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Mrs. Cowart’s Stories- Chapter 4

Overcomers

Horses tend to be born overnight. Mares seem to like privacy and almost seem to wait until everyone has given up on their watchful vigil and leaves to get supper or some other interruption. Mares usually foal quite easily and quickly and they seldom have any trouble, unlike the cow who is prone to calving problems. Yet when a mare does have difficulty it is often quite serious unless help is at hand, while cows may need assistance they can endure a lot of trouble before it becomes serious. 

I remember one early spring morning when we had a young mare named Heather ready to deliver her first foal. We kept her in the barn because it was quite cold and this was her first baby. There is more danger in a stall because of the chance of the mare foaling too close to the wall and injuring the foal so we were carefully watching her. Heather began to labor just as the driving group appeared to take our children to school. Love, our daughter, was down at the barn with us hoping to see the seldom seen sight. Thrilled at the thought of getting to see a horse come into the world, the driving group poured into the barn. We let them climb up in the hay loft where they had a bird’s eye view of the event as they leaned over the rafters in rapt attention. 

Shortly the foal appeared, enclosed in a “cellophane” bag. Its little feet wrapped in a padded substance lest it poke a hole in the wonderful “see through” sack it was packed in, came first, one ahead of the other. Then the nose appeared. Another contraction and the shoulders positioned one ahead of the other appeared. Almost instantly the whole foal was safely on the straw still imprisoned in his protective bag. He looked pretty dead at first- which always gave me a fleeting moment of concern. He was wet, his eyes closed and his ears were flattened against his neck in sort of an odd way. Almost immediately the placenta dislodged from its connection to the mare’s body, the sack broke and fell away from the tiny nose and the foal convulsed as it took its first breath of air in the new and strange world from which it had just entered. Instantly processes that had never worked before were in full operation. A valve closed forever in the foal’s heart and the oxygen that had been supplied by the placenta suddenly began to be supplied by the foal’s own lungs as it gasped for its first few breaths. 

The mare who had never foaled before, or even read a book about it, or talked to the older mares about this process, lifted her head to sniff this creature in the stall with her. As she sniffed new and wondrous processes began in her brain. Suddenly all the “knowing” she would ever need to feed and care for this new creation began to activate within her. She nickered low in her throat to tell this miracle baby that had just cost her great pain, that somehow she knew he belonged to her alone. She was prepared to defend him with her life and that somehow she loved him as she licked and crooned to him with soft little knickers. She rested a moment along with the foal as all of the exchanging blood in the placenta drained into the foal’s little body. Suddenly she lounged to her feet, her nose caressing her little one. 

The foal lifted its head, made a soft little bleat and unfolded one long foreleg. Soon another leg that had never been straightened out since its conception in the womb of the mare was in position to attempt the most wonderful feat I could ever imagine. The foal that had appeared to be dead less than thirty moments before, had raised its long neck, looked around at the world he had never seen minutes before with eyes that had never seen and was attempting to stand up on long legs that had never unfolded before. His first attempt was a disaster and he fell forward on his face. Undaunted he tried again, this resulted in a somersault. Then began my struggle to refrain from helping him. But I had learned that all these falls and beginnings were designed by the Creator to help the blood oxygenated by lungs that have never been used until moments ago to circulate and strengthen muscles that have never been used before. The thrashing was also designed to break the attachment of the umbilical cord on the “dotted line,” close to the foal’s body where it had been designed to break. The rough thrashing of the foal would crush the cord in such a way that there would be no leakage of blood as was probable if I had cut it. After many attempts the foal was on its feet balancing in an awkward fashion, looking very much like a daddy longlegs spider and attempting to stagger through the straw. 

Another amazing process began; he was hungry! He held his little nose up high as he ewed his neck from withers to poll (the opposite of this natural head carriage), but necessary to connect with the places where he would eventually find his first meal. His little red tongue was curled even as puppies’ are and he was making sucking sounds! He fully trusted that somewhere on this great warm body of his mother that he would find the milk especially designed for him. He staggered around sucking on her front end, under the great belly, honing in on the smell of the milk as he got to the proper place. It always seemed that these foals would never find the mare’s udder, especially when a new mother would be very ticklish in this area. But, the foals always found it. 

Forcing herself to hold very still Heather arched her back preparing for the agony of that first suck. As the foal continued to explore she continued to forcibly control herself, sometimes uttering little ticklish squeals. This find and getting hold of the milk supply was a very necessary accomplishment, often having life and death circumstances. The colostrum which came before the pale thin milk appeared had all the antibodies necessary to protect the foal from all of the diseases of the environment. 

The children perched on the rafters above had held reverently still as they beheld this miracle of the creation. They had seen the birth of a horse as he came into the world like any other mammal, but inside half an hour he was ready to run with his dam if necessary. Eyes that had never seen, ears that had never heard were thrust into the fullness of life all at once, not gradually awakening to the world as puppies, kittens, and people do! They climbed down from the loft, piled into the car awed by the wonder of life. They were a little late for class but what ever could have compared with this glimpse of the Creator’s work? 

There are so many things I have learned from watching this recurring miracle. It was a careful planning for the Creator as He equipped this new life for its existence in our world. All of the foal’s falls and struggles were designed to strengthen him and teach him how to live in the new world he had just entered. If we had intervened we would have taken away a great deal of his strength. 

The next morning we beheld the wonder of the joy of life as this new little one was let out of the stall. He saw the world for the very first time! He had already been frolicking around the stall so very glad to be freed from the confinement of the womb, but when he was exposed to the outside world he could not contain his joy! His nervous mama tried frantically to keep up with him, swinging her head threateningly at the other horses who might be watching. He bucked and kicked, stopping to curl his fuzzy little tail over his back, lift his nose high in the air and snort his joy to be alive as he raced in increasingly larger circles. 

Our struggles to grow to new levels in this life, painful in themselves, are designed to build our spiritual muscles. Just as the foal would never make it on his own in the wild if it weren’t for all of his struggles in the moments after his birth, so are all of our struggles in this life designed to make our “unused spiritual muscles and systems” strong for the purpose they were given. Did not the Savior promise that it was the “Overcomers who get the prize?” To be an overcomer one must have something to overcome. But look at the results as seen in the foal’s first moments of life. Unspeakable joy and wonder at life! When our training here is over we will enter the wonders of heaven with the same overwhelming joy!

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A Home Away from Home

No Care in the World at the Barn

James laid across the hammock in front of the white barn, relaxing as his instructor, Barratt, gently rocked it back and forth. His sister, Lily, returned from a visit to see the goats and bunnies on the lower half of the property. She was hand-in-hand with her instructor, Alexis, who bent down to listen as Lily whispered something into her ear. Both children were giggling wildly, without any apparent care in the world. 

For years, James and Lily’s mom questioned whether this day would ever come. Repeated traumas threatened to steal their childhood innocence and no amount of traditional therapy seemed able to repair it. The two experienced a wide range of after effects, from separation anxiety to generalized anger, which only seemed to worsen with time. A family friend recommended The Red Barn. 

A Safe Place to Belong and Learn

Lily, an avid animal lover, was instantly hooked. She found that she was able to bring her love of stuffed animals to life while simultaneously gaining confidence and independence. At the barn, Alexis encouraged Lily to make her own decisions, whether that meant choosing her horse for the week or choosing which direction she wished to ride. The Red Barn provided Lily a safe place to belong and be herself, which translated to other areas of her life. Though still shy, she no longer dreads going to school. She learned to actually enjoy it.

James was slower to attach to the barn. Unlike Lily, he was initially afraid of the horses; to a boy of barely five, they were larger than life. That all changed when he started taking weekly lessons. He began by establishing a close bond with Barratt over their mutual love of nature. James excitedly examined rock after rock by her side, as she shared a constant stream of information which he soaked in like a sponge. As he grew to love and trust Barratt, he also grew to trust the horses. James had confidence that Barratt would never place him in harm’s way. After weeks of ground lessons, he finally agreed to ride. He then began riding weekly, with each session being just a little longer than the last one. At the barn, he got to quench his constant thirst for knowledge while regulating his emotions through riding and playing. 

Therapeutic Benefits of Riding are Undeniable

Neither James nor Lily was comfortable establishing boundaries of their respective comfort zones, and they each had to learn the value of the word “no.” Outside of home, Lily would merely shut down, while James was more likely to act out. Each is now willing to speak up when asked to do something they don’t feel comfortable doing. They learned to be assertive.  

Mom largely attributed their success to the relationship between instructor and child; without the support and trust of their instructors, neither James nor Lily would have ever been willing to get on a horse. She believed the therapeutic benefits of riding, however, are undeniable.  

I have heard that horses help with kids who have been through trauma. I have noticed in our own involvement in lessons that it has given my children confidence. They work with an animal that is so much bigger than them. The instructors empower them and help them realize they can do anything they put their mind to. Riding the horses gives them a sense of control because they think they are the ones steering the horse, even though the horse is under control of the horse handlers. Everything about the lessons help them not only in their barn work, but also at home.  –James and Lily’s Mom

These benefits only seemed to increase over time, as each child spent more and more time on horseback. Although the physical benefits of horseback riding were clear, James and Lily illustrated the emotional benefits, as well. 

Something to Look Forward To

As they headed out the barn’s gates, James and Lily reluctantly waved goodbye to Barratt, Alexis, and all of the horses. Until they returned, they wouldn’t stop thinking about what the next visit would hold. James wondered which rocks and plants Barratt would show him under the microscope. Lily looked forward to wrapping her arms around Mazie, her favorite horse of the week. Mom slept a little easier, knowing her kids had found a home-away-from-home.

Alexis, left and Barratt, right While Barratt is no longer at the barn, the love she gave the students and horses while here will never be forgotten. Barratt, you are missed!

 

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Mrs. Cowart’s Stories, Chapter 3

Worship

This morning as many mornings I returned from a walk through the woods with my Golden Retriever, Holly. When I began to drive in the direction of one of our places we got to “work,” Holly quivered in anticipation. She knew the directions to each place that we went. Her quivering and low whining would increase at every turn that brought us closer to our destination. 

This morning was glorious. A golden light shimmered over the woods and a lovely fresh golden mist rose up from the forest floor. Hardly able to control herself she managed to obey my command to “wait” as I gathered our equipment, put on her leash and opened the door. When I said the magic word, “okay,” she bounded off the seat and into the heel position. We always practiced a little heeling before I turned her loose just as a matter of discipline. Her gaze never left me until we stopped and I released her leash. She would leap in front of me leaping higher and higher until I gave her the bumper. Goldens are seldom happy without something in their mouths to carry. 

Then began an exhilaration in the heart of man and beast that it would be hard to supersede. Off she raced into the woods, her silky tail flagged in the air showing its pale golden underside, like a deer in flight. She disappeared into the woods. In a moment she would return running like a bullet. Oh how fast she was flying! Held earthbound, it seemed, only by her love for me who was so earthbound physically! Off she would go again and my heart soared as high as she sped. I was riding her in spirit, we were flying at the speed of light barely touching the earth, propelled by a joy that was uncontainable! 

Back to me she flew, coming to an abrupt stop at my feet holding up her bumper in her mouth. As glorious as was her physical freedom it only lacked the inclusion of me, the fellowship that she desired more than her wild freedom. I took the bumper and tossed it as far as I could. She flew after it almost turning head over heels skidding to a stop right upon it. 

The next phase of our game came as we approached the brook which had wonderful pools and little rapids and rocky, steep banks as it sped along. Bumper in mouth she raced to a place beside the swift stream, waiting for her human friend to catch up. She tossed the bumper at my feet and we began the next step in our game. I threw the bumper as far as I could into the creek. She bolted as soon as it left my hand and leapt over the rocky bank diving into the fast moving water and swimming to the floating bumper. She grabbed it gently in her mouth and began her swim to shore. My heart swelled as I saw her perceive the best way to climb out of the creek which she had entered on unseen wings even as she swam, and in a flash she delivered the bumper to my feet, her eyes hypnotizing my gaze until we repeated the process. 

I never ceased to wonder as I saw the keenness of her appraisal of the situations we confronted. It took some flash sensing on her part as the physical situations were never the same. Her determination to accomplish the purpose for which she was bred utterly amazed me. Sometimes I would forget to bring the bumper and a stick had to suffice. The current was moving fast as she hit the water where the stick had fallen, but the current had swept it away. She swam back and forth frantically searching, looking among the rocks and debris along the bank. Finally, she began to dive into the shallow water searching for that stick. She pulled up one stick from the bottom immediately rejecting it. It was not the stick that I had thrown which she knew only by the fact that it had touched my hand for the brief second before I threw it in. And, though it had submerged in water her sense of smell was so impossibly keen that the only stick that would do was the exact one that held my scent which her keen nose could detect. So she kept searching. Usually she would find the exact one and triumphantly deliver it to my feet. Sometimes the stick had disappeared forever, and it seemed she could not give up and I would have to call her repeatedly to tell her to call off the search. She came obediently to my feet looking at me with questioning eyes. I had to respond with another stick trying to convince her that she had not failed. 

As our time came to an end and she heeled back to my car my heart was soaring. I kept thinking of the joy of life that she showed to me. Just the unadulterated joy of being alive and having a body that followed her spirit into wonderful feats. I kept thinking of the harmony she had with her surroundings. The beauty of the woods; the changing form of the stream; the great diversity of the shapes and colors of the wonders of the season. And most of all the obedience and desire of this animal for communion with me. 

Most people think of “worship” as singing songs in a church or meeting, and that is sometimes true. Yet, I had never encountered a worship that brought me to my knees and overwhelmed me with the wonder of the Creator who had let me be a part of it, and let me see so gloriously some of His attributes revealed in His creation, as I have had in my adventures with this little dog. Oh my God, how great thou art! 

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Gabriel and Arya Then and Now

Gabriel riding

The Search for Help

Even before Gabriel had an official diagnosis, we were seeing signs of developmental delay. He was late to walk, struggled with some fine motor skills, and was very delayed with his speech. For the first two or three years of his life, every verbal communication was monosyllabic. He would not answer questions with “yes” and”no.” He did not really respond to directions. In spite of our involvement with early intervention and his pediatrician, we felt like there was something more we could do. In speaking with other parents, I know this is a common sentiment. This was frustrating, because we weren’t certain where to look outside the medical community.

We passed a horse riding place every day on the way to school and Gabriel began pointing out horses.  In an effort to expand his team of therapists, we started working with Puzzle Piece as a supplement to his services. Renee from Puzzle Piece noticed Gabriel’s fascination with horses, and was delighted when we asked about equestrian therapy. We immediately found one program, but we were told the wait list was years. YEARS!

Gabriel then and now- at 4 and now at 11- still smiling and riding!

Putting Two Words Together

When The Red Barn was really starting to put roots down, Renee mentioned she had worked with Joy in the past, and suggested we call her to inquire about availability. From there, everything else fell into place like magic. Gabriel was able to start riding soon thereafter; he had just turned 4 years old. Both he and our family fell in love with the staff, the barn and most important: the horses.

What was an interest became a passion. If there was a horse within 1,000 feet, Gabriel would spot it and point it out! I remember one time he proclaimed, “HORSE!” and I told him, “no buddy… I don’t think that is a horse,” thinking there was no way he could make that determination from so far away. We kept driving, and as we closed in on the location I gasped. “Gabriel – that IS a horse! How did you know from so far away?” The answer was obvious. “Horse. Barn.” I laughed. He laughed.  

He loves it here. It is impossible to come up with just one story to share because there are so many. Gabriel’s lessons are filled with smiles and laughter. There have been so many wonderful volunteers and staff members that have connected with him and helped him. The Red Barn is the first place he put two words together when he one day told a horse to “walk on.” There were tears of joy and gleeful clapping! He has ridden backwards, trotted through most of his lesson – thank you handlers and side walkers for those – and even ridden a miniature pony during our time here.

He looks forward to it every week and knows when I get him from school on riding day that we are heading here. He has gone from finally putting two words together to helping direct his lessons. It is amazing the growth he shows every time he comes.

What Has Changed

Riding helped Gabriel develop more core strength, has helped with following directions and discipline, and believe it or not, continues to aid him with his verbal development. Gabriel grew with The Red Barn.

Now, in addition to “horse,” “walk on,” “let’s trot!” and other commands, Gabriel can also tell you if he wants to go ride in the barn or do the pirate trail. He can tell you what horse both he and Arya rode that day. He can tell you he wants “chicken and fries” or “‘roni pizza.” Decision making, following directions, vocabulary, the strength to jump up and down…  a lot of kids take these things for granted. At The Red Barn, every new accomplishment makes our hearts soar, and when I think back on everything we’ve worked on in 8 years with Gabriel, I genuinely believe that we are far, far better off with Gabriel having a favorite place to be, around his favorite people with his favorite animals.

Now Arya Rides Too!

His sister, Arya, and I used to sit on the sides at every lesson and play with the trucks or jump in the puddles after it rained or walk around and say hello to the horses in their stalls. One day, she asked Ms. Joy when she would be allowed to ride too and now, luckily, she rides as well. She loves coming here. She loves learning and is so proud of what she accomplishes every time.

Arya then and now
Arya has been riding at The Red Barn since 2014. She has always been a big helper. Her latest project has been creating activity books for the other kids to use when learning about our horses! We have loved watching you grow, Arya!

 

We have grown with the barn over the years, from being able to get into lessons immediately to there being a wait list and triple the staff. All of the people we have encountered have met the diverse needs of both of our children, as those have continually changed. They facilitate shifts with laughter, joy, and fun, and it is amazing to watch and be part of. We are lucky to be part of The Red Barn community and I am so glad they are part of my children’s lives.

– Gabriel and Arya’s mom and dad

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This is called independence and strength!
Gabriel and Arya getting their student awards from Danielle Burroughs, their instructor
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Mrs. Cowart’s Stories- Chapter 2

Springtime

The light had been increasing. The short days of winter were lengthening only minutes a day. Already a miracle was beginning. Beneath autumn’s rotting leaves and the pasture’s grassy blanket rendered dead and brown by winter’s cold, little shoots were beginning to unfold. Old roots that appeared so lifeless and little seeds decaying beneath the surface felt the still unseen touch of light as our side of the earth turned her face closer to the sun seconds longer each day. 

Out of the sight of man or beast the mystery of the resurrection was beginning to unfold. Almost imperceptibly at first, but increasing each day the old dead root began to convert its dormant energy into white growth. The husk of the dead seed burst open and tiny white shoots began to press upward through the warming earth as it yearned for the sun’s light. Almost instantly the “non” color of the emerging life turned to a beautiful golden green as it burst through the earth’s surface and unfurled its tiny white leaf. Then suddenly a crocus burst into flower to announce to the otherwise brown earth that the miracle had begun. Life was overcoming death! Spring had begun!

The almost imperceptible increasing of the light spoke something into the horse’s bodies and their long woolly hair began to loosen and come off. The horses rolled massaging their itching bodies between the firmness of the ground and their own powerful muscles. Lurching to their feet they shake themselves violently to reveal patches of beautiful satiny hides, richer and deeper in color than at any time of the year; their dead winter hair left behind in furry patches on the ground. To me, these shiny coats were like the Easter dresses Mother clothed us with on Resurrection Day. The horses joined this celebration when Spring clothed the sleeping earth with life. 

As the green grass came forth in the pastures little calves and colts began to appear. We had little Charlet calves. Their coats were as white as snow, so clean and new. New and clean and awed and joyous of spirit the colts and calves frolicked about, playing and bucking and running. What a contrast their young lives were to the mature mares! Mellowed by the weight of years and the cares of life, which to them consisted of gathering green grass to be turned into white milk for their greedy offspring and protecting their babies from the dangers their youthfulness couldn’t comprehend. Most of the dams seemed very sedate, but sometimes they would hurry about mumbling rumbles of deep worry in their throats as they chased their rejoicing offspring.

For the barren mares, the miracle of increasing light whispered to the bodies to prepare to reproduce, for life is ever struggling with death and God’s creation is always seeking restoration as it declares His truth. 

The stallion is clothed in the richest of all the satin coats, for his coat has a deeper pigmentation than the other horses. His spirit is in turn with creation. He arches his neck which Job said was, “clothed with thunder and his snorting is the glory of his nostrils and he paweth the valley and rejoices in his strength and he mocks at fear” as he challenges the other stallions for the right to create life. 

Spring came and our beautiful mares foaled their beautiful foals. We were faced with the problem of breeding them back. Richlieu was a beautiful stallion, but his pedigree was old fashioned and to get into the mainstream market we needed to breed our mares to a stallion with a currently fashionable pedigree. But, then again, money was the problem. We would just have to breed the mares to Richlieu. One morning Richlieu was startled by the blacksmith coming around the barn, reared up, fell over backwards, and broke his neck. 

Now what were we going to do? We remembered the supernatural provision that had awaited us at every turn. There was nothing to do but expect it again. We would take a trip around the whole Eastern US and look at every likely stud prospect and every standing stallion. We would not say anything about money. So we spent two weeks looking at horses. We were somewhat disappointed with what we saw. None had the gorgeous head and eyes that Richlieu had, and none compared with Blanchita’s Society Rex which we had bred to Mallie. And, no money rained from heaven. So we went home disappointed with our problem still intact. Spring was still a ways off and we plotted and planned but all our deals fell through. 

Then one day Bob called. “Do you want Rex?” he began. Rex was a difficult horse and Bob made moral judgments against horses as if they were humans. He had turned Rex out and Rex had injured Bob. That was unpardonable with Bob. “I have had it with him and you can have him if you will come get him.” I was amazed. People didn’t give away properties worth that much! Bob had turned down a huge offer for a breeding horse in that day, shortly before. That horse was worth more than a farm. I couldn’t believe that anyone would give away property of that value. But then God is the God of the impossible and had He not met us at every turn with an unsuspected miracle? So we hooked up the trailer that day and drove to Franklin, Tennessee before Bob would have time to change his mind. As we drove home that night with one of the greatest studs in the Saddlebred world in our trailer, we were in awe! Our God, how great Thou art!

We had four colts the next spring. We trained them and sold them as two-year-olds, which is another story. Two years later when the colts were four years old, we went to Louisville, Kentucky to the World Championship Horse Show to see the first fruits of a story completely lived by faith. The first rider of these colts had been our young daughter whose life had also taken the same trail as ours and was going to prove anew the power of a Godward life soon after we returned home. 

Crystal Springs was Reserve World Champion Junior horse and Lad O’Shea was World Champion 5-Gaited Juvenile Horse. In the years ahead he would also be the World Champion 5-Gaited Ladies and World Champion 5-Gaited Amateur horse besides many other great wins. When Rex died a couple of years later he was the 5th ranking Saddlebred stud in the United States. 

Guard well your dreams because someday they might come true! With God all things are possible if only you believe. 

Springtime on Heathermoor Farm was a continuous worship experience to me every time I walked through the yard. Every tree burst into full bloom at the same time, all but the giant elm tree whose bare black branches showed the tiniest signs of promised life. The crab apple trees were all shades of pink, from deep watermelon to pale pink to nearly white. The glorious trees formed a cloud all around the house and yard. While the trees were blooming we had green grass instead of the usual splotched green of winter weeds against the brown of summer grass. As if touched by a fairy’s wand, the grass came out suddenly in emerald green. It was like a rich new carpet under the many pink clouds of the varieties of crab apple, cherry, and peach trees, the red bud and the white pear trees. 

Every morning I awoke to the symphony of birds. It seemed that there were over a hundred birds singing a symphony to this glorious celebration of life! No matter what my mood or how I was feeling, I never awoke to this sight without a profound sense of worship. I always took a trip down to the “secret garden,” trying to inhale this beauty before I went to the barn each morning. 

Scientists tell us that light is everywhere at once. It is omnipresent. Understanding light is science’s last great barrier. Light is the key to understanding time. To travel at the speed of light would make one immortal. Light is three colors fused into one. Light is the only constant in the universe, it never changes. Light focused is the powerful laser. Light triggers the cycle of life as it calls the sleeping creation back to life each spring!

The Bible tells us that God is the Father of Light and with Him is no variation or shadow of turning. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The only constant. He alone is immortal, dwelling in unapproachable light. He is omnipresent. He is the great three in one! And he richly furnishes us with all things to enjoy. 

The natural things do indeed speak of the supernatural. 

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Happiness and Solace at The Red Barn

Kristina’s Story

By the time Kristina was three years old, she had been deserted by both parents and had lost her closest friend. She was adopted by her grandmother, Carol.  Carol tried her hardest to provide Kristina with the type of love and support she needed. Kristina, however, still struggled to accept the losses in her life. She stopped playing with other children and would instead watch them from afar. She was soon diagnosed with clinical depression.

Kristina began talk and play therapy where she used dolls to express her feelings. After nearly a full year, she was able to say, “I’m mad at my mom.” This therapy alone was not enough to help her, though. She continued to struggle with empathy, self-confidence, and overcoming the feelings of inadequacy she felt from being abandoned. No matter how hard Carol tried to convince Kristina that it was her mom’s own problems that caused her to leave, Kristina continued to blame herself.  

Carol was familiar with another family who had been helped by The Red Barn in a time of tragedy and loss. Their experience prompted Carol to enroll Kristina in weekly riding lessons. Carol watched as, over time, Kristina developed self-esteem and independence. The horses and peers at the barn have taught her such empathy that Kristina says she plans to give back to The Red Barn by volunteering when she is old enough to do so. 

Kristina has finally found a place where she is accepted and loved. She knows that no matter how hard life might be at times, she will always find happiness and solace at The Red Barn. It has helped Kristina restore her faith in “family.”

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Mrs. Cowart’s Stories, Chapter 1

Adventure

Do you like adventure stories? 

They usually begin with a dream of something that you want to find, or a place you want to go, or a mystery you want to solve. The trail leads through many different situations. Sometimes it goes up a steep mountain and the path is dangerously close to the edge. A misstep would be dangerous. Sometimes it passes through a grassy meadow where there is lightness of heart and seemingly not a care in the world… Giants walk onto the scene. These terrible and powerful creatures attack and there is a big battle- doubts, depression, questions. 

After a while you realize that you are not alone on this adventure. You can’t see this mysterious presence, but you know that He is there. There was help beyond yourself to win that battle! Now the trail winds through a forest which is mysteriously beautiful and full of wonder yet it suddenly becomes a desert and there is no water. The heat gets awful and the scenery gets monotonous, but you are determined to find what you are looking for, so you keep pushing on.

Every now and then there is an amazing breakthrough and you more clearly see the prize which you are seeking. This energizes you to keep on going when the clouds roll in and you cannot see a foot ahead. You must keep pushing through the darkness responding to the unseen desire of your heart, till finally you find the treasure and it is yours forever. 

Eventually you discover that you are not the same person as the one who began the journey. You are strong. You have become a warrior. There is no fear. There is great confidence. There is now a clear concept of the treasure. Having seen it you know it is yours. You discover a company of people that are seeking the same treasure that you are, but they have come from different directions. Yet they have gone through all of the dangers that you have and they too are not the same people as they were when they began the journey. This treasure is so wonderful that there is enough for all of you. In fact, there are so many aspects of this treasure that you each discover that there is an aspect of it that is especially made for you and no one else, just as the fingerprints of each of you are different from anyone else who was ever created!

Suddenly you realize that the treasure is the great King Himself for whom all things are made! Who holds the atom itself together by the word of his power. He is the beginning, the first born from the dead, the mystery that has been hidden since the world began. He is the one in whom all the fullness of God has been revealed in bodily form. His name is Jesus! 

I had been searching for this treasure in many ways since I was a very little girl. In fact from my earliest memories. This was strangely tied up with the love of a horse. As I became a wife and a mother my husband and I wanted to be able to share with people the wonders we were finding in this fellowship with the Great King. We asked God to give us a story that by the very facts of it we could prove to others that the God of the Bible was who He claimed to be. 

We began our adventure when we moved our family of four small children from our “regular life” that was like everyone else’s, from our home on Heathermoor Road in Mountain Brook to a tiny farm in Rocky Ridge. We took with us the name Heathermoor and thus began the saga of Heathermoor Farm. It wasn’t long before we had outgrown our five acres. We had acquired a small herd of one stallion and three mares. We began yearning for a bigger farm where we could increase our herd, but we had no money with which to buy one. 

I remembered a verse my 7th grade Bible teacher had taught us:

“Delight thyself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  Psalm 37:4

She said that if God was first in your life He would give you the desire itself as well as the object of it. So we prayed that if this desire was indeed from God that He would have to give us the object of it because we had no money to bring it about ourselves. 

We had only prayed this way for a few weeks when John’s boss came to him and told him that he had found a farm in Leeds that was for sale at such a bargain price that he wanted to buy it for an investment. He would have to keep it for years until its investment potential was ripe. But he couldn’t do that without someone to live there and keep it up for him. He said it would be ours totally to build and plant until the appointed time. Would we be willing to do that? We were so excited that God had answered our prayers in such a hurry. So we moved our little herd of children and horses to Leeds taking with us the name Heathermoor, where we lived for 25 years.

The beautiful 100 acre farm had once been a show place, but had fallen into disrepair as the family had slowly died off. We set about to restore it. We decided that we needed to buy a few new mares to breed to Richlieu, our beautiful stallion that we had traded a heifer for to an aging lady on a farm in Tennessee. She could no longer care for him. 

The prevailing theory at that time was that if a mare didn’t make a show horse she would be a broodmare. We had been taught by our mentor, Bob Smith, who owned the wonderful stallion, Blanchita’s Society Rex, “That John D. Rockefellow couldn’t afford to own a sorry horse. It doesn’t cost anymore to feed a world’s champion than it does a nag!” he would say. Our budget was in the nag category so we went looking at local mares. Five times for five different mares, when we began to write a check, the owners suddenly decided they didn’t want to sell them to us only to sell them to someone else a week later!

What was God trying to tell us? Maybe he was directing us to Bob’s advice. We took a trip to Memphis, Tennessee to look at some mares that a well known trainer had. They led out three mares. They were all beautiful. Two were the most beautiful and well bred mares we had ever seen. Plus one had a foal by Rex and was in foal again to him. But, we couldn’t afford them so we ended up with the lesser mare. We took her back to Birmingham with her breeder’s certificate in hand guaranteeing her to be in foal. The next day after we got home she was in heat. We had not bargained for an empty broodmare so we had to return her. 

What was God trying to tell us? It certainly seemed He was directing us to the two most gorgeous mares. They couldn’t be sold apart so we would have to take them both or not at all. Our guidance seemed clear. We used the barren mare as a down payment and signed a note for the balance. We called our mentor Bob Smith to tell him what we had done. There was silence on the phone when slowly we heard, “I would have given anything to own those mares but he would never sell them.”

God is faithful!

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Budding and Blossoming- Nick and Lee’s Story

Nick and Lee

“We had tried most everything to bridge the communication gap caused by Lee’s autism, but it wasn’t until The Red Barn that we were truly able to communicate clearly and effectively. The Red Barn has helped Lee develop confidence, independence, and the ability to work well with others.” -Lee’s mom

 

For five years now, our students Nick and Lee have been coming to The Red Barn for their weekly workgroup. Every Friday morning during terms, Nick and Lee labor alongside staff and volunteers to make sure the horses are cared for and the property is beautiful. The workgroup was designed to enable some of our older students to experience a routine work schedule and list of chores to complete within an allotted time. The goal is to help students reach a higher level of independence in their home lives. We also hope to build their confidence and skill set to one day enter the working world.

Nick and Lee’s first few terms introduced them to a wide set of chores, which they tackled with staff assistance. Examples of these tasks include cleaning water troughs, scrubbing and refilling horse feed and water buckets, cleaning the goat pen, and many, many others. Staff and volunteers would lead the two boys through these tasks, breaking the tasks down step by step. Slowly, the staff stepped back, encouraging the boys to lead the transition from one step or task to another.

Growing Independence

As the staff have slowly stepped back, Nick and Lee have blossomed. Their independence has grown with every term. One morning, as staff offered our normal assistance to muck Black Flight’s stall, Lee replied, “Actually, I have this one by myself, thank you though.” He quietly toiled away, finishing the stall without any assistance. A short while later, Nick waved the staff help off when we grabbed brushes to help them scrub water troughs.

Both students have also participated in multiple terms of The Red Barn’s Job Skills program. Job Skills is a more formalized version of their workgroup. The instructor introduces and coaches participants on the soft skills required for employment. Such skills include courtesy, personal appearance, time management, and showing initiative, among others. Most sessions have anywhere from five to ten participants. Teamwork and communication are strongly emphasized so participants will have experience working with others before they enter the working world.

The Job Skills program has greatly accelerated both Nick and Lee’s growth and independence. Staff no longer directly assist in their tasks, but merely oversee their work. Nick and Lee are now capable of thoroughly completing every step of a task without issue. They may occasionally need a reminder to stay on task when they get too talkative, but their chattiness reflects another way they’ve grown.

A Budding Friendship

“I have truly enjoyed watching their friendship grow over the years. They have both developed into such kind, thoughtful, and hardworking young men.” – Becky Shuler, Nick and Lee’s volunteer helper

Back when the workgroup first began, Nick and Lee would only speak a sentence or two to one another before moving on from the conversation. As time went on, they began joking back and forth, as Nick often asks Lee if he has ants in his pants or the time Lee pretended to be a hitchhiker while Nick rode back to the white barn to dismount. I can’t help but laugh along with them, largely because of how genuinely funny they are. But it is also because I am thrilled seeing them feel comfortable and confident enough to emerge from their shells. The two have become close friends not only to each other but also to the staff and volunteers they work beside.

Nick is a huge Alabama fan and was dismayed to see me wearing an Auburn cap one day. Since then, he often takes friendly shots at me whenever I have any sort of goof up, saying, “Connor, you Auburn fan!” Nick also has a near-photographic memory. If you tell him something that he interprets as important, he will check on it every week. He met my parents at the 2016 Red Barn Christmas party and still asks how they are doing every week.

Lee loves technology and science-fiction, especially space travel. He has brilliant ideas for different robots and schematics he could design to make life easier at the Barn. He even came up with his own idea for a novel called “Terror in Space,” which he plans to adapt into a movie. Before lessons and during work breaks, he will regale us with fine details of the plot. However, when it is time to work, Lee will lock in and focus on his task (until he gets asked if he has ants in his pants).

Learning to Ride

Since 2017 Nick and Lee have been taking a joint riding lesson. Lee did ride for a few years prior to the workgroup, so he often serves as a positive role model in carrying out their instructor’s directions. Lee rides with only a horse handler and is working towards steering his horse off lead at the walk. For his part, Nick does a great job following his friend’s lead and has shown steady improvement. He initially struggled with leg cramps that would lead to early dismounts. But he has built up his leg strength and balance to the point he can stay on for the duration of an hour-long lesson without any pain.

Friday mornings are a highlight of my time here at the Barn. Seeing the two friends embrace before parting ways after each lesson encourages me to reflect on my own journey here. I hope to continue working alongside both Nick and Lee much more in the future. Watching the two of them grow has been one of the most fulfilling experiences I have had since beginning work at the Red Barn.

–  Connor Samples

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Donor Spotlight- In Their Words

You know how a box of Valentine’s Day chocolate is like a gamble? Like a gamble that you ALWAYS win because ALL of the chocolates are delicious? That’s kind of what our donors are like. We have lots of different flavors of donors, and they’re all precious to us!

Colleen and Jackson
“I support and volunteer at The Red Barn because I’ve seen first hand the incredible difference that horse therapy has made in the lives of these children. I have witnessed improvement in balance, core strength and social skills. Of equal importance is seeing their pride and confidence grow as they participate in the various programs. This truly is a place of faith, hope, and love. Keep up the great work!” Colleen Samples, Volunteer & Donor

There are event sponsors, monthly donors at all levels, end-of-year donors, Facebook donors, Facebook birthday fundraisers, memorial and honoraria donors, people who give up their birthday money to support the barn, family foundations that give monthly, family foundations that give a few times a year, small businesses that donate, large businesses that donate, people who give through their employer’s United Way campaign. The list could go on forever!

So what do all of these amazing supporters have in common? Our donors love the mission, love the people, and LOVE seeing how impactful their donations are in the lives of our students!

Naturally, we need to hear it “from the horse’s mouth.” We asked, “Why do you give?”

“I give because of the huge difference The Red Barn makes in the lives of their students and the families that benefit from the impact.”

“The needs that are met by the staff and resources at The Barn are too numerous for me to name, but the number of people who reap the benefits more than justify any donation.”

“If you visit and observe how many people invest in each child, each horse, and each lesson one would come away so impressed and grateful!  Everything is handled and planned for on such an organized and professional level. I am challenged to do something in response.”

“Their mission, the level of quality, the way they impact lives.”

“I know the people and ministry behind the Red Barn. I trust in their calling and know God is making a difference in families because of The Red Barn.”

“The great impact the programs have on families and the need to serve more families.

The heart of these donors is to make a difference, make an IMPACT in the lives of our students and their families. All of our staff, parents, volunteers, and students are so very grateful. Take a moment and watch some videos of life-changing transformations on our YouTube channel today! And if you find yourself inspired to give any amount, give here.

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What Are Red Barn Staff Members Thankful For?

While there may not be enough room on the internet for ALL our people are thankful for, we are going to give it a shot! The Red Barn has an extremely grateful staff.

Joy (AKA Mama Joy) is thankful:

  • When I meet someone in the community and they tell me they’ve heard about someone who has benefitted from our programs.
  • When everyone pitches in to make sure the stalls get cleaned and all the envelopes get addressed.
  • When everyone works together and we fly like The Blue Angels.
  • When people say they are praying for us.
  • When the temperature doesn’t get below freezing so we don’t have to worry about pipes freezing.
  • When we are able to get the horses all in before it starts raining cats and dogs.
  • For the wagon that helps us carry the shavings to the stalls.
  • When someone drops off a whole load of supplies that they’ve been collecting and it’s exactly what we need. There are no coincidences!
  • For loyal friends who stick together to share faith, hope, and love.
  • For BIG fans in the lower barn.

Sylvie says that she is thankful for:

  • Finalizing the adoption with Daisa and having her as my sister.
  • Having an amazing family willing to love everyone no matter what.
  • Having a dad I am proud of, and being able to work with him here.
  • Having an amazing family let me keep my horses at their property so I get to see them every day.
  • Friends that, even when they move 12 hours away, stay in touch with you and come and visit.
  • An amazing staff that is willing to help teach me AND an amazing workplace that cares so much about their staff and their horses! It’s been really amazing to get to do what I have always wanted to do and have coworkers that are so tightly knit. They always have your back and are willing to take the extra second to explain something to you or help you- on or off the clock!
  • Last but not least, I am thankful for God and the number of people in my life that show his unconditional love!

Continue reading What Are Red Barn Staff Members Thankful For?