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I Think The Red Barn Is a Blessing- Reid

I Think The Red Barn Is a Blessing

The very first Red Barn student, Reid, started coming when he was just a little guy! Now he’s all grown up, and he delivered a moving speech at the 2023 What Horses Can Teach Us luncheon. Here are his beautiful words. Thank you, Reid, for being brave and telling others how much you love The Red Barn!

Hello everyone! My name is Reid Pickett, and I am so excited to see y’all here today. I’m going to talk to you for a few minutes about a place that is very special to me and my family. That place is called The Red Barn. Let me start out by telling you something that you are not even going to believe. I was the very first kid to ride at The Red Barn! I was just a little kid, like five years old. And now I am 18, and I still love my Monday afternoon lessons with my team, Mr. Connor and Miss Alexis.

When I first started at The Red Barn, I didn’t have a lot of words but I sure did have a lot of worries. My family was looking for activities that would help me with my autism, and we found The Red Barn. In the beginning, my favorite thing each week was just to go and see Miss Joy. She made me feel safe and calm. We also figured out that I loved being outside in nature. It helped me relax after a long day of school, doctor appointments, therapies and worries.

The bigger I got and the more lessons I had, the more I learned to love the horses and riding. I learned how to take care of them. Fun fact: I have loved vacuums my whole life, and I actually have my very own business cleaning people’s vacuums. It’s called Reid Pickett Vacuum Services. Do you know what they let me do at The Red Barn? They let me use a very special vacuum on the horses!

I also learned how to say goodbye to the horses when they had to go to heaven. Like Jessie. She was my very favorite horse. There was a time that I was having so many worries that I didn’t want to ride Jessie, but just go see her and talk to her and love her. It made me feel calm. When Miss Joy called my mom and told her that Jessie was going to heaven, we were sad, but we got to go say goodbye to her and say a special prayer for her. We talked about how she had a good life and helped lots of kids like me and that she was going to heaven and was going to feel young and strong again. That is called faith.

I love how The Red Barn helps me use my brain. Every semester we come up with new goals for me to work on. I have learned about trotting, posting and serpentines. We break our new patterns down into small steps. We practice every week, and then we perform in a horse show. This has taught me a lot of things. It teaches me about setting goals and working toward them. It helps me understand that things that seem really hard in the beginning can become easy if you have a team to help you and you practice all the steps. This is called confidence! I think about this when I am at school or at home, and it’s time for me to try something new. The Red Barn makes me brave! It also makes me proud when I’ve finished something that I wasn’t sure I could do. Learning that I can do hard things in the future is called hope.

I think The Red Barn is a blessing. There are a lot of little- and big- kids like me that have worries and challenges. I am thankful that The Red Barn is there to help us grow up, learn to use our words, our minds and our bodies. We are lucky to have beautiful horses to calm us down. We are lucky to have the team at The Red Barn and all of the volunteers that keep it safe and beautiful. That is more than luck, that is called love!

I hope that all kinds of people get to go to The Red Barn and feel the way it makes me feel. So thank you for giving to The Red Barn and sharing your faith, hope and love. Also thank you for letting me talk to you today.

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Generous Gifts Made the Barn Buddies Class Possible!

A Future of Hope, Opportunity, and Lifelong Friendships

Life-changing opportunities were created this fall…all because our donors care about the children and horses! When children come to the barn, they have the opportunity to make best friends, learn how to care for their horses and the barn, as well as have a chance to gain confidence and problem-solve.

In the Barn Buddies class, activities are often planned by the staff but directed by the students. They will go on scavenger hunts, make horse treats,
groom horses, and do chores to help take care of THEIR barn.

Children coming to the barn do not always get a chance to regularly visit with friends in a safe and equipped environment, but with Barn Buddies, they are in a relaxed atmosphere where they can carry on conversations and explore together. And our donors made that possible!! Thanks to them, we can offer classes to young children with disabilities to work on their team building skills, to solve problems, to manage their emotions before their emotions get too big for them to manage, coordination skills, and so much more!

 “Emma has grown more confident, more verbal, and is thriving at The Red Barn. No matter what is going on…we can come to the  barn and she’ll find her inner calm.” Emma can be herself, she can learn, and she feels free with no judgment at the barn. It’s the one place where no matter how out of control her body or mind is, she can get centered and calm down. She also just loves making friends. It means success and growth. It really is a God send to our family!”

And best of all, the parents bringing their kids to the barn feel the safe and educational environment helped them learn how to best support their
children. You have given Emma a future of hope, opportunity, and lifelong friendships – THANK YOU DONORS!

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Creating Precious Memories

Amelia’s Making Memories

Amelia came to The Red Barn ready to learn important skills and to make lifelong friends. And that is exactly what happened when she met Straw.

Straw is a unique horse. She is friendly, gentle, a great teacher, and holds her riders accountable, regardless of their age or abilities. Because our donors gave so generously, children like Amelia have special friends to remember for life.  And they’ve also enabled Amelia and other children like her to learn more about horses and gain the confidence and assurance that nothing is too big to take on!

Thanks to amazing generosity, children like Amelia can come to the barn to ride gentle horses like Straw and interact with other children. Each program at the barn is made possible because generous supporters care about the children and the horses. Thank you, donors, for caring about Amelia and Straw, and for helping all the children visiting the barn discover their love for horses and nature!

Your gift to the barn allows the team to create a welcoming environment to encourage children to learn leadership skills, independence, confidence, and, perhaps most importantly, friendship. It’s not too late if you would like to give today!

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Building Confidence & Balance- Thanks to You!

Julie’s Story

Julie, a 6-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, uses a walker because she cannot walk independently. The highlight of her day is coming to the barn to learn important life skills. And because our donors gave so generously over the summer, Julie could learn and participate in activities at the barn. She even has the opportunity to ride a horse, build confidence, practice her balance, and simply enjoy being around the horses.

Julie told her mom: “Mama, one day I’m gonna work at Red Barn.” Our donors’ gifts were such a blessing to Julie and her family that now she wants to help others just like her! Those gifts inspired Julie and are allowing her to dream of her future!

“I want Julie to feel successful. I want her to be able to shine in an activity. I want her to have the healing experience of loving a horse and enjoying the beauty of God’s creation. The grounds at Red Barn are gorgeous and therapeutic. I want her independence and balance to continue to improve as well.”

– Julie’s Mom

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Building Strong Connections

Aiden’s Story

Getting his hands warm

Because our donors gave, they provided Aiden, a 6-year-old child with Cerebral Palsy, epilepsy, and who is non-verbal, an opportunity to ride at the barn and participate in activities at the barn. Ziggy helped to loosen and stretch Aiden’s tight muscles so he could gain better control over them. And because of the opportunity to ride on Ziggy, Aiden is more verbal after lessons and overall happier.

“The Red Barn provides so much more than riding lessons for kids. It provides them a safe place to explore their capabilities, a place for good socialization, and a place to be happy. All of Aiden’s doctor appointments can weigh on him, and for The Red Barn to be able to provide a place that never seems like a chore is an absolute blessing.” – Aiden’s Mom

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“He Learned He Is Capable of More”

Generous donations helped fund the Job Skills program which teaches students life-changing skills!

Generous gifts from our donors provided Peter with essential life-changing skills to help him in future jobs. When students like Peter start in the Job Skills class, they must be willing to learn, participate in class activities, and work with moderate supervision. These are just some of the requirements for this hands-on educational class. During class, students learn time management, money management, communication skills, building relationships, learn how to supervise others, and materials management. And after learning these essential skills are able to do tasks at the barn to enhance their hands-on experience.

“The class required him to step up and work with his peers and put him in real-world situations where compromise was required to meet a goal while being a space safe for him to fail and learn from the experience. He has learned he is capable of more than he thought, and he realized while he enjoys some things as a hobby, they are a lot of work when you have to maintain them!” – Peter’s Mom

Funding from our donors is instrumental in providing this class to students. So many students coming to the barn have the ability and desire to learn these essential skills but are unable to afford the class. Compassionate gifts open the door to many possibilities for students and their families. Peter and other students like him have the tools needed to create a brighter future for themselves thanks to our donors!

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A Blooming Friendship- Thanks to Our Donors!

The first time coming to the barn is one of the most exciting, nervous, and happiest times a child can experience. And that was what Lindsey experienced when she went to the barn.

A couple of years ago, Lindsey met Tusker, a 23-year-old retired show horse. For those of you who do not know Tusker’s history, he is one of the most decorated show horses to work at the barn. He is even on YouTube! Tusker is playful, can teach any student no matter the skill level, and is very attentive to his student’s needs. In addition, he is so intuitive that he can adapt to a student’s needs. That is pretty incredible!

And that was precisely the kind of interaction Lindsey needed when she started working with Tusker. Since her first day at the barn, Lindsey was able to build a friendship with the horses, other students, barn staff, and volunteers. Because our donors gave so generously to the barn, Lindsey received a scholarship to learn from and be challenged by Tusker. Their gift to the barn also meant we could provide the best care possible for Tusker. Their gift has been instrumental in providing Tusker, and other horses like him, with nutritional feed and ensuring they received extraordinary care. Thanks to our amazing donors, Tusker is happy, healthy, and well-fed! And students like Lindsey have a place where they can build strong relationships and learn from the friendliest horses! Thank you, donors!


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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.”


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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!

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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?!?