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Mrs. Cowart’s Stories- Chapter 12

Faith

Heathemoor Farm had come about in a very supernatural way. We had started desiring a larger farm than our cozy five acres in the middle of someone else’s two hundred acres. The desire increased continually. We had no money to buy a bigger farm, but I remembered a verse my seventh grade Bible teacher had taught us:

Delight thyself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 37:4

“If God is first in your life,” she had said, “He will give you the desire itself as well as the object.” John and I asked God to take away this desire if it was not from Him. If He had truly put this longing in our hearts, He would have to bring it about.

True to His word, He did not remove the desire and He worked it out with no money from us. We had also asked for a story that would be so unique that the telling of it would prove to people that the God of the Bible was still doing the same things today as He did in the Bible days. That is how we got this beautiful farm, but that’s a different story.

In the midst of these happy times there was ever a great burden hovering over our shoulders. The Heavenly Father was testing us, instructing us, stretching us. It was not His intent to save us from problems, but to teach us to trust in the midst of them, to trust Him to bring us through them. We had much to learn, not only about the horse business and the business of trusting God, but also about ourselves. We had been led into the horse business by some remarkable sign posts, but now we owned some fine young colts we could not sell. Untrained colts were not in demand in our part of the country; in fact, finished show horses themselves were not worth much here. The center of the horse business was around Lexington, Kentucky, and we were far from there and had no name that drew people from other parts of the country. How could we sell them? How could we train them?

It seemed we had come to a vast, dry desert. The miracles had stopped. Our story had never reached a climax. It appeared that the Heavenly Father had led us to a dead end, no one would be inspired. And, that was not all; I knew nothing about our finances at that time. Then, one evening I learned that all of our earthly assets were gone. John’s monthly salary was all that stood between us and disaster. I was devastated. That night I could not sleep. I got out of bed, put on my robe, and went for a walk. I walked out into the wide plain of the front pasture, where there were no trees or buildings to detract from the vastness of the sky. I sat down in the damp sweet grass and looked at the unfathomable black dome above me which twinkled with a million stars.

I got a small glimpse of the hugeness of the universe and the relative insignificance of man. In the past, such glimpses used to give me a sense of loneliness, of a lostness in this vast sea. Yet strangely there had never been that feeling of loneliness since we had moved to the country. Rather, there was a definite sense of a friendly Presence that permeated the entire atmosphere.

As I gazed up at the starry heavens, I thought of Abraham in the Bible. God called him out also to wonder at such a sky. He, too, was facing a broad desert for he was an old man and God had told him to try to count those uncountable stars. He told him that even though he had not a single child then, he would have as many descendants as there were stars in the sky. It seemed to me the same God that spoke to Abraham so long ago spoke to me that night. “Look all around you,” He seemed to say. “Are you not living in a miracle? Is not all this faith made sight?” I looked at the expanse of pastures stretching all around me, the dark forms of the mares grazing, the beautiful house in the distance, silvery white and silent against the dark background of the trees and the starry brilliance of the sky. Not one of us could have dreamed only a few years before that all this could ever be ours, that I should be mistress of this farm and these fine horses. It had come about in ways so out of the ordinary. It was a miracle! I was standing in the middle of a miracle! “If I could bring this to pass, if I could turn that shadowy dream into this substance, can’t you trust me to finish the story?” the voice seemed to say. I remembered the Biblical definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith was believing when you could not see.

The next step seemed clear to me that night. I had to wrench my grip away from all earthly security and with the arms of faith grab on literally for dear life to the promises of God. Although my only other choice was despair, it took a violent effort to make the switch, to reach out into the darkness and take hold of God, but the evidence of Him being there was all around me. From that point on I was almost afraid to have anything earthly to cling to, for fear I would have to make that leap again.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. It is the vehicle necessary to bring the promises of God into this natural creation. Without faith we cannot please God. By faith Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. I pray the same for me.

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Take the Reins

On a sunny day in Leeds, a group of veterans gather around the glistening pond where the property begins. They are here to participate in our Take the Reins program, which invites veterans and their families to come out for various activities at the barn. They congregate together today to do activities with the horses and to learn how to relax and cope with their PTSD. This program they are participating in is called “Take the Reins,” a metaphor for the veterans learning how to take the reins of life after war. 

The group walks from the pond to the upper barn. Two horses stand in the cross-ties while the veterans gather around to learn about their first activity – painting the horses. They can paint anything they want on the horses, whether the strokes have meaning or not. The goal is to allow them the artistic canvas while also reaping the benefits of interacting with the horse. As they begin, a strong, blonde-haired woman named Shelley paints on Black Flight with her neighbor, best friend, and fellow vet Pat. As Shelley paints, her markings come alive with colors and images that resemble memories: 

Here, near the front, I’ve painted the heart and stripes to show my love for my country. Those years of service will stay with me. On the horse’s rump, I’ve painted the United States Navy anchor with some pink, because I love pink and it should be more widely accepted in the military. On her front leg, I’ve painted vines and leaves growing up and wrapping around to show that my roots will always be on United States soil, no matter where I am. The yellow line painted on the horse’s spine is the yellow line of fear. Bravery is overcoming that fear.

The sense of relief and relaxation as she talks about her artwork on Black Flight is tangible. Black Flight exudes equal relaxation as she drops her head and breathes deeper with every brush stroke. Shiloh stands across from Black Flight. Shiloh is smaller than Black Flight, allowing a more comfortable option for those who are intimidated by larger horses. There are always options at The Red Barn, which finds people’s strengths and places them in positions that promote the opportunity to shine.

After finishing their exercises at the upper barn, they head back down to the pond where the original “Red Barn” building stands. This allows time for the veterans to reflect in a more open, natural space. As the geese float on the pond and the surrounding birds chirp, the group gathers around the amphitheater in between the Red Barn and the pond. The group breathes together and interacts with their surroundings. The veterans then engage in more art, writing, and acting sessions. 

During one of the writing sessions, Shelley’s friend Pat reads what she would tell her twenty-year-old self. Pat’s voice quivers as she reads aloud:

I was scared for the future, so I would have wanted to give my twenty-year-old self encouragement. I would tell her to trust in the Lord to show her the way, and to not fear the war. Recently, I have been attending grief counseling because my husband died in August. I’m giving my troubles and releasing my worries during these hours in counseling. Today has helped me so much. My parting words to my twenty-year-old self would be that you are going to go through hard times, but to be encouraged because God will help you and take you through them.

Pat’s powerful testimony shows how The Red Barn creates a space where participants can finally let go of their struggles. The horses’ calming attitudes have a way of tearing down emotional walls and helping create a sense of release. The atmosphere at The Red Barn naturally allows for people to not feel judged or pressured. The participants are encouraged and allowed to feel free of their burdens, even if just for a moment. Those that arrive on the property are  welcomed back with open arms. This is their place to belong.

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Audrey’s Story- In Her Own Words

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One warm sunny Monday morning my mom and I went to The Red Barn. We did chores like dusting and sweeping. Then, I rode on a horse named Black Flight. The beautiful horse and I trotted and strutted on a trail ride. Lastly, I take the saddle, bridle, squared pad, and the box that has a curry comb, hard brush, soft brush, hairbrush, and hoof pick. After I put the tack up, I hugged Black Flight two times. The Red Barn stands as my favorite place, full of beautiful animals. 

I enjoy the different textures of all the animals at the barn. A glamorous small female cat with soft fur touched and talked to me when she trotted toward the goats’ hut. She jumped the high fence so she could play with all the striking fluffy goats and mess with their plain wet food. Then she walked up to the very lovely furry bunnies. The black, brown, and white bunnies have a cute massive play area. The black one is my favorite one because she has a clever and witty way of life. The different textures are very unique to me. 

I enjoy the different appearances of the animals at The Red Barn. After the cat met the bunnies, she saw the birds fly by and a small bat trapped in the barn. The next day the bat flew back home in the dark creepy caves around mountains. When the bat flew away, a big group of horses galloped free until they were thirsty. 

I enjoy some of the smells from the broad barn. The elegant horses went back to The Red Barn to eat their awful stinky food. The horses ate hay and oats. The bunnies had a fancy crisp carrot cake and sweet carrot pie. And the goats had fresh hay and scrawny tree limbs. We had a lot of sweet homemade cookies to eat, and they were crunchy.

The Red Barn has grand sounds that I like. The air sounded peaceful with the birds singing a humorous song and some of them are gifted songs. The party’s in the merry barn where you can hear the brilliant horses neighing at a lot of people. The Christmas party and Bluegrass & Burgers are two of the events. In the afternoon you will hear a long high-pitched shrill chirping from a lot of birds. 

My favorite place stands as The Red Barn. I am happy when I am with all the animals. When I ride it feels peaceful because I am alone on the horse. The barn has a lot of fun activities to do which makes me want to go back often. 

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Partnering to Improve the Lives of Children with Disabilities and Communication Disorders

Children with communication disorders and other disabilities are often misunderstood by others who come in contact with them. For many children, these misunderstandings can result in undesirable encounters with law enforcement officers, some even resulting in arrest and imprisonment. Very little training is provided for law enforcement officers in how to appropriately communicate with individuals who have communication disorders and/or disabilities. Those who have communication disorders or disabilities often struggle with responding appropriately in stressful situations, understanding and following directions, and complying with direct orders. Children with these kinds of disabilities are not regularly exposed to law enforcement officers and taught how to respond correctly. Minimal training for officers, as well as limited interactions between the two groups, can create a perfect storm of confusion, distrust, and misunderstanding.

What is being done about this issue? I’m glad you asked! The Red Barn has partnered with the JAYC Foundation on an initiative to close the gap between children with disabilities and law enforcement officers. The American Legion Child Welfare Foundation has awarded a grant that will provide the resources to create an educational video for officers, as well as a social story for children. The instructional video will be made available online. The social story will also be available to download, which will explain to children what they should do if approached by a police officer. Additional resources for parents will be provided free of charge on the JAYC website.

Filming the video at The Red Barn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone involved in this project hopes that schools (many of which now have a full-time police presence) and police precincts will incorporate these free resources to better prepare for interactions between these two wonderful groups of people.

The Red Barn and other similar agencies around the country will extend opportunities to local law enforcement agencies to have opportunities to interact with horses. What do horses have to do with this? Well, horses cannot speak and tell you what they are thinking. They use non-verbal indicators to communicate with others. While most of their communication is very different from humans, there are similarities. Teaching adults how to read the body language of horses and how to approach them safely helps prepare them for working with individuals with communication disorders.

Our very own founder, Joy O’Neal, has been working diligently on this project with Jaycee Dugard, Rebecca Bailey, Laura Vogtle, Jan Rowe, and Shelley Jones, as well as numerous parents of children with communication disorders. We want to thank all of these organizations and individuals for continually working toward the goal of making our world a more inclusive and understanding place!

Lights, camera, action!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are so excited about this amazing opportunity to further serve children with disabilities, improving their lives, and teaching others how to communicate effectively with them. The potential exists for amazing progress to be made in this area, so please pray with us for the success of this program!

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Our Invaluable Summer Interns

Amazing Interns

The Red Barn could not operate with just our staff alone. As hard as we work, it is physically impossible for our small staff to serve 100 kids a week all while caring for 16 horses, 4 goats, 3 bunnies, 2 cats, and a 31-acre property that needs constant upkeep and repair. Thankfully, the barn is blessed with help from an amazing group of volunteers! And every summer, a number of high school volunteers pursue an internship at the Red Barn. This year we had six such interns: Abi, Alyssa, Cianan, Emily, Olivia, and Taylor.

Our summer interns help with everything! From side-walking and horse-handling in group riding lessons, to assisting in unmounted camps, and helping complete the daily and weekly tasks necessary to the barn’s operation. Their help is invaluable, especially when factoring in the grueling summertime heat and humidity. It’s not easy mucking stalls when you are sweat-soaked and exhausted after an 8-hour day, but our interns never once complained.

They also fill important roles as peer helpers to our students. Teenage interns and volunteers help bridge the age gap between our instructors and students, enabling younger students to feel more comfortable and willing to engage. Every child and young teen needs someone close to their age that they can both relate to and look up to. I can’t think of better peer role models than our six summer interns.

We cannot thank our interns enough for their hard work and sincerely hope our symbiotic relationship provided them with plenty of valuable knowledge and experience. Working with the population we serve can provide insight for any young person interested in pursuing careers in education, counseling, occupational therapy, and many other fields. Furthermore, and possibly even more importantly, this kind of work serves to build empathy and compassion.

Our internship program also requires each intern complete a research-based project. The projects this year included:

• A promotional video for the Red Barn
• A 5-page research paper covering insurance and accessible riding
• A spinning wheel that offers students options in a fun, engaging way
• A PowerPoint connecting Christ to horseback riding
• A felt board to be used in unmounted lessons that works on a student’s fine motor skills
• A school curriculum designed to be accessible and engaging to students of all kinds

I speak for the entire staff when I say that we are impressed by our interns’ amazing creativity and hard work. All six of you played invaluable roles in making this Summer term successful. Thank you so much Abi, Alyssa, Cianan, Emily, Olivia, and Taylor for all your dedication!

 

 

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What the Take the Reins Run Means to Us

After being deployed three times, once to Iraq, our son, USMC Cpl. Anthony Clay Ward died by suicide on June 13, 2009.  You hear a great deal about men returning with PTSD or TBI (traumatic brain injury), but also many men carry ‘moral injuries ‘ which war can bring. Clay suffered from the injuries to his soul.

As Clay’s Mom (Debbie Ward), I became friends with many of his Marine brothers. They and their families have blessed ours tremendously! Some of these men contacted me in 2014 with a plan to come to town in 2015 and run 6 miles in memory of the 6th anniversary of Clay’s death. The Red Barn is a big part of our family, so when I bounced ideas off the staff,  Joy O’Neal offered to host the run through The Red Barn. Needless to say, I was delighted!! The Take the Reins Run has now become an annual event; this year our 4th!

The run has been such a healing time for all of us, our family as well as his Marine brothers. 

 

Each year we’ve had 20-35 Marines (counting family members). It is amazing to see many men return every year. You may think that this would be a sad time, but not so. We remember all the good times (and do they have stories!), celebrate Clay’s by living in the moment of the reunion. Great healing has taken place through various things we do, including our annual trip to the Red Barn. They don’t want to leave!

I am often asked how the Run has helped us or Clay’s Marine brothers heal.  After Clay’s death, we found The Red Barn. Our daughter, Abi, Clay’s sister, began to participate in many of the programs offered by the barn. As a family, we integrated ourselves into many aspects of the barn.  While our hearts will always be wounded, we began to heal.

As for the Marines, I think one of Clay’s Marine brothers, Joseph, says it well.  Joseph’s note from 2017:

“Last weekend was such a spectacular time which lasted as quick as a blink of an eye. We gathered from across the nation once again to remember our brother who left us way too soon from his PTSD wound, Cpl. Anthony Clay Ward. Not only does this bring awareness outside the military/veteran community but his memory lives on through us. Each gathering has been helpful for many of us to cope and heal in our own way and helped enable us to share our experiences with others, which is the most difficult thing to do. With each gathering, our bond/brotherhood grows stronger and so does Clay’s memory. Momma Ward, Allan, and Abi, you have opened your home to us strangers and embraced us into your heart as family with such love and kindness that is insurmountable. Thank you! As Allan said after the run, “It’s now tradition” which means more participants will arrive and so will more veterans who knew Clay. Looking forward to creating more memories next year with all of you amazing people. Love you all and Semper Fidelis Joseph Mitjavila Los Angeles, CA”

Get ready, THE MARINES ARE COMING!  Please come out to greet them and thank them for their service! Give them a warm Alabama welcome! 

– Debbie Ward
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Have a Special Needs Child? Read These Articles!

The staff at The Red Barn have a special vantage point for seeing the unique trials faced by parents of children with special needs. Parenting is difficult even if your child is typical, but it is “a whole different ball game” when your child faces challenges every day that most people do not face in their whole lives.

For this reason, our amazing intern Emily Davidson put together a list of resources for our parents and anyone else who could benefit! This great information has been written by other people and agencies and we do not own any of the following content, but we do hope that this is helpful for the parents of our students.

  1. 10 Reasons Special Needs Parents Should Join a Support Group
  2. Parenting a Special Needs Child
  3. Mental Health Benefits: State Laws Mandating or Regulating
  4. 7 Things You Don’t Know About a Special Needs Parent
  5. Parent to Parent USA/Alabama
  6. National Autism Academy Offers Free 7-Part Video Series for Parents of Autistic Children
  7. Special Needs Kids Don’t Need Special Parents
  8. 20 Things Every Parent of Kids with Special Needs Should Hear
  9. Caring for Siblings of Children with Special Needs
  10. Disciplining Your Child with Special Needs
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Hello… and Goodbye

We love teaching. We believe in helping others learn how to facilitate healing with the aid of horses. Equine-assisted therapies are effective, not to mention fun, so why not be excited about teaching up-and-coming professionals in the field?

We also LOVE OUR VOLUNTEERS! Volunteers provide essential hands during lessons and camps, contribute new and fresh ideas for our programs, assist in the strategic planning process, and help us to pull off special events.

These two passions converge in our internship program. Every year, the best of the best college interns grace our barns to lend a hand while gaining invaluable professional experience. Interns are invited to participate in everything- the day-to-day of running a barn and caring for horses, planning camps and classes, attending staff meetings, giving input on important decisions, and of course, serving our adorable students.

Here’s a glimpse into our two amazing interns “on staff” right now.

Hello!

MaryBeth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MaryBeth Knapp is a 22-year-old, horse-loving, Huntsville native. She earned her Equine Science degree from Auburn University and is now working to become a PATH certified instructor. She first learned about The Red Barn while studying at AU, and we are so grateful that she liked what she learned!

MaryBeth is now interning at the barn at least through the summer. She already has the riding experience needed for her future career since she began riding dressage when she was only 10 years old. But now she is getting experience working with people of all abilities while assisting during lessons, helping care for the horses, doing barn chores, and even helping with camps and social skills classes!

Please help us welcome MaryBeth if you see her around the barn!

Goodbye… 🙁

Emily

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emily Davidson is a 24-year-old Masters of Social Work student at the University of Alabama. She was born in Florence and received her bachelor’s degree in Social Work from the University of North Alabama. She grew up with horses and knew that she wanted to help people and work with vulnerable populations, so it was not difficult to put the two together when she toured The Red Barn last year. Wasting no time, Emily immediately asked Joy about the possibility of an internship. No surprise- her internship began in January!

While interning at the barn, Emily has been helping with lessons and camps, doing needs assessments with the parents of our students, completing some of the never-ending barn chores, and she has also put together a resource guide for the parents of our students. (Pssst: You can look for that resource guide to be published here within the next week!)

Emily is breaking ground as the University of Alabama’s first Social Work student to intern in EAT (equine assisted therapy). After graduating on May 4, she hopes to eventually use her love and knowledge of horses while providing services to those in need.

Please help us congratulate Emily on her upcoming graduation and thank her for all of the hard work she has put in at the barn! Leave her a word of encouragement on our Facebook page.

Your donations make it possible to share faith, hope, and love with children and train tomorrow’s leaders of the equine industry.  Give today to continue doubling the impact of your donation to reach even more children and families in need.

 

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Keep Calm. Spring is Coming!

What does it take to have an amazing spring term?

Our spring term begins on Monday, April 2! We are so excited about the beautiful weather and to see the smiling faces of our students. But have you wondered what it takes to “pull off” a spring term at The Red Barn?

Admin Team

Let’s start with the administrative side of things. First, the previous fall term’s students are contacted to confirm that they’d like to return for the spring. Then their day of the week and time for their lesson are both confirmed and the student is placed on the spring schedule. Once the returning students are scheduled, the waiting list is examined to determine if there are any availabilities that match an open time spot with an appropriate horse and instructor.  Click here to read more about our waiting list. At the same time, staff schedules are also being planned for the term and updated student paperwork is received and processed.

Programs Team

Instructors discuss riding goals with the parents and students as well as determine how many volunteers will be needed for their lesson if any.  Available volunteers are paired up with the students who need them the most. Meetings are scheduled so that student, parent, volunteer(s), and the instructor can meet and get familiar with each other. This allows students to be more comfortable with their lesson helpers, volunteers to be better prepared, instructors to know what to expect, and parents to share their goals for their child’s upcoming term.

Once lesson goals are decided they are entered into the database. Contact information is used to invoice parents. Lesson plans are created based on goals for students and shared with necessary staff members.

Is a theme coming through here? Personalization! Experiences are tailor-made for our students, factoring in all available information for the utmost safety, efficiency, effectiveness, and FUN!

Annual tasks are being completed at this time as well, such as preparing information for the 990, compiling the program evaluation for the previous year, and developing the annual report for the previous year. All of this while carrying on the year-long duties of paying the bills, fundraising, planning events, conducting tours, fielding new calls of interest, screening and training new volunteers and interns, and helping other similar agencies start up or improve their programs.

Horse Team

Now let’s talk about the horses. I mean, we couldn’t do what we do without them! Most of the horses haven’t been riding the trails over the winter, so our horse team is working with them to become familiar with the trails again. Mock lessons are being done so that our equine staff members are refreshed on how to do their jobs! Now that the days are getting warmer and the nights aren’t quite so chilly, the horses are being rotated to their spring/summer pasture rotation of being inside the barn during the day and out at night.  In preparation for the spring, the horses (and staff members) are being worked pretty hard so that they are all in their very best shape for our students.

Operations and Property Team

And what would a visit to The Red Barn be without being able to take in the gorgeous, peaceful sights?

Red barn and carvings

There are pastures to be seeded, grassy areas to be trimmed, weeds to be sprayed, tree limbs to be picked up, trails to clear for safety, sidewalks to edge, fences to mend, and structures to be pressure washed! The list goes on!

While you might be thinking that this sounds a bit exhausting, we think that it sounds like a normal season at The Red Barn. This is what we do: plan, clean, cut, clear, organize, strategize, update, PLAN, PLAN, PLAN. All for your kiddos because we know that having a place to feel loved and accepted can make all the difference in the world.