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From Student to Staff


Hannah arrived at The Red Barn in June of 2011. She is the fourth child in a family of ten and was the only girl in her family until she was eight. She grew up with a deep love for horses, but had never been around them much. She had been on a horse only twice in her life: once as a three-year old and once on a trail ride with her family at age eleven. She came to the barn with a family she babysat for to help watch the kids. In return, the family offered her one of their lesson slots. Hannah’s instructor at that time suggested she volunteer. Thinking “she says this to everyone,” Hannah didn’t really consider it at the time. Given a little more time and thought, Hannah decided to see what was required for her to volunteer. 

At first, she volunteered once a week. Her lessons were infrequent and spread out quite a bit, but even by standing in the middle of the arena listening to the instructors, she began to learn about working with the horses in the saddle and on the ground, as well as how to teach. Little did Hannah know that this was the beginning of an amazing journey with The Red Barn. 

Soon Hannah was asked to help with some of the camps over the summer. There was a CHA (Certified Horsemanship Association) Seasonal Instructor class being offered at the barn, and it was recommended that she attend. She felt very out of her element as she sat around the table that first day with four or five other girls who had grown up riding, competing, and some even owning horses. She was very nervous about doing or saying something with everyone else watching. Being very shy and self-conscious made her fearful of making mistakes, but she loved the barn and used that love to push on through and pass the class. 

Over the next month or two Hannah began increasing the number of days she spent at the barn. She helped in lessons, camps, and with the horses. She saw the children come and fit in at a place where everyone is loved and accepted for who they are, not who the world says they should be. She watched as the instructors were able to tailor each lesson to the specific needs of their students. She learned about the animals she loved her entire life, how to work with the beautiful, powerful horses that were now a daily part of her life. It brought her out of her shell and gently forced her to grow and push herself to be better. The kids around her were pushing through greater struggles than she was and were succeeding. Why couldn’t she?

During the summer of 2012, Hannah’s course took a turn she never expected. She arrived at the barn one Monday morning ready to help with the camp scheduled that day. She was looking on the board for her responsibilities when one of the lead instructors walked up to her. They exchanged the usual greetings and then the instructor asked Hannah, “Have you ever thought of being an instructor?” This took Hannah a little off guard. Her? An instructor?

That was the turning point in Hannah’s life at the barn. Her role changed from a volunteer to that of intern and eventually staff. Her coworkers helped coach and mentor her through the many challenges of certification. She was given several opportunities to receive the training she needed both at The Red Barn and other similar agencies in the area. She could see the difference between large group lessons and the small group or private lessons that The Red Barn offers. While the benefit of riding could be found in both situations, Hannah loved the flexibility that existed at The Red Barn. She loved the variety of ways the horses could be used to help the children and adults. It was amazing to her the versatility equine therapy had, from a child with Cerebral Palsy who need movement to a Veteran who need the emotional connection. Hannah spent just over a year working through the instructor-in-training phase of her journey. She became certified through CHA-IRD (Certified Horsemanship Association-Instructors of Riders with Disabilities) in August of 2013 and through PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) in September 2013.

After becoming certified, Hannah began teaching at The Red Barn. She had students who were working through physical disabilities who needed to gain strength and balance, as well as those with emotional or mental needs who required an entirely different approach to teaching. Through it all, the smiles of her students have been the favorite part of her job. She has been able to watch her students’ progress over the years she has now been teaching. Their success stories are a part of her own story. She loves seeing their increased confidence, physical strength, and independence. Her greatest desires are for her students to feel needed, loved, wanted, and as she found hers.

Over the years, Hannah has worked with students from many different backgrounds. There are those with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, ADHD, depression and traumatic brain injuries. Some of the children come from families that are large, while others are the only child. There are students who have been adopted or have an adopted sibling. Many of the students come from homes that struggle to make ends meet. The needs and struggles of the students who ride at The Red Barn are different for each. The staff at The Red Barn do their best to relate to each student and parent on the level they personally need, whether that’s just working with the child or being a listening ear to a struggling parent. They seek to have empathy and compassion for all who come on the property. They all have their own story, just like Hannah.

These days, Hannah can be found at home with her precious husband and daughter, doing projects for the barn as needed. She has been known to fill in when we’re in a tight spot, and we’re so grateful!

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Empowering Others- Grace’s Story

The daily activities at The Red Barn would not be possible without the help of our incredible volunteers. One of the people behind the volunteers, Grace Butler, constantly ensures that there are enough people in each lesson, camp, and gathering. Her background is in teaching pre-school children, but her gift is inspiring the ones who make this job possible.

While Grace would never boast about herself, others can easily see the positive influence she has not only on the staff, but on everyone she comes in contact with. While the way she spends her days has changed over the years, a few things remain true:

  • if there is a microphone around, we’re probably putting it into Grace’s hands
  • if there is a camera around, we’re probably asking Grace to stand in front of it
  • if there is a volunteer or donor around, she is probably giving them a big hug
  • and if there’s anything good that can be said about The Red Barn, she probably has a hand in making it happen. 

During her initial interview process, it became clear to everyone that Grace was the missing piece in the Red Barn puzzle. What started out as training and scheduling volunteers has morphed into a new position at the barn, Public Relations Coordinator. She is now the face of tours at The Red Barn. As she walks around with the tour groups, she spiritedly recounts the story and history of each part of the property.  Grace is also the voice of the barn! She has lost count of the number of radio and television interviews she has done, but the rest of the camera-shy staff could not be more appreciative. 

Logistically, Grace would be very difficult to “replace.” But speaking from a morale standpoint, her passion for the mission and the people at The Red Barn is irreplaceable. “Grace” is an apt name for her.

While she impacts everyone around her, Grace talks about how The Red Barn has impacted her as well. She says, “I have seen myself become confident. I no longer wonder if I can do it. Now, I think I could try anything.” 

This confidence and determination comes from her experience with one of our students. One day, Grace filled in for a volunteer who was unable to make it to Suki’s lesson. Suki suffers from a rare disability which causes her systems to gradually shut down. Despite her disability, Suki pushes through the physical challenges that come with horseback riding. Each lesson she practices trying to motivate her muscles to push herself up out of the saddle and then relax to bring herself back down. This task is not easy for anyone. It is a skill that riders have to work on and perfect for years. After a few months sidewalking in Suki’s lessons, Grace witnessed what few thought possible: her posting at the trot. Suki did it with incredible strength and poise, leaving Grace in awe.  

Suki through the years…







This determined little girl accomplished her goal and reminded Grace that she could accomplish anything, too. It is a story that Grace will never forget. Whenever she feels like she can’t do something, she thinks of Suki and knows that she can. 

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Intern Insights: Sylvie

Sylvie “Sunshine” Daggett is a long-time volunteer at the Red Barn. This past Summer, she accepted a position as an intern and worked three days a week at the Barn. Sylvie helped with lessons and daily operations while receiving training in order to become a certified instructor through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH). We appreciate all the hard work Sylvie puts in to helping the Barn, and are thrilled to announce that she recently accepted a full-time position on our staff! I decided to sit down with her so she could share some insight into her experience over the past few months. I hope you all enjoy this exclusive, behind-the-scenes look into the life of a Red Barn intern!

Connor: You’ve been volunteering at the Red Barn for a few years now, correct? How’d you originally hear about the Barn?

Sylvie: Shelley Jones (a former Red Barn instructor) came to my school, Evangel Christian School, for a school orientation and mentioned the Red Barn as a place to volunteer. I had been looking for a place to serve and like horses so it sounded cool to me.

ConnorWhat drew you towards pursuing an internship at the Barn?

Sylvie: Having the opportunity to work more with so many of our awesome students, like Hailey Grace.

Connor: In what ways has your experience as an intern differed from your experience as a volunteer?

Sylvie: You get to see the background, like all that behind the scenes jazz, at the Barn more as an intern and how much work goes into everything. As a volunteer, you’re more guided from lesson to lesson.

Connor: What advice do you have for anyone interested in becoming an intern?

Sylvie: Just to get ready to fall in love with the hardest job that gives back the mostest.

Connor: Do you plan on going into the field of therapeutic horseback riding or do you have another career path in mind?

Sylvie: Yep to the first part! I’m currently working on becoming a PATH-certified instructor.

Connor: Do you have horses of your own? How long have you been riding?

Sylvie: I’ve been riding consistently since I was 13 and I have two horses, Chica and Molly.

Connor: What’s your favorite color?

Sylvie: Uhhhh… Peach, it’s a happy color! Or maybe grey.

Connor: Anything else you’d like to add? Any shout-outs?

Sylvie: Yeah, I’d like to give a big shout-out to my boy, Billy the goat.