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Recent Work Groups!

Last week, three different work groups assisted with various projects around the Red Barn. Monday morning, Leeds High School’s Key Club paid us a visit. On Friday, the accounting firm Barfield, Murphy, Shank, & Smith held an all-day serve day at the Barn. And finally, a volunteer group from UAB came out on Saturday morning. We’re truly thankful for all their help!

The LHS Key Club was the largest group, consisting of nearly 30 students. Due to the size of the club, our staff split them into three smaller groups to divide and conquer. Group one deep cleaned the bunny hutch and surrounding pen before clearing the roadside ditch in front of the white and brick houses of mud, pine-straw, leaves, and other debris that clogged it after Hurricane Nate. Group two deep cleaned the goat and duck pens. They also picked up sticks in the goat pasture and changed out the water in their buckets and troughs. Group three kept our trails tidy by ensuring the obstacles were all clean and by picking up the countless sticks that scattered the trails following Hurricane Nate.

The BMSS serve day was the smallest group in size, but worked for seven hours! They helped with all sorts of projects: stripping and replacing shavings in stalls, trimming rose bushes, cleaning all of our horses’ buckets and troughs, and more. Fridays tend to be busy days lesson-wise, and luckily the BMSS group filled in to complete several weekly chores our staff would have struggled to finish without the extra hands.

UAB’s work group split the difference with about 15 students, which we also divvied into three smaller groups. Bunnies, goats, and ducks are very messy animals, so we again focused on cleaning their respective pens. In addition, the volunteers spread ant killer on the numerous ant beds popping up all over the property, picked up poop in horse pastures, and painted the wooden spools in the goat pasture.

All three groups were absolutely amazing. Due to the small size of our staff and limited time we have between lessons, we heavily rely on these large volunteer work groups to help with many of the more daunting tasks that come with the upkeep of a 33-acre property and the care of over two dozen animals. Thank you so much to the people at Leeds High School, Barfield, Murphy, Shank, & Smith, and UAB for donating your time to assist us. The Red Barn wouldn’t have the time or resources to serve all our wonderful students without your help!


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Welcome, Ducks!

We are very excited to announce four young ducks as the newest additions to the Red Barn herd! The ducks are American Pekins with all-white feathers and light-orange bills and feet. Though they were born this past winter, they are already fully grown. Two of them are female and the other two are males. We haven’t decided on any names yet, mainly because it is difficult to tell them apart individually (I, personally, think it would be neat to get different color anklets so we can distinguish them).

The ducks are living in the same pasture as the goats. During the day, the duck squad will wander around the pasture, playing in any rain puddles or in their plastic baby pool. At night, they go into a cage to help protect them any potential predators. The four ducks always move as a single unit, never straying more than a few feet from one another.

Though they were cautious when they first arrived, the ducks quickly warmed up to both people and the other animals. Originally, we had to herd them into their cage every evening. But after a few weeks, they learned to trust us and now eagerly wait outside their cage come bedtime. The ducks can still be a bit shy when people try to approach them directly. However, a handful of seeds is all that is needed to bridge this barrier. They will eagerly eat out of any hand that offers them food, much to the delight of our students.

While initially distant towards the goats, the ducks now seem to enjoy the company of their four-legged pasture pals and often follow them around. They have even grown to trust Xena whenever she wanders into the pasture to receive her daily tribute.

We’re happy to see the ducks adjust to becoming fun and friendly members of our herd. They did great in groups this past Summer and hopefully they’ll continue to be amazing for all individual lessons this Fall term!


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Fall Term Meetings!

Over the course of the past two weeks, and continuing through this current week, the Red Barn invited both parents and volunteers to meet with instructors to discuss goals and to plan for the upcoming Fall term. Understandably, not every parent was able to attend in person, so several of these planning sessions were held via phone conference. Either way, the meetings aided our instructors in preparing lesson plans for the Fall and helped our volunteers better understand the needs of their students.

For the parents who could make it out to the Barn, we offered ground lessons for their children. Some students spent time grooming and painting our horses, others played with the small animals, and one pair even staged a dramatic sword fight using inflatable swords and pool noodles. Everyone appeared to have a blast, including our staff.

It is less than a week away from the term’s official start. Anticipation is at an all-time high here at the Barn. We cannot wait to share laughter and learning with each and every one of our amazing students. We’ll see you all out here starting on August 28th. Here’s hoping this will be the best Fall term yet!


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Summer 2017 Wrap-up

The 2017 Summer term is officially in the books! Even with the flooding, heat, and humidity, we had a fun and busy term.

While Spring and Fall terms tend be heavy on individual riding lessons, Winter and Summer terms focus more on group riding and unmounted lessons. A handful of our students, those who we believe would lose significant progress during the 3 month layoff, still had individual riding lessons, but that load was significantly lighter overall. Trying to teach 15+ separate riding lessons per day in the Summer heat would be brutal for everyone involved, especially our horses.

In order to conserve human and horsepower, the Barn offered four distinct group riding lessons this Summer. For these groups, we partnered our students by similar age, from preschoolers to high school students. The younger groups had different themes each week, such as the wild West or a Hawaiian luau, while the oldest group worked on an art project for the ground portion of their lessons.

The Barn also hosted several unmounted camps. A group from JBS visited us Monday mornings during term. We had a blast grooming horses, visiting the small animals, and fishing together. Every Thursday morning, we hosted a job-skills training camp for several of our teenage students. Each student had their own consistent task to complete each and every week, which ranged from deep-grooming to cleaning feed and water buckets. They also had a variable task that would change from week to week and included chores like mucking stalls or doing yard work. Their instructor, Ellen, introduced them to different soft skills such as courtesy, punctuality, and initiation. Other unmounted groups included Social Skills and JAYC, both of which we typically offer year-round.

In addition to all these weekly groups, we had several visits from our friends at Mitchell’s Place, Urban Kids, Grace House, Jessie’s Place, and the Amelia Center. In June, both our Student Banquet and the third annual Take the Reins Run took place. Needless to say, the Barn was a very busy place this Summer!

It is important to note that we could not have served so many kids without the help of an amazing crew of Summer interns. All of our interns were great not only at assisting in lessons and camps, but also at stepping in and completing the long list of daily and weekly chores that come with operating a barn. It’s not easy mucking stalls when you are sweat-soaked and exhausted after an 8-hour day, but the interns never once complained. Thank you interns all for your hard work and dedication this past Summer, we appreciate each and every one of you!

This was possibly our most successful Summer yet. We’re thrilled we got to share it with all of our wonderful students, parents, volunteers, and interns. The Barn is already gearing up for the Fall term, and everyone here is doing our best to ensure this Fall will be just as fun and successful as the Summer.


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National Purple Heart Day

Today, August 7, is National Purple Heart Day. The day commemorates the creation of the oldest American military decoration for military merit, the Purple Heart, and honors the men and women who are of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. Created by General George Washington in 1782 to be presented to soldiers for “any singularly meritorious action”, the decoration was a purple, heart-shaped piece of silk bound with a thin edge of silver and the word “Merit” embroidered in silver across the face. The modern Purple Heart dates back to World War I, and is awarded to any United States military personnel who are wounded or killed in service.

Here at The Red Barn, we are proud to offer the Take the Reins program to our veterans.   Take the Reins provides therapeutic activities that assist in the treatment of PTSD and other disabilities for active and inactive military personnel and their families.

We have several individual veterans, as well as family members of veterans, who are weekly students during the Fall and Spring terms. A group of veterans with the Lakeshore Foundation visits the Barn on a regular basis. In fact, they have a date at the Barn later this month, which we are very excited about! Earlier this Summer, we held the third annual Take the Reins Run in honor of Corporal Clay Anthony Ward. The Run helps the Barn raise funds for the Take the Reins program.

Thank you to all of our veterans for bravely serving our country. Your service and sacrifice enables the Barn to freely assist all of our wonderful students.


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Springing Forward

Twelve weeks ago, our instructors were meeting with parents and volunteers to develop goals for our students. Now, as the final few days of the 2017 Spring term trickle by, we can reflect on all the memories made – the fun times and the lessons learned – over the past 3 months. Though it was a bit hectic at times due to stormy weather, school breaks, and other miscellaneous obstacles, we managed to overcome all those to have an awesome term.

An average Spring week could expect to see up to 100 hours of lessons! For Saddle Up, our weekly individual riding lesson program,  we had 72 hours of lessons scheduled per week. For unmounted group and individual lessons, which are under our Horse Play program, we had up to 22.5 hours of lessons scheduled per week. And our Take the Reins program for veterans and their families racked up 4.5 hours of lessons each week. In between those 100 hours, we held meetings, planned for lessons, wrote grant applications, adjusted ever-changing schedules, mucked stalls, and completed the countless other chores that go into the daily upkeep of a barn full of horses, bunnies, goats, and cats.

Though the Spring term ends this Sunday, we’re already gearing up for Summer. The bulk of Summer camps and lessons start June 12, so next week should be lighter and allow for time to iron out all the fine details for the Summer. Of course, any Summertime fine-tuning will come after we’ve completed all the preparation needed for the Take the Reins run, which will be held at Veteran’s Park in Hoover on Saturday, June 10th.

It’ll be tough to follow up such a great Spring, but we’re excited to dive on in to Summer with all the fun camps we have planned. Thank you all for being a part of the Red Barn family this past term, and we look forward to seeing you all back out here this Summer!


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Summer Camps

2017 Summer Camp Information

With Summer camps being right around the corner, I wanted to share some information about each camp for all curious parents and volunteers. Sign-ups are available to the public, but open slots are going very quickly. You can see the remaining availability, dates, cost, and other information here.

Job Skills Training: Students with physical, cognitive, and/or emotional disabilities learn transferable job skills while completing work-related tasks at the barn. 

Older Kids Group Riding Lesson: 8-week camp with group riding lessons and other fun activities.

Handwriting with Horses: 8-week camp that focuses on building a foundation of handwriting through drawing and teaching general sensorimotor skills, using horses and natural environment for encouragement. Students should be able to stay on task for 5-8 minutes. Parent involvement expected.

Social Skills: 8-week camp in which students learn the expectations of different social situations and practice how to respond appropriately.

Younger Kids Group Riding Lesson: A group riding lesson with other fun activities.

Pony Pals Group Riding Lesson: A group riding lesson with other fun activities.

Build It, Grow It: Students will learn basic construction and craftsmanship, gardening, and facility maintenance skills required to keep the barn running. Students should be able to walk over uneven terrain, grasp hammers and other tools, and be able to safely use tools.

Middle School Kids Group Riding Lesson: A group riding lesson with other fun activities.

Communicating with Horses: Students will learn about communication between horses and humans through a series of horse activities such as observing, grooming, and leading.

If you have any questions about any of the camps or want to learn more information, please email Grace (


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Take the Reins 2K17

Well folks, the 3rd Annual Take the Reins Run is already right around the corner. So, I figured I would give y’all a crash course on all the information needed to either volunteer or participate in the run!

The run will begin at 8 AM on June 10th, a Saturday. Make sure you arrive a little early to register or to sign-in if you’re preregistered. The location will be Veterans Park in Hoover. Registration costs $35 and includes a t-shirt. Age-group winners will also receive a ribbon. You can preregister here.

Take the Reins is a memorial run for Cpl. Anthony Clay Ward. The race is designed to celebrate our veterans and raise money for The Red Barn’s programs that support them. The Red Barn’s “Take the Reins” program provides therapeutic activities that assist in the treatment of PTSD and other disabilities for active and inactive military personnel and their families. If you’d like to learn more information about the run, feel free to check out the official Take the Reins website here.

Our Take the Reins Run has been a big success the past two years, and we’re all working our hardest to ensure this year is no different. We hope to see you all there next month!


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Spotlight: Black Flight

Our horses are the engine that power the Barn. Simply put, we wouldn’t be an organization without our amazing herd. So far in the one year history of blog, we have spotlighted bunnies, cats, camps, and staff teams. Somehow, we have yet to do a feature on any of our horses. Today that changes, as we turn the spotlight on the matriarch of our herd: Black Flight!

Black Flight, a 26-year old Thoroughbred/Hanoverian cross, has been at the Red Barn longer than any other horse in our herd. She first arrived way back in 2011, which is even before the Red Barn officially became a non-profit in February 2012.

Before coming to the Barn, Black Flight (then known by her show name “Pre-Flight of Fancy”) competed in Level II Dressage with her previous owner, Pamela Dawson. Black Flight is also the only mother in our herd, as she gave birth to a filly named Shamanic Dreams in 2007. Unfortunately, an injury prevented Black Flight from continuing her dressage career. But Pamela Dawson understood how great a horse Black Flight is, and was kind enough to share her with us.

Black Flight has touched hundreds of lives over the past five years. She is a calm, patient teacher who loves to be around children. She particularly loves large groups, and is our go-to option whenever we need a horse who will sit still and allow dozens of little hands to rub all over them. She also had the honor of participating in the 2014 Veteran’s Day parade through downtown Birmingham. It takes a very special horse to endure all the sights and sounds that come with parade!

Black Flight’s excellence can be expected given her ancestry. Her sixth great-grandfather was Man o’ War, arguably the greatest racehorse of all time. Her fifth great-grandfather was War Admiral, another great racehorse who won the Triple Crown in 1937. If there were some sort of awards for therapy horses, Black Flight surely would have won them all!

Thank you to Pamela Dawson for sharing your sweet, gifted horse with the Red Barn. Black Flight impacts each and every student and staff she works with in the best possible way.


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Our Superheroes

Comics define a hero as someone who saves the day. Each hero has their own unique and amazing skill set that they utilize for a noble cause.

Here at the Red Barn, we are fortunate enough to have such a group of superheroes: our volunteers. They are the reason we have been able to offer almost 85 lessons each week, care and work with 16 horses, host anywhere from 3 to 5 groups a week in our camp program, and maintain a property of 33 acres, 3 barns, and 4 program buildings.

Our heroes sacrifice their time by volunteering weekly as well as helping with the occasional major event. They freely offer their vast worlds of knowledge. They are professionals, students, lovers of horses, and advocates in the community.

I could go on for pages, but the point is: we could not do what we do without them! They outnumber our staff at least 8 to 1 and make every donation go even further. We truly have the best heroes in the world.

This week is National Volunteer Week. So if you happen to be here at the Barn, please make sure to take a moment to thank our volunteers for all that they do for us. We rely on them so much and they brighten the days of all of our students.

Thank you so, so, SO much to all of our wonderful volunteers! You are the heroes the Red Barn desperately needs in order to serve all of the wonderful students that we have here. Thank you again, and never forget that each and every one of you is a superhero.