught other horses to be therapy horses, but I was either working under or alongside someone, or was working with one of my personal horses who had joined The Red Barn. There was a lot riding on this horse for me personally. Jessie taught me more about prepping and training Red Barn horses than any other horse I’ve ever worked, including my own. She was brilliant. She held me accountable and she made me think – a lot. She challenged me. She made me smile. She made me better. 

Jessie taught me the importance of making a plan. More specifically, Jessie taught, and frequently reminded me, that the horse training plan is, and always should be, based on the needs of the horse. People frequently ask what made me love Jessie so much. I’ve thought about that a lot and while I can’t define it 100%, I think I can get pretty close. 

Jessie’s work ethic was unparalleled. No matter how hot it was or how hard she had worked the day before, her ears were always up. She would’ve happily taught 10 lessons in a row if we’d let her. To this day, I have not met a horse with a better work ethic. 

Jessie changed lives and I loved that every time I had the privilege of working with her, I got to watch her make someone’s day better. If you were lucky enough to experience Jessie cuddling, then you know that I am talking about.

 I think my favorite Jessie connection was the one that she had with my student Reid. Reid rode Jessie for the first time in November 2015. The lesson note from that day reads: “Reid’s best lesson ever”. They hit it off from the beginning. Reid rode Jessie until she got sick in early 2019. At the time Reid began riding Jessie, his anxiety was high. The barn needed to be his safe place. He requested to just spend time relaxing with Jessie. For almost a year, with the approval of his parents, Reid’s lessons consisted of him lying on Jessie’s back and telling her funny stories. You could literally see the tension leave his body as soon as he was with her. 

After about a year, Reid told me one day he was ready to start steering again. He never looked back. Reid went from lying on Jessie bareback to riding independently at the posting trot. In his last lesson on Jessie during February 2019, Reid was learning to change his diagonal at the posting trot. Jessie gave him confidence that I could never have given him as an instructor. He trusted her and she trusted him. They were the epitome of a team. 

A common misconception of autism is that those on the spectrum lack empathy and the ability to connect with others. Reid loved and cared for Jessie. He worried about her when she got sick. Even when he could no longer ride Jessie, he would ask to take time to “just visit and love on her a little.” 

When it became apparent that Jessie would need to be put down, my heart broke. Not just for me, but for Reid and all the other people who loved her. We called to let Reid’s mom know and she brought Reid out to say goodbye. What I thought would be an incredibly gut-wrenching experience turned out to be one of my most memorable experiences from my time at The Red Barn. 

Reid’s love for Jessie was so apparent. He hugged her and thanked her and led her while she ate some grass. After about an hour, he left. Then he turned around and said he wanted to pray for Jessie. He prayed the most heartfelt prayer that I’ve ever heard in my life. Thankfully, someone recorded it. 

Here is a transcription of Reid’s prayer for Jessie: “Dear Lord, thank you for the time Jessie got to live down here on Earth. Help her to be brave when she goes to Heaven. Lord just keep us safe. Help us to help her have a good life in Heaven. Lord, we love you very much. Help everybody be happy and we love you very much Lord and we pray for you in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

That prayer brought comfort to all of us that day on a level we didn’t know was possible. Jessie connected to Reid on a level that can’t be explained other than by God. What makes Jessie even more incredible is that there are countless other stories out there of her doing the same thing for so many others. She really was special.

Unfortunately, cancer took Jessie from us too soon. I would have loved more time to learn from her, but I am eternally grateful for the 4 years I had with Jessie. She made every day at work better. She constantly reminded me why we do what we do and how life-changing a bond with a horse can be. There is not a day that goes by at the barn where I don’t use something Jessie taught me. Every program should be so lucky as to have a Jessie at least once. 

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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.