The following first appeared in The Brownsville Press (August 2023)
Most days, the horses of the ranch amble about their west Haywood County hills in search of sun, fresh grass, and the companionship of their herd mates. These nine horses, their donkey companion, and four wiry goats make up the contingent of creatures on the ranch.
Each animal here is a redemption story. Restored. Rehabilitated. Returned to life. Overcomers. In the Christian faith, overcomers are promised great rewards. This cast of creatures have paid enormously before their arrival here in Haywood.
Molly, for example, a small quarter horse mare, spent the first 10 years of her life in a dog pen before gaining her freedom. Despite her previous imprisonment, she’s exceedingly gentle, responds patiently to requests made of her, and is exceptionally kind to others in the herd.
Twix, another quarter horse mare and the herd’s leader, came from an area meat auction. Had she not found a home on the ranch, she’d likely been butchered. The same goes for Grace and Faith, two others that came from the same auction a year after we picked up Twix. When purchased, none of three seemed to have much to offer. Starved, ugly, and filthy, they quickly blossomed into full-bodied, clean, beautiful, and confident animals that contribute to the community.
Then there’s Boaz, a young wethered goat, that was rescued from a dog chain that kept him fastened to a tree for several months before his freedom was purchased.
Billy Bob, the donkey, was beat regularly with a 2×4 board before being rescued. He was feral upon his arrival. In time since, my 12-year-old daughter has gentled him, is able to touch and love on him with the children that visit the ranch.
Their reward now is a safe, secure home for the remainder of their lives. They play a significant role in the ministry of Home Safe Horses, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit Christian sanctuary. The ministry pairs formerly abused, neglected, cast-off, and near-dead horses with children and their families in a safe environment where they can discover confidence, learn natural horsemanship skills and experience bits of ranch life that they may never have the opportunity to in their day-to-day lives.
Each child and family that comes to the ranch partners with a number of the horses and, over the course of a few weeks, study fundamental ground work that helps them build confidence, trust, and rapport with their partner animal. They first learn techniques designed to humanely and softly move the horse’s feet. If the child agrees, they work up to the saddle to learn the basics of riding.
All sessions, which run from mid-March through October, are free, and begins in prayer. Jesus and his restorative power are salted into each session; He’s a central figure in the lessons and learning taking place on the ranch, between the horses and their human partners.
The outcomes of their experiences are unique to each individual. However they want to commune with the horses is how they spend their time on the ranch. Some of the children that enter the ranch carry heavy loads. Others surround themselves with invisible but thick walls. Some that visit have dull eyes and unsmiling faces.
Soon, however, their loads begin to be unpacked. Cracks form in walls they’ve built and light returns to their eyes. Smiles begin to show themselves, even if the child does their best to hide them.
The more often a child visits “their” horse” here, the more evident these results become. Shyness evaporates. Fear subsides. Joy appears.
Voids are filled.
God, it seems, works in them through these silent, understanding, creatures – that were once nearly destroyed, but have been restored, and are now helping their human partners overcome. And the rewards are great.