“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.”