Posted on Leave a comment

Near and Far

I Love The Red Barn

Grace, left, and Shannon, right

I love The Red Barn. I’m sure that you do too, but I REALLY love The Red Barn. I love the people, the property, the organizational structure, the organization, the inner workings, the mission, the children, the horses, the cats. I LOVE The Red Barn. Everything in my life brought me here and prepared me to contribute to the success of the barn. 

As a child, empathy was my downfall. I felt everything that I thought everyone else was feeling, and I felt it deeply and sometimes to my detriment. Other people’s struggles became my very own. Anxiety and depression became my constant companions, and I was not okay. The worry was absolutely never-ending- worry about my parents, my siblings, my safety, my pets, my friends, my grades, my home, my extended family, the WHOLE world and all of its problems. 

Experiencing trauma as a young teen catapulted me into new depths of despair. An eating disorder, suicidal thoughts, prescription drug abuse, and moral decay brought me to rock bottom. Finally, therapy and medication became my new constant companions, and I survived high school and college. 

During college, my husband and I decided that we could not wait to get married. So, we didn’t wait. We married at 20, I continued on to graduate from UAB in 2002, and suddenly we were expecting a baby! Gabriel Michael was born on July 9, 2003 at St. Vincent’s Hospital in downtown Birmingham. Becoming a mother changed my future career plans because I absolutely could not handle crime scenes, forensic evidence, or the details of people hurting each other anymore. That Criminal Justice degree wasn’t going to cut it! 

Entering the Nonprofit World

The Master’s of Public Administration program at UAB drew me in as the dreams of helping people in an administrative capacity unfolded in my mind. Not direct service, not counseling, not too close to the hurt and pain, but still doing my part to make the world a better place. 

God surely knew what He was doing guiding me here! I began graduate school and quickly started interning for nonprofit organizations. A short stint with a large, international nonprofit solidified for me that a small nonprofit was the way for me to go. Pretty quickly, I was placed in an internship with a small nonprofit in Birmingham, an agency that served homeless women and their children. Right where I was supposed to be.

That internship turned into a full-time job and a career in nonprofit. While managing volunteers, working intensely with fundraising, writing grant proposals, organizing events, and managing donor data, I learned so much about nonprofit work and myself. I also met Joy O’Neal. 

Joy served as an active board member for this organization, and thankfully we had lots of dealings with each other. A professional acquaintance grew into a friendship. I had an enormous amount of respect for Joy and her contributions to the work.

Funny fact: Somehow, Joy and I have managed to know each other for 18 years and don’t have a single picture of just the two of us!

Miracles Still Happen

When her family opened the barn, she invited me out to a ladies night. For the first time, I got to be close to a horse. Wow! I fell apart! Apparently, as I was grooming and painting Glory, my heart rate slowed to match hers, my defenses came down, and I began to unravel as I relaxed and processed life. Parenthood was hard, bringing an unbelievable amount of anxiety and worry to my mama heart. 

Then, my son began riding at the barn. He was struggling with some of the same issues I had as a child, and riding really gave him another focus, something to be successful at, and time away from all that he was carrying. Being at the barn was an effective outlet for him, even though he didn’t follow directions and got stepped on the first time he came to the barn! 

Alaina, left, and Gabe, right

In 2012, my husband and I decided that it was time for a change of pace. Slower, closer to home, and less stressful were the goals. We also wanted to eventually homeschool our children. I wanted to be more “at home” if that makes sense. Lofty goals that we had not been able to reach for a couple of years due to financial responsibilities. Well, the stars aligned, and we paid off all of our debt almost simultaneously with Joy’s family opening The Red Barn. 

Seriously, it was a miracle. It was “supposed to” take 7 years for us to pay off our debt (making it 2017 when we were done). Instead, it took 26 months! Joy asked me to come and work at The Red Barn. To say that I jumped at the opportunity would be the understatement of the century. The barn was 9 miles from home. It was small, beautiful, peaceful, serene, special, and had an amazing mission. It was perfect. AND Joy was running it. Bingo! I hit the job lottery!

I Am Grateful

Over the past nine years, our lives have changed drastically. My best friend, Grace, joined the team as I transitioned to working part-time to be at home more. Yes, this means that I get to work with my best friend. We did start homeschooling our kiddos in 2013. The Horsley family no longer lives in Alabama but instead in Gulfport, Mississippi. Almost all that I do can be done from home, so I am still on the bus, as we often say thanks to Joy’s fondness for Jim Collins’ books!

Working from home with that homeschool map in the background!

Working from home 5 hours away from the barn is challenging. Virtual meetings are just not the same as being in-person, face-to-face, eating meals together and chatting about small things that end up being big things. I miss the camaraderie, seeing the pristine property every day, petting Xena and having her hiss at me, meeting the new horses, watching them graze, seeing the kids’ faces light up as they achieve something new, driving up in the morning and seeing deer in the pasture with the horses. It cannot be wonderful for everyone at the barn for me to be so far away either, not as quick to handle things as I could be if in the office. Yet, we all make it work.

I am so grateful that my experiences as a child gave me an understanding and compassion for the kids we serve. I am so grateful that college pushed me to the nonprofit field. I am so grateful that I get to serve such amazing people with such amazing people. I am so grateful that I get to continue learning how to do this nonprofit thing from a leader like Joy. I am so grateful that I get to watch, from the inside, how a nonprofit can grow, adapting to the needs of the community and the climate of the culture. 

I am so grateful, and I LOVE The Red Barn.

“When I am in town, I LOVE cooking for the staff! Kale chips are my specialty but I’ll cook anything they like.”


Posted on Leave a comment

Mrs. Cowart’s Stories- Chapter 14


Everything in creation runs in cycles and seasons. A cycle is a period of beginning and ending, and then beginning again, or a circle. It is evident in things as diverse as the operation of our bodies, to the solar system and the financial system to the working of an engine. There are cycles within cycles in every aspect of life. Youth follows childhood, manhood follows youth, and then old age precedes death, which precedes the Resurrection!! Fall follows summer with its glorious color and crystal clear atmosphere celebrating the end to Summer, the time of growth, and readying the creation and our lives for the pruning and strengthening by the tests of winter, which prepares us for the resurrection of Spring. Each cycle is preparing for the next. Around the throne of God, Ezekiel saw “wheels within wheels.” The Bible said that as long as the earth exists there will be seedtime and harvest. Then there is the much greater circle of time in eternity.

When Summer fades into Fall and Fall into Winter, God prepares his creatures on earth for the coming cold. The summer coats have become dry and sunburned and it is time for a change. The waning light causes the outside animals to grow long wooly coats. The long hairs have beneath them shorter hair that frizzes up and forms a wind and water barrier and traps the body’s heat. When the winter wind ruffles the long hairy coats of the horses they scarcely resemble the sleek creatures of summer. Long hair hangs from their chins and sometimes icicles clatter from their fetlocks as they walk. 

In many ways, winter is testing time. A rest comes to the growing things and the weak things are pruned away. Perspective is gained as we compare the quietness of winter with the warmth of Spring’s resurrection and the peace of summer.

On the farm, we agonized over the vanishing strands of winter rye that we had over seeded our brown pastures. It grew so slowly or not at all. In fact, it retreated before the grazing animals. It seemed impossible that soon, in another season, this vanishing carpet of green would come leaping from the earth again. It could not be held in check by the grazing horses and we would have to attack it with the tractor and bush hog. Life on the farm was hard in the winter. Often water pipes froze and we would have to haul water from the river in garbage cans in the back of the truck. It seemed so futile as much of it would splash out as the truck lurched over the frozen road on its way back to the barn, but it would be so nice to sit by the fire and warm our icy fingers. Life went on and we knew Spring was coming!

Soon the dead black limbs of the trees would burst forth in flowering glory, rejoicing that the night of winter was over. The mares would drop their hairy coats for sleek and shiny ones of spring. Little colts and calves would pop up everywhere. The barren mares would take new hope that now even they could recreate themselves.

As we walked the long distance from the barn back to the house on many a cold winter’s night we could see the lights beckoning in the distant windows of our beautiful house. No matter how long and hard and cold the day, there was hope in our hearts for the house held warmth, nourishment and rest. It was a promise to me that at the end of the winter of old age here on earth that we will see the lights of our heavenly home beckoning to us. At the end of every winter season in our lives, there is Spring, or home, or the Resurrection and finally entering our eternal home and the fulfillment of all the promises of God. The cycle of life is completed again!

Posted on Leave a comment

Mrs. Cowart’s Stories- Chapter 13


One of the wonders of creation that has never grown old to me is the birth of a foal. It speaks of design by a master engineer. It is a wonder and an awe that increases as you consider all the aspects of the miracle of life. On afar where this event occurs so frequently one is privileged by increasing exposure to these wonders of the creation and the time to ponder their significance, for the creation is ever preaching the glory of God if we will just take time to listen!

The foal, like all animals, begins from a microscopic cell that contains the code of the characteristics of all the generations of horses who have gone before it. The breeder’s job is to try to combine the genetic codes as they are expressed in the appearance and abilities of both parents in a way that the desired characteristics of each will combine in the foal that they have bred. There are infinite possibilities, but by continually sifting and sorting the genes by breeding together the individuals that come forth with the most of the desired traits and discarding the others, man can partner with God to bring into being an animal closely resembling a certain set picture in the eyes of the breeder.

What a wonderful thought and worthy of much meditation! God the creator, though He made every species to bring forth after its kind, put within the kind so many possibilities of variety that we were given the privilege of joining Him in the role of the Creator. Breeding is very much like painting a picture with genes!

It was in the beginning of all things earthly, in the Garden itself, that God made man in His own image. The greatest aspect of this is the creative genius He put in our hearts and the authority to use this gift when He also gave to man dominion over the creation. What a thought to consider! Throughout all eternity we will partner with God in creating. I am so thankful for this truth because I used to think Heaven was just a place where you sat and played a harp, or walked around golden streets. To me that seemed like it would get awfully boring. But the plan laid out in the creation for us to see is that God is the author of infinite variety. To know God is to have an eternity of ideas and goals to pursue. Each creation of His is totally unique, consider that everyone’s fingerprint is different. What a miracle that within the tiny surface of the tip of a finger a few circular lines can have such infinite variety that the trillions of people who have been born since the beginning of time never come out the same!! Each one of His children is that special to Him, and created for a special unique purpose. Oh – the infinite possibilities that lay ahead of us!

It is also interesting to me that again we see how high God has put man above the rest of the animals in that none of the animals have creative ability. The animal only does that which was programmed into its genes in the beginning. The beaver who cut down the trees on Heathermoor Farm dragged them to the proper place to dam up Dry Branch, a wet weather spring, to make a lake for us arranging the logs in such a remarkable fashion so that his underwater house would hold air that the beaver was designed to breathe. Yet this beaver never made a better dam than his father or grandfather. The plan for this dam, the understanding of the spot to put it to collect the water, the ability to cut down the trees and drag them to the building site, and the ability to engineer the building of the dam, was programmed into Mr. Beaver’s genes at creation and he is still building the same dam as the Adam and Eve of all beavers built all those that preceded from them.

These are glimpses of the creation that helps me to understand why God first put man in a garden and told him to work the garden and gave him dominion over all the earth. With all this He gave Adam the privilege of eating of the tree of life which would give him all the riches of true life with all its resources. Alas, the devil deceived him into desiring knowledge apart from God, and he ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil which God had said would be certain death and turned his back on the tree of life. From this moment the whole creation became terribly bent and twisted from its intended purpose. Yet so great was the Father’s plan for His whole creation that the incarnation happened and the great Creator died in the person of His son Jesus and rose again to testify to the incredible redemption that was ahead, not only for man, His supreme creation made in His image, but for the earth and all its creatures.

No wonder the Bible says the whole creation is on tiptoe waiting for the restoration of all things to be set free from bondage to death and decay! Again, man will be in full charge of the garden. Can you even begin to imagine what glorious things await us, His redeemed children, together with the redeemed creation?!?

Posted on Leave a comment

Reid’s Own Words


We asked our longest-attending student Reid Pickett, who has been riding at the Red Barn since 2011, to explain what the barn means to him in his own words. His mother, Gretchen, interviewed him.

Gretchen: “What have you learned at The Red Barn?”

Reid: “Well I have learned trotting, but also how to use my words to instruct the horses.”

Gretchen: “What does The Red Barn do?”  

Reid: “They teach lessons… but it’s really a place for kids to have fun.”

Gretchen: “Do you use what Miss Alexis has taught you at home?” 

Reid: “I’ve learned how to take care of things like grooming. And I’ve learned to ask about unfamiliar situations like how it feels to ride a different horse.”

Gretchen: “What does Miss Alexis mean to you?”  

Reid: “Well, she’s my person and she’s made me better.”

Gretchen: “Tell me about the horses.”  

Reid: “They have frogs on their feet! And it’s cool that you can ride on them.”

Gretchen: “How do you feel when you go to the barn?”

Reid: “Happy and safe.”

Gretchen: “One thing that is neat about where Reid is in his Red Barn journey is that he’s very interested in the history of the barn/property. He’s gotten some information from Miss Alexis and he likes to tell people about what it was before the lower barn was built and how people used to live in the Red House. He’s also come home and researched a bit on his own, such as finding old pictures of the property online. Very cool!”

Posted on Leave a comment

Mrs. Cowart’s Stories- Chapter 11

The Curse- Vicky

Vicky was a chestnut mare that I had eyes on since she was a colt playing in the field of a farm in Tennessee. She grew up to be very much like her dam, a famous show horse since her yearling days. Her dam, Denmark’s Vixen, was well named because she was almost vicious toward anyone except for her owner and our good friend, Bob Smith. The elder Vixen, a royally bred lady herself, had been mated with Blanchita’s Society Rex, who was later to become our miracle stallion. Their young daughter, therefore, was heiress to the best that royal blood could promise. It seemed that fate was jealous of something as especially endowed as young Vixen and determined to even the score with the chestnut filly Vicky. In her first two years she was dealt a series of devastating blows, but the trials only proved the gold of Vicky’s brave spirit, and she overcame them all. Her first bout was with a severe case of colitis. The veterinarian who attended her gave Vicky up for dead. When she struggled back to life, he declared she was the only horse he ever knew to survive the terrible disease.

Later she was left for dead by sunstroke only to miraculously recover. The doctor declared she would be so weakened by the assaults on her health that she could never stand the strain of traveling to a horse show. So, fairly early in her life, Vicky became a broodmare. We were happy indeed when circumstances caused our paths and Vicky’s to cross again when she was six years old and came to live at Heathermoor Farm to join Denmark’s harem.

We eagerly, somewhat nervously, awaited Vicky’s foaling time in the spring for we remembered the vet’s gloomy prophecy about the delicateness of her constitution. One overcast morning I noticed Vicky lying down in the paddock that surrounded the barn. At first I gave it no thought as I went about my duties, but an hour went by and Vicky got up and moved but once. I looked at her closely to see if any of the immediate signs of foaling had appeared and they hadn’t. She didn’t seem upset. And, she was not going through the usual pre-foaling routine of nervously walking and constantly getting up and down. She just lay quietly. Later that morning it became apparent that Vicky was having some sort of trouble and I called the vet.

We had seen many foals born in our experience, or at least we had been around when they were expected and then safely delivered by their dams. Yet, only once had we encountered a difficult birth among our mares or even our neighbors’ mares. Mares usually foal quite easily and efficiently by themselves. But, all the books warned that when trouble struck with a mare it was nearly always fatal to mare or foal, and the quickest of action was necessary.

Our vet, Barbara Benhart, arrived. She was quite unlike the stereotypical idea of a “horse-doctor” and this small, pretty, lady-like person limited her practice to only horses. Small and delicate as she appeared, she was an able doctor. She seemed afraid of nothing and able to handle any horse with the help of her black bag of magical tranquilizers and anesthetics. On examining Vicky, she announced that Vicky was indeed in trouble. Her foal’s head was bent backwards instead of lying on the front legs and pointed out the birth canal as it should be. It was a very difficult presentation. By now Vicky was in hard labor. The bog of water had burst and the two little feet were in view. Vicky was now down, stretched out on her side, in the typical position of a foaling mare. Barbara stretched out on her, stomach on the ground behind the mare and tried to push the foal back between the contractions so that she could find and grasp its nostrils with her fingers and pull the bent head around. A neighboring farmer came to help, but the contractions of the mare fought against all efforts to push her foal back enough to straighten its neck. In a little while it became evident that the foal’s neck was broken by the hard muscular contractions that battered it against the mare’s pelvic bones. By now Vicky had gone into shock and had lost consciousness. It seemed fate had finally overcome the promise of her illustrious heritage. Then with the help of a calf-pulling winch and another vet and Barbara, Vicky delivered a beautiful filly – its future already erased by death.

We administered glucose intravenously to the unconscious mare. As I sat there on the tender spring grass by her unconscious body and held the glucose bottle as it dripped slowly into her veins, I was overcome with depression. It seemed a sickening waste. All that was involved in producing that little dead body which lay on the ground behind me came to me; the mating of the mare and stallion at just the right time, the miracle of contraception that had produced in eleven months from two microscopic cells the fully formed young horse. Not only had it grown but it had been packaged so beautifully for safety during the incubation period in a shock absorbent waterbed with padding around the little hooves lest they poke a hole in the cellophane bag this miracle package was wrapped in. The wonderful timing system that had begun the birth process and filled the mare’s udder with colostrum that would immunize the colt against any diseases. There was warm pale milk waiting behind the colostrum and the wonderful, knowing instincts that should tell the mare to turn and lick this strange little wet body and love it and endure the first ticklish torment while it poked its head around her ticklish belly looking for the teat it knew would be there. And, there was the fierce maternal instinct that would turn the mare into a fighting machine if any other creature approached the foal’s rubber legged body which she’d never seen before. All these miracles and countless more could only speak of a designer, an engineer, a chemist, a physicist and even more because all these mechanisms that made up the horse was Life itself. A part of this life was love, the warm and almost bewildered excitement this mare would have for her baby.

But, even with all this perfect planning, something had gone terribly wrong. This mare lay unconscious scarcely breathing, and this foal so marvelously produced was dead. There could be no moral judgment on this animal. Vicky was just a helpless victim of some cosmic mistake. But, whose mistake was it? If God made the plan, had he also made the mistake? For indeed something had gone so very wrong. Then I remembered Romans 8:22 which I had learned years ago:

The whole creation is groaning in travail together with us. For we know that the things of nature like plants and animals suffer, in sickness and death as they await the great event. On that day thorn’s thistles, sin, death, and decay will disappear.

What I was seeing in Vicky’s fate was the result of the age-old curse brought on by man’s sin. For the whole universe had become violently bent, twisted from its original perfect purpose when man first wrenched himself from God and gave ear to the devil’s lies. It was to undo this curse that the Redeemer had died. The creation I loved so well was waiting on tiptoe with me for the great day when “death and decay would disappear” and we would share in the glorious freedom from sin which God’s children will enjoy. Another piece of the puzzle of life suddenly slipped into place.

The glucose bottle had dripped empty and there was still no stir from Vicky. We covered her body with a sheet to protect it from the immense heat as the sun headed for high noon. There was nothing else we could do so we headed towards the house. After a meal, we went to check on Vicky, but the sheet-draped mound was not on the ground where we left it! To our amazement Vicky was across the pasture grazing with the other mares! Since we had removed the dead foal’s body and Vicky had never seen it, her maternal instincts had not been set into motion and the tragedy for her did not even exist. Another of the Creator’s miracles. Once again Vicky had faced death and won. She broke the curse and through the years three other foals arrived with beautiful ease to mother and child.

Posted on Leave a comment

Mrs. Cowart’s Stories- Chapter 10

The Purpose of Trials, Black Beauty

In the early days of our adventures in God through Heathermoor Farm, we had our first crop of colts from our beautiful stallion Richlieu Firefly. We had come to own this eleven year old stallion in an unusual way, as we did every other horse we had. But, I will tell you about that another time. We had just acquired our two “big time” mares, Denmark’s Touch of Genius whom we called Peggy because she had a peg leg, and Lady Jane Denmark, or Doll. The rest of the herd was made up of Mailee Dare, Sparking Blade and Grassland’s Dream who we called Kitty. Since Mailee Dare was Richlieu’s daughter, we could not breed her to Richlieu so the other mares were in his harem. The next spring, on Easter Sunday, little Kitty foaled a beautiful high-headed chestnut foal that we named Heathermoor’s Easter Firefly. Our beautiful bay Peggy also foaled a jet black handsome colt except for a small star on his forehead, just like the beloved Black Beauty of Anna Sewell’s novel. We called him Heathermoor’s Black Beauty. He had Peggy’s long neck and size and was truly beautiful. Poor Sparkle had a tragedy and her newborn foal drowned in the lake.

Black Beauty had a mind of his own. I tried to ride him once. Then John had a try with him and he threw John so high that he went up to the end of the reins and pulled the bridle right off his head! Richard, our second son, had a relaxed, gentle way with the horses. As a small boy he had exhibited Mailee in the local horse shows. She was a large mare and Richard’s legs hardly came to Mailee’s round sides. In order to tell what canter lead he was on, he would hang over the correct shoulder to see if the proper leg was forward and the audience would gasp as he suspended his small body in the air. But Richard never fell off.

So, Richard became our chief colt rider by the time he was twelve years old. We decided it was his time to tackle Black Beauty. I roped off a small area next to the barn because we didn’t have a round pen at that time. I put Black Beauty on the lounge with Richard on him. That same spell Richard seemed to have over animals prevailed and Black Beauty was not in the least offended by this boy’s presence on his back. After Richard had several successful rides on the colt I decided to give him a try. I got on him in the stall by standing on the tall board and stepping over onto his back and rode him outside the stall to the ring. Everything went well as we made several passes around the track and then suddenly – I can still feel it as vividly as if it were yesterday -the muddy ground was flying up at my face and Black Beauty was in another place from where I was. My ankle was in a funny position, but I finally hobbled back to the barn and shortly ended up in a cast.

Since we were so out of the horse country and were unknown we decided to sell the two coming two-year olds at Tatterstalls Spring Sale  in Lexington, Kentucky. This was the very first product of Heathermoor Farm. The Farm had started as an adventure in faith and was off to a pretty good start in the way of impossibilities happening so I was sure that our beautiful colts would bring a respectable price. However, we had a problem as Black Beauty couldn’t be ridden except by a twelve-year old boy. The sale is the place where horses are sold “as is” and no guarantees are necessary. It would have sounded good to say Black Beauty could be ridden by a twelve-year-old boy, but that would have been misleading. Easter was younger and smaller than Beauty, so we hadn’t even tried to do anything with him as yet. We decided to just lead the colts through the sale and sell them at halter. That way the new owner would know he was dealing with unbroken colts.

John and Mike took the two colts to the sale. They were truly elegant colts and I sent them off with high hopes. As it turned out Black Beauty was the highest selling colt at the sale, but instead of the thousand dollars I was expecting, he brought only six hundred and Easter only three hundred. I was so disappointed. At that time in my life the pain of adverse things was so great to me that I would lash out at anything I could. I just didn’t know how to control myself. The only one besides John that was there to unload my anger on was God, and so I complained bitterly to Him that He had let me down. But my gracious Heavenly Father, the Creator of the whole universe and me, who could have zapped me to Kingdom Come or turned His back on me forever, did neither. Soon that still quiet voice brought a verse to my mind. – Romans 8:28-29:

All things work together for good to them that love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.

I knew that part well. Indeed to me that verse should have assured that those colts sold well. Yet somehow the next verse had been hidden from my understanding, and the Holy Spirit began to speak it to me then:

For those whom He called He predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.

The truth of that verse suddenly stung me. So that was the purpose of everything! It was not that we should have great success in the horse business, although that could happen, but the main thing was that the circumstances of life were designed to mold me into the image of His Son! The very purpose of this event had been to show me this truth and whittle away at this anger I had when I didn’t get my way. The greatest success we could have would be when the “fruit of the Spirit” which is love, joy, and peace, the character of Jesus, should be manifested in our life. When these lovely fruits are blooming in our heart then nothing life throws at us could upset us.

I didn’t learn this lesson perfectly at this time by any means, but I had the understanding of it. The blue print of this truth had been laid out in my heart.

As for the fate of the colts: We later read in The National Horseman that Black Beauty had been sold to a farm in the North and was their Fine Harness prospect. I wondered if it was because they tried to ride him? Easter became a champion in the west. His owner later came all the way to Alabama to see his dam and look for a show horse prospect like him.

Posted on Leave a comment

Mrs. Cowart’s Stories- Chapter 9


When I was in college, my sister was always a beauty queen and won the title of “Teen Queen of Birmingham” and with it fifty dollars. She announced to all of Birmingham in a radio interview that she was giving it to her sister to breed her mare! My mother swooned as that was a definite no-no in those days. Real ladies never mentioned breeding animals! This resulted in my first foal born while I was a freshman at the University of Alabama. Soon another foal was on its way and I left school to support my growing herd of horses before my father found out. But, that was years before John and I moved our family of four children to the country.

Blanchita was Mailee Dare’s first foal and my first since those college days. Blanchita’s short life was a beginning study for our family in producing and raising colts. She also was God’s tool for teaching us the first lesson in meeting life’s most profound moments. We gave her to Mike as a yearling to be his to train and ride, since he had outgrown Snowfire, the grey welsh pony he had trained and ridden to an unending list of championships for fifty inch ponies. When Blanchita was two years old, Mike began her training. Two days after he began riding her, she escaped from her stall during the night. She pawed at the steel gates across the hall of the barn and caught her leg in one. The gate, still caught on her leg, came off its hinges and the frightened filly bolted. John and I awoke to the dreadful noise of pounding hooves and the dragging and clanging of metal. Right outside my bedroom window the frantic bedlam came suddenly to an end, and the resulting quiet was interrupted by a pitiful bleat.

Our hearts were pounding with fright as we raced outside and found the filly standing on three legs, her right, foreleg dangling from her body. Her eyes begged us for help. I held her mangled leg as she stood trembling and sweating while John ran for a gun. We knew there was nothing else to be done but end her agony. The sound of the rifle shot waked the children and my heart died as Mike screamed from his window, “You’re killing my horse! You’re killing my horse!” The first bullet missed its mark. I’ll never forget the bewildered look of the filly as the ones she had turned to for help offered her nothing but more pain. The second bullet ended her pain.

As the young mare’s body crumpled to the ground and my young son’s cries eased, my heart was breaking. I screamed to the sky, “Why, God? Why? How could you allow such agony of body and soul? Why? Oh, why?” My heart screamed! How could this be allowed by the God I loved so much? I hurled my question to the Universe. My body convulsed with the horror of this event.

And then it was as if the still of night wrapped its arms around me. There was an embrace of love, more tender and more comforting than my own mother’s arms when she had soothed away my childhood misery. A still, small voice spoke to my heart; although to me it came from all outdoors: “This is My responsibility, not yours. All this pain, this seeming betrayal of love. This anguish of heart in man and child and beast. You have the cross to prove my love. Look at the cross! Look at the cross and that is where you will see me as I am. The rest is my responsibility. Trust Me!”

The stars looked friendly again that warm summer night, with the smell of honeysuckle heavy in the air. Soon after, Mike went peacefully off to bed. As I will never forget the pain of that night, so I will never forget the tremendous reality of that answer. There is so much I can’t understand, but all that is God’s responsibility. I have the cross of my Lord Jesus Christ as the pledge of God’s love. The cross is indeed the focus point of all history and all of history is measured by it. All other things become shadows in the light of its majesty. Sometime, somehow, all that we don’t understand will be brought into focus in the light of that Eternal Love who rules the universe. My part is only to look at this great love revealed in the cross. That is where you will find me.

Posted on Leave a comment

Mrs. Cowart’s Stories- Chapter 8

Character: Olive Oil

Whenever I think of character, a small black cat trimmed in immaculate white glides across my memory. Her name is Olive Oil. She was named for the stick-like girlfriend of Popeye the Sailor Man in the comics. From the tip of her long black tail to her white nose, she was scarcely any thicker than a stick figure, but inside her sleek narrow body was as much character as an elephant could hold if size were the measure of that commodity.

Olive Oil lived at Heathermoor Farm with us. She had far too much gumption to encroach upon our living quarters at the house. Her domain was the barn. She lived there on equal footing with us. She was certainly not an indulged pet, rather she was on “staff,” one of our operation being in charge of rat control and the producing and rearing of her replacements in the ranks of her crew. She did her job so well that she was quite entitled to the dignity she claimed for herself.  As any faithful employee of an organization, she expected her wages on time. Hers were expected in the form of plenty of prepared cat food for herself and her offspring. Being a lady of great taste she had a decided preference for the most expensive brand. When at times our unimaginative grocery store ran out of her choice, she very firmly registered her dislike for the inferior grade offered as a replacement. At first she greeted the strange food in her bowl with an expression of bewilderment, then turning away from it, tail and nose high she slowly and deliberately walked over to a favorite spot and by gentle, but firm, meows registered her disappointment with us.

In the morning when I came down to the barn followed by the frolicking dogs, Olive sedately emerged from under the front door of the barn. Never ever losing her dignity she trotted up to meet me uttering a greeting and standing on her hind legs and bowing her head offering me the back of her neck for one caress. No one would ever take liberties with Olive Oil or try to reduce her to the status of pet by picking her up or cuddling her. Our relationship was strictly as equals – creatures who enjoy each other’s company, have a great deal of affection for one another, and who are engaged together in the big job of running Heathermoor Farm. However, the mettle of Olive’s character showed up best as a mother.  We gave her the title of “Mother of the Year.”

When Olive and her gray husband arrived at Heathermoor, the gift of our neighbor Mr. Poole, the place was infested with rats – big bold rats that would stop and stare at you as if to tell you to get off their property. Although Olive and her husband were only kittens they began to work on the rat population right away. Eventually Olive and her offspring completely wiped out the rat population.

Before the year was out, Olive became a mother. In my observation of several generations of cat families, it seems that all family responsibilities belong to the female. The male grows up depending on his mother to feed him until in desperation she drives him away. After that the Toms just hung around and ate for about a year until their necks and heads filled out full “Toni Cat” size. At this point they began to wander more and more often until finally we seldom saw them again. Occasionally they would drop in just to say hello and then disappear again. They seemed to live only to breed and fight, never giving a thought to the families they left behind. And so Olive was abandoned by her husband and left to raise three babies in the tack trunk. She spent long hours nursing and licking her kittens interspersed with increasingly longer and more frequent hunting trips to bring home fresh meat she needed to meet the ever increasing need of her children, and her already frail body. When the babies opened their eyes and began to take an interest in their surroundings she began to bring them birds and mice in addition to her milk.

As the babies grew they began to run out of their safe nest which by now had been moved behind the tack trunk. Their very real danger was being stepped on by the horses. Horse legs standing on the concrete floor of the barn hall must have seemed like giant trees in the forest to the tiny kittens. Although Olive darted around the huge legs with split second timing, the kittens were as yet incapable of that maneuver. The horses’ feet took their toll on the kittens. Olive seemed to realize this as the litters went by for she dearly loved her children.

One day her babies were playing on the sun warmed floor by the big barn door when someone brought in a thousand plus pound horse. Olive darted in to assist me as I was grabbing and kicking kittens out of the way. Realizing the apparent futility of our efforts, Olive decided there was nothing to do but match her two pounds against the hind legs of the horse. She arched her back and flung her fiery self at the horse’s legs. I don’t think the horse hardly felt the little cat attack him, but miraculously he stepped around the kittens!

RC, Rafter Cat, lives in the barn and has for years!
Xena, proudly looking over her dominion of The Red Barn property
Posted on Leave a comment

Confidence and Coincidences

Liliana- Not Afraid

Liliana has been in physical and occupational therapy since she was three. It took her two years to walk on a 1.5 inches high balance beam because she was so scared of falling. This fear translated to the barn, where she was hesitant to ride during her first lesson. She soon mounted Blue, though, and relaxed almost immediately.

Over time, Liliana has become fearless. She looks forward to her lesson every week and can’t wait to get back on the horse. Her mom, Rebecca, said she is so relaxed that you would think she has been riding for years. The barn gives Liliana a sense of connection and peace. When she is at the barn, she is no longer stressed or afraid. 

This confidence has translated to other parts of Liliana’s life. For example, going to the dentist used to be a traumatic experience for her. Since she has been riding, she no longer has meltdowns at the dentist or the doctor’s office. She now has the confidence and bravery to make it through new, intimidating experiences. Liliana is also willing to try more things in physical therapy. She understands and accepts more challenges. 

Liliana has responded very well to her instructors, and to the fact that her instructor has changed several times over the years! Their patience and encouragement has helped her understand that she can do anything she puts her mind to. 

Rammy- Transformed!

When Liliana’s riding lessons were moved to a different day of the week, her mom, Rebecca, was excited to meet some of the other Red Barn families. On the first Saturday of term, Rebecca approached the barn and found that it wasn’t all strangers. A woman was staring at her – a woman who looked oddly familiar.

“This may sound weird to you, but did we meet at a Target?”

Both women laughed as they realized the connection. Nearly five years prior, the two had met in the baby clothes section of a local Target. At the time, both were shopping for the adopted babies who would soon be coming home with them. They chatted for a while about their excitement, thrilled at the random opportunity to get to share it with a stranger who understood. Eventually, however, the two moms-to-be parted ways to continue their shopping. They did not expect to see each other ever again. 

Rebecca formally introduced herself to Kimberly, whose son Rammy was also taking lessons at The Red Barn. They caught up while their children rode, unaware of how their two stories collided. Rebecca and Kimberly marveled at the way The Red Barn was able to act as so much more than a riding facility for their families; it provided a unique sense of community and support, as well.  

As for Rammy, he developed stronger confidence, communication skills, and focus riding at The Red Barn.  He also improved his core strength and muscle tone. 

“I sincerely believe in the physical and cognitive benefits of riding because I’ve seen it with my own eyes. The barn has transformed his life. I don’t know what we would do without it!”

  • Rammy’s mom, Kimberly


Posted on Leave a comment

Mrs. Cowart’s Stories- Chapter 7

Submission, Madam

I remember so well the first day I saw her. It was in the summer after the seventh grade. Our family had been living in California during the war while Daddy was stationed at Pearl Harbor. During this time I got my first horse, Sox, which we kept in a stall behind the garage. My life was devoted to caring for Sox. But we moved back to Birmingham when Daddy’s tour of duty in the Navy was over. I sadly had to leave Sox behind. Back M Birmingham I hung out at the riding stable where my best friend Susu boarded her horse. One Saturday afternoon when I was at the barn with Susu some neighbors rode their horses over to use the riding ring. The man was riding a gorgeous big red chestnut gelding named Dandy Dick. He was a lot of horse and was not fully cooperating, but I was awed at his beauty. The lady was riding a feminine version of the big red horse. She was a dainty chestnut mare with the “look of eagles” in her eyes. This was my first real encounter with the American Saddlebred horse and :1 was deeply stirred. They were quite a step up from the rental horses I was used to or even my Calvary bred Sox. Their size, satiny coats, and their beautiful and spirited expression captured my heart. I went home deeply desiring a horse like these.

Sometime later, a large picture of the lady riding the same mare appeared on the front page of the Society section of the Sunday Paper and I found out that the beautiful mare was named Madam Stark. I carried this picture around for months, maybe even a year. I slept with it under my pillow at night. Madam dominated my thoughts. I had no hopes of owning this mare. I understood that we had no place to keep a horse and just could not have one now.

Then one day my understanding, but unhorse wise, parents took me to a farm in Calera, Alabama that belonged to a friend of Daddy’s. They told me that their friends who owned the farm had a horse for me to ride. Eagerly I made the trip to Calera with my mother. We walked into the attractive stable and to the stall of the horse I was to ride. I looked in the stall and instead of just an ordinary horse as I was expecting was the beautiful red Saddlebred mare that I had ridden in my dreams every night, even as her picture lay under my pillow. Confused, I thought Daddy’s friends had bought her and I was shaken. Then my unselfish mother said, “Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas, and Happy Birthday again!” It turned out that Mother had given up her offer of a new fur coat to buy me the darling of my heart! I just couldn’t take it all in that Madam Stark belonged to me!

That day a tumultuous friendship that lasted until my children were born began between a little girl and a high-strung mare. Little did my parents suspect the traumatic days that lay ahead. 

I learned to ride Madam that summer. In modern terms she was like a high-powered sports car in comparison to a Volkswagen bug to any of the other horses I had ever ridden. And, I had no teacher. She was quick as lightning and super responsive to the least signal from me or the things that she perceived as danger to her eagle gaze. She never missed a thing. In our later days (after I had learned to ride her) she was as game as they come and on our trail rides my fiend’s apparently calmer horse often didn’t have the heart to make it over the treacherous mountains and other wild places which our parents had no idea we were exploring. But Madam never balked at anything and when I had to leave her standing in treacherous places to go and encourage the gentler horses, she stood like a statue until I came back to her. Every time I asked her to tackle anything she gave it all she had and then some.

However at the first, she was so much more horse than I was ready for at the time my unsuspecting parents bought ‘her. I was not the experienced trainer that a spirited horse needs. Rather she was training me to her own likings. So, on the early days of our association she acquired a very nasty habit of rearing on her hind legs when she wanted to do a different thing than I did. Learning that her rearing got her way, it became even more dangerous as she would stand up so straight on her bind legs that I would fear loosing my balance and falling backward on the reins, thus pulling her over onto her back and me. One time this feared scenario happened. I did not get out of the way quickly enough and her thousand pounds of muscle came crashing down on top of me. An ambulance carried me away to the hospital to discover that I had a broken pelvis. This required months of bed rest flat on my back with the foot of the bed slightly higher than the head.

During this time I missed the last semester of the eighth grade, but was allowed to graduate from grammar school anyway. During my convalescence my adult visitors would inevitably  say, “I bet you will never get on that horse again!” I passed it off fully believing  nothing could ever make me afraid of a horse. Finally, I was able to go and see Madame again, and I was so excited. ‘But, when I first put my hand on her shiny coat, the most unexpected thing happened – a terrible fear enveloped me! It was so awful that I envisioned skulls and blood and all sorts of grotesque things I had never thought of before.

My pride would never let me admit this fear to anyone. A super horsewoman was what I thought of myself and I couldn’t let anyone know my terrible secret! So gradually I forced myself to face the perceived dangers that I feared. I blamed the slowness of my actual riding her on my healing body, but I was inwardly dreading the thought of getting on her back again. In fact, just leading her was fearful. But eventually I faced my fears and began riding her again.  It wasn’t long before she remembered her trick and I knew that if I didn’t conquer her, then I would have to face up to something that I dreaded. even more – having to give her up and let the world know of my shameful fear. Oh! How proud I was!

I know now what I didn’t know then, although I instinctively understood the principle: If Madame won she would be worthless – a rebellious and dangerous horse. And, I would be a failure as a horsewoman.

When the heavenly Father created all things he gave to man the dominion over the creation. The creatures and resources of the earth were for us to use, to care for, and to manage for our mutual good. The creation was to work in harmony with man. The animals were to serve man, and Proverbs tells us that a good man considers the needs of his beasts. The strictest laws of the Jewish laws in the Old Testament Sabbath provides for the care of the ox. A rebellious horse was not a good thing. It was definitely against the Father’s plan as it was good for nothing. A horse was designed and bred for many purposes: some for speed, some for great strength in pulling things, some for working cattle, some for jumping, and some for the advanced disciplines in many fields. To develop the horses for talents to the finest pitch involves a perfect union between horse and rider, as in a symphony or ballet. The horse must be completely submissive and willing to give every thing he has to the subtlest commands of the rider’s hands on the reins and the least movement of his body. To be really successful the horse must love his work. This can come about only with the careful training of a good horseman who understands a particular horse’s personality and its physical endowments. The trainer has to learn just what the horse can do mentally and physically, and then set about training it by degrees until there is complete unity between them. As no horse or rider stays trained forever, it is the constant tuning of the relationship between the horse and rider that allows the best in each to arise. Only then can we see the beautiful ballet that can be exhibited in any of the several horse disciplines when horse and rider move in perfect harmony as if directed by one mind as indeed they are – the mind of the horse perfectly yielded to the mind of the rider. What a picture this is of the way God created man to function with Himself. This is what we were created for, this perfect unity. Us rising to the peak of our abilities as we live completely submitted to His every direction. This is what the Bible is about It is the manufacturer’s handbook for the product – man and the world we have been given dominion over.

So, I planned my attack. I put her halter on over her bridle with a long rope attached. Around my waist I wrapped a rawhide bullwhip Daddy had bought me in Mexico. I mounted, holding the long rope attached to her halter with the reins. It wasn’t long before she refused to go where I asked. her to and threatened to rear to get her way, Immediately I jumped off of her holding the long halter rope. With the other hand I grabbed the bullwhip around my waist and started swinging the whip at her front legs. She reared and lunged pulling me all over the paddock, but at every lunge I got in another cut on her legs with the whip. My rope arm and my whip arm were killing me, but I knew that I had to win or I would loose this battle forever. Finally, when I felt like I didn’t have enough strength to swing the whip one more time the most amazing thing-happened: the mare came toward me even as I was attacking her and ‘laid her head on my chest signaling her complete submission. From that time on she never reared again.

In later years when the God I loved so much was trying to show me the error of my ways, it seemed like He was pursuing me with a bull whip as all the props in my life were being pulled out. I questioned the reason that I was born and the meaning of good, feeling like everything I counted well in life He counted badly and He proceeded to lay the whip against me. There came a dramatic moment when I saw, through the book of Job, that I had been calling the shots as if I were God. I was trying to rule my universe; I had set my heart on my own way and refused to bow to Him, the only wise God. Finally the light dawned in my own heart as it had dawned in Madame’s heart years before: I must cast myself totally on the mercy of the one who indeed was my Master, and because he loved me so much, was trying to show me His purpose for me in the only way that I could ever be made to see. His plan for me was to be what he had created me to be which was the only way I could find true happiness. It was just the same as my plan for Madame. She was created to submit to me, her loving, adoring master in order to fulfill the reason for her creation.