Where Hope and Horses Heal
On a 33-acre ranch, children who’ve had too much pain in their lives
find gentle friends.
By Carol Wills
Photos courtesy of The Indie Image
When Gabe and Marcus met on a hot July day a meaningful relationship began, and with it the start of Hope Reins. Turns out, Gabe, a former party pony, was the perfect friend for a 10-year-old foster boy who had been rescued from a horrific home life. Marcus, who was once forced to eat dog food for nourishment, was the first child to benefit from an equine counselor at Hope Reins.
That was in 2010, the year when Kim Tschirret envisioned the idea for a healing ministry for youngsters dealing with distressed circumstances, whether that was a history of neglect or abuse, or a traumatic event like losing a parent or sibling. Tschirret felt that interacting with horses—feeding them, grooming them, riding them, and, most importantly, developing a relationship with them—would benefit children who were hurting. Today, Hope Reins has served 2,000 children, ranging from five to 18 years old, from 14 eastern North Carolina counties. It grew from a single pasture rented from Bay Leaf Baptist Church to a spacious 33-acre ranch and a herd of 16 horses, with many in the herd having been rescued themselves.
To promote healing, Hope Reins hosts therapeutic sessions between the child, the horse, and a session leader. Adult volunteers who are gifted with horse experience and who have a love for children help lead the one-on-one 90-minute sessions. These sessions are completely free for the children and their families.
Over the past seven years, Hope Reins has conducted more than 8,000 sessions, providing support for children from many different backgrounds and a range of challenging circumstances—some have suffered abuse or neglect; others are coping with grief, debilitating anxiety, and chronic or life-threatening illness; and some are living in an at-risk environment.
In addition to serving as a session leader, volunteers at Hope Reins can help in a number of ways. Currently, there are 190 volunteers and the opportunities to become involved range from doing chores on the farm to working with families: Listeners are adults with a heart for families, and they provide encouragement and a listening ear to the parents and guardians of the session kids. Play Pals serve as part of a team that brings fun and laughter to the siblings of the session kids. Feeders spend time with the horses and serve on a team to keep the horses healthy and well fed. The Property Team keeps the ranch welcoming, beautiful, and functioning, while the Hospitality Team welcomes newcomers into the Hope Reins family by giving tours on Saturday mornings. The Development Team assists with marketing, communications, social media, events, donations, and community relations.
All of the work that keeps the ranch going is done by volunteers and Hope Reins also partners with a number of community organizations like Ronald McDonald House, the Durham and Raleigh Rescue Missions, the Boys and Girls Clubs, and organizations connected with the military. Project Fight, an initiative sponsored by the Salvation Army to provide shelter and rescue for victims of sex trafficking, is another of Hope Reins’ community partners.
It takes teams of volunteers, community partnerships, and the support of many donors to keep the operation running effectively. The horses, whose patience and affection make such a difference in these children’s lives, require feeding, grooming, and veterinary care. There are always opportunities to sponsor a horse, and the cost of sponsoring one horse is $250 per month or $3,000 per year.
Giving, in itself, can offer healing to those who are hurting, and a generous donation from Fielding and Kim Miller supplied the means to build a much-needed covered arena where children and horses could be sheltered from cold winds in the winter and blazing sun in the summer. The arena is named Cameron’s Arena in memory of the Millers’ daughter, who took her own life a little over a year ago.
The immense steel structure, wrapped in wood, measures 12,000 square feet. Large fans, ceiling lights, and electric side walls that enclose the arena enable Hope Reins to serve children and horses year-round, despite fading daylight hours or inclement weather.
Hope Reins continuously benefits from the dedication and creativity of its volunteers, who see new opportunities and make them happen. Take Jim Reason, who serves as a session leader, but also began to teach children how to fish in the two ponds on the property. This effort culminated in the first Hope Reins’ Fishing Tournament last May. Collectively, 15 children caught 61 fish.
There’s also a Hope Reins Community Garden, started four years ago by Denise Etheridge. She now maintains the garden along with Suzanne Carr, who, as the garden team coordinator, lays out the garden and decides what to plant.
If you feel inspired to volunteer at Hope Reins, please come by on a Saturday morning between 8:30 and noon, and take the tour at 10am. The address is 8420 Wake Forest Highway, and you will find an application for a volunteer position or a chance to donate on the website HopeReinsNC.org.