LEEDS, AL (WBRC) - The Red Barn in Leeds is a lot more than just a horse farm. The work that happens there everyday with horses is transforming the lives of children and adults who have physical disabilities or special circumstances.
“They are herd animals," explained Joy O’Neal, the Executive Director of The Red Barn. “The ways we communicate with them, and the ways they teach us to communicate changes the way you see yourself.”
O’Neal said one child she has enjoyed watching come into her own over the past few years is a little girl who was born blind and has a cognitive impairment. By working with horses, that little girl is now doing things other children her age can’t do, which O’Neal said is amazing to watch.
“You just see all those little bitty transformations in her life,” said O’Neal. “Now she make noises when she wants the horse to walk on. She’s learned a little bit of sign language as well to be able to say ‘more,’ like she wants to keep going.”
According to O’Neal, this little girl’s story is just one of many she witnesses everyday.
“They’re able to overcome maybe some of their fears and anxieties and they realize if they want their horses to walk, they have to speak up,” O’Neal continued. “You have that sense of belonging. You’re together, working together with your horse, you’re strengthening your body, you’re getting exercise, you’re loved and surrounded by people who care and want the best for you.”
O’Neal said horses are great for children and adults physically because of the balance, strength, and coordination it takes to ride them.
On Friday, March 8, The Red Barn is holding a fundraiser luncheon called “What Horses Can Teach Us” between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. at The Club in Birmingham. Beth Holloway, Jaycee Dugard, and Dr. Rebecca Bailey are among the main speakers.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” explained O’Neal. “These three folks have never spoken together before.”
Holloway, whose daughter Natalee disappeared in 2005, will be talking about the role horses have played in her life.
"Horses have really kind of shaped her life and gave her a lot of the perseverance and grit she needed to get through some of the most difficult things that any parent can imagine, and that’s the loss of your child,” said O’Neal.
Dugard has also used horses to help her overcome traumatic experiences in her life. In 1991, Dugard was 11 years old when she was abducted while walking from her home in California to her school bus stop. She was imprisoned for nearly two decades before she was freed in 2009 at the age of 29. Part of the money raised by the luncheon will go to The JAYCE Foundation, founded by Dugard.
“In my own life, I have seen horses transform myself, and how I think about my own relationships with others," said O’Neal.
That’s why she believes the stories that will be told at “What Horses Can Teach Us” are so important for people to hear.
"Just that ability to know and connect with an animal is something that’s amazing, and we’re just so blessed to be able to give children that opportunity,” said O’Neal.
If you are interested in attending the luncheon, O’Neal said the sooner you get your ticket the better. You can find out more information by going to theredbarn.org.