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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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Your Gift Doubles! Give Before 12/24/21

 

 

Today, we are asking you to give a gift to help a child with a disability from a family that needs financial assistance.

The pandemic has caused unimaginable anxiety and trauma for children and families; read more here.  Families are desperately seeking help for their children.

Let me tell you how your gift will help a child like Tracey.

Tracey has auditory processing disorder, autism, and anxiety disorder. This means she has difficulty understanding verbal information and communicating if she needs something.

Her mom knows that Tracey would benefit from interacting with and riding horses at the barn, but she doesn’t know how she can afford riding lessons.

The challenge has been made even worse due to the pandemic.

A generous donor has stepped up to help children like Tracey, and so can you. The donor recently offered to match your gift dollar-for-dollar, up to $50,000. But you have to make your gift before December 24th to take advantage of the match!

Will you give by December 24th to help a child like Tracey?

Your gift will allow Tracey to ride a horse and work on important skills that she needs to be successful. Skills like improving her core strength, self-esteem, confidence, communication, and interpersonal skills.

Every hour a child like Tracey is on horseback is an hour where tremendous confidence is being built, but that is at risk due to the pandemic and the costs associated with running our programs.

Kids like Tracey can really use your help. And your gift will DOUBLE to make TWICE the impact because of the match.

But it is urgent that you give before December 24th to ensure these children and families receive the essential services they need. 

The pandemic has added additional financial stress on our ability to serve the kids and care for the horses. And for a variety of pandemic-related issues, it costs more per hour for a child to ride a horse.

Your gift will make a life-changing difference to Tracey and others who have a disability and who are from low-income families.

While you are reading this, would you send in a gift? You’ll love knowing you have helped a child with a disability in their time of need.

Please send your gift to help today!

Sincerely,

Joy O’Neal, Executive Director

p.s. To give online, click here! You may also mail a check to The Red Barn at 2722 Bailey Road, Leeds, AL 35094.

 

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Thank you, a thousand times!

“When I first heard about equine therapy, I was a complete skeptic. I had an unnatural fear of horses myself and felt it highly unlikely that horses could be therapeutic. The Red Barn came highly recommended, so I was willing to try it. We were desperate and desperation will often cause one to abandon one’s reservations and skepticism. I could hardly believe the difference the barn made in our family. It was a blessing and a treat for all of us. We have participated in all manner of activities at the barn and every one of them has been beneficial. Thank you, a thousand times! Thank you for all that you consistently do for our family and all of the families of the barn. You are making a tremendous difference, and oh my word! How can I adequately put into words the gratitude I feel when my children are at the barn? Their time there provides me with a much-needed respite. It provides them with independence, yet individualized attention; we all leave the barn better than when we arrived. It truly does mean so much to me to have my children participate in the activities there.” – their mom, Amy Martin

Raising three different children with their own unique needs and circumstances can be difficult at times. Amy’s teenagers, Shelton, Charlotte, and Maggie each have different needs and perspectives on how to meet those needs. Shelton has Autism, while Charlotte and Maggie were adopted at young ages. And like all siblings, there are times when they would clash with one another, or even their parents, and Amy never knew how to deescalate the situation. She felt breathless and unable to sense the air in the room as the friction between family members increased. 

Before coming to The Red Barn, Amy could not possibly see how interacting with horses would help her three children. As a healthcare professional, she could not understand how horses could be therapeutic. She was afraid of them and found the presence of these large creatures to be anything but calming. But, The Red Barn came highly recommended, and she was willing to try anything to help rein in the chaos and help better the broken communication within her household. 

The Martins began at the barn in a family group lesson taught by our instructor Ellen. Due in part to her skeptical nature and because of her earnest desire to strengthen her communication with her family, Amy tagged along as a participant. In one of the earliest lessons, Ellen asked her to move a horse with one finger. Amy struggled at first, having no idea how such a task was possible. However, Ellen helped her keep calm and walked her through the process of applying pressure and releasing. 

Then it clicked for Amy. It wasn’t about what was physically being done but how she felt about the action. As long as she remained calm during the activity, she was able to communicate with the horse properly, both verbally and nonverbally, and the animal would reciprocate that communication. The finger was simply a minimal amount of pressure that communicated to the horse where Amy wanted it to go. This lightbulb moment extended beyond just one activity with the horse. Amy realized that her own emotional escalation in tense situations with her kids had only been adding fuel to the fire. She learned to better calm herself and regulate her emotions, allowing her to think clearly and to effectively communicate with her children in those moments of discord. 

But Amy isn’t the only one who has benefited from the Martin family’s time at the barn. Shelton, Charlotte, and Maggie have become regular students at the barn, and have attended many different programs such as holiday camps, Job Skills, and even individual riding lessons. The Martins have an hour drive to reach the barn, but the excitement of visiting replaces any anxiety or frustration of three teenagers being crammed in a small car for that long. 

After his involvement with the barn, Shelton has become more organized and is now a huge help with chores around the house. Though he isn’t as much of a horse person as his sisters, Shelton loves the goats and feels most accomplished when he can do chores that directly benefit them. 

Maggie thrives in the barn’s encouraging environment. When upset in the past, she had difficulty using her words and controlling the volume of her voice. At the barn, she learned the importance of remaining quiet and using her voice and body language to properly communicate with her horse. These are crucial lessons she has carried over to her interactions with her family. She is much calmer now, and her mom better understands her needs and how to help her remain on a more even keel. Maggie is particularly drawn to animals with unique or unusual personalities – the more aloof they are, the more she wants to understand and love them. She and Billy the goat have become good friends as a result. 

Charlotte is a great kid who struggled with self-confidence in the past. The barn’s Job Skills program in particular has helped her. Before the course, Charlotte would shut down and remain quiet around strangers. The soft skills she has learned and the social situations she has experienced through Job Skills have led her to becoming the most talkative of the siblings. She is the best at directly communicating her needs, as well as the needs of the rest of her family, to The Red Barn staff. She’s the oldest and seems to have fully accepted the responsibility of being the leader and role model for her siblings. Charlotte does an outstanding job of positively encouraging and working alongside both Shelton and Maggie during their Job Skills lessons. 

The Red Barn, thanks to scholarship programs, have had a healing effect on the entire family, drawing them closer. Amy shared, “I wouldn’t know how to thank the people who gave so that we could get scholarships. I was never told I couldn’t come here or do any certain programs because it costs money.” 

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She feels healing, no matter what

“It brings many emotions to the surface. When your child feels safe, happy, looks forward to the experience, the staff, and her surroundings…it is everything. The tranquility is felt when you enter the gates. Alexis is what I would choose for her in a big sister. She looks up to her, trusts her, and they share a love of the barn and horses.” – Tori’s mom, Lisa Barnes

Tori will not let a single person she encounters at The Red Barn remain a stranger. Gregarious and polite, she greets everyone with a smile and, “How are you today?” 

Before coming to the barn, Tori’s life was mostly about lists and structure. These lists helped some, but her mother Lisa wanted her daughter to find a place that could both help Tori grow and learn while also having fun. Tori has always loved animals, so when Lisa heard about the barn she decided Tori would enjoy being around horses and signed her up for several camps. 

It didn’t take long for Tori to connect both with the people and the horses here. She quickly befriended everyone she could and those bonds she formed were an obvious sign that she found a place where she truly belongs. Tori became a regular at The Red Barn holiday and term-long camps such as Bully in the Barn and Social Skills. 

Lisa quickly noticed a change within her daughter. While Tori has always been incredibly friendly, deeper communication has always been more difficult for her. Tori became much better about sharing her inner thoughts because she was so eager to relay details about all of the different activities she took part in during camps at the barn. Her time during the camps also sparked new interests for Tori. Lisa recalled when Tori learned to make butter during Pioneer Camp. Following that experience, Tori began eagerly offering to help her mom out in the kitchen, gaining interest in learning new culinary skills. 

After more than two years of being a regular on The Red Barn camp roster, a riding spot finally opened for Tori. Although Tori had hands-on ground experience around horses, riding presented a new and exciting challenge for her. Horseback riding requires a very precise and intimate communication between horse and rider. At first Tori took that for granted and assumed that riding was simply a fun activity that would help her with physical exercise. It didn’t take long for Tori to realize it was much more involved. She realized she had to fully follow her instructor’s directions and be both firm and decisive in her communication with the horse while also being gentle and understanding of the horse’s needs. Being on horseback helped Tori better understand the back and forth nature of relationships, an abstract concept that Tori was able to grasp through the natural process of growing as a rider. 

Lisa has seen Tori transform during her time at the barn. For the first time in Tori’s life, she displayed an independent drive to improve herself through her desire to learn new riding skills. Even though Tori has found her passion in riding, she is still a regular in camps. Her mom reflects, “There is a spirit here and the people make it great. Tori can come to a class or lesson and she feels healing, no matter what.” 

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Biggest Smile in a While

“The Red Barn is a genuine source of support for my daughter. Their well-trained, compassionate staff provide a fresh set of eyes and ideas to help Sapphire develop goals and grow.” – Sapphire’s mom, Melissa Allen

Sapphire’s mom, Melissa, wanted to find an activity that would enable her child to express herself. She recalled a day camp at The Red Barn that Sapphire had attended years before with another organization working with the barn. The two of them visited for a tour and evaluation and instantly fell in love with the horses and the people. However, as a single mother of two adopted kids, Melissa was worried about being able to afford the cost of lessons. Luckily, The Red Barn’s scholarship program had an available spot for Sapphire.

In the summer of 2019, Sapphire attended both a teen social skills class and a family group with her mom through the scholarship. Despite having thoroughly enjoyed the day camp from several years previously and her excitement to be around horses again, Sapphire couldn’t help her nervousness on her first day. It was a change in her comfort zone, and she had little experience around horses. Though horse lovers can attest to the calm and gentle nature of these animals, many people are often unsettled in their first few close-up encounters simply because they’ve never been so close to such a large animal. 

Despite her initial concerns, Sapphire instantly connected with Panda. In her first week, Sapphire was tasked with matching her breathing and rhythm with Panda’s. Horses have a naturally slower respiratory rate at about 10 to 12 breaths per minute. Sapphire was able to match Panda’s breathing, and both she and her horse noticeably relaxed. Since then, she has found the presence of horses to be a natural source of calmness. Not only that, Sapphire has carried over these lessons on regulating her breathing in her home life and is often able to calm down with the help of the family dog, Pharaoh. 

Last autumn, Sapphire began receiving occupational therapy with our on-staff occupational therapist, Ellen. One of Sapphire’s primary improvements is evident in her posture. She no longer slouches her shoulders and stands up much straighter. Sapphire was able to connect her improved posture with her previous social skills lessons on presenting positive body language when speaking with others. This change of posture greatly enhanced her confidence as well. With her shoulders back and her head up straight, she no longer looks down as she walks, helping her better connect with peers at school. 

Amidst the chaos of the pandemic and when she needed a stable activity the most, Sapphire began taking riding lessons for the first time in May 2020. She had never ridden a horse before. Upon hopping down after her first ever ride, Sapphire said, “I haven’t smiled this big in a long time!” 

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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!”

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Take the Reins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Audrey’s Story- In Her Own Words

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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