There’s a moment Kim Tschirret watches for when children first arrive at the Hope Reins ranch.
It comes when she tells the children, who are dealing with grief, trauma and other emotional hardships, about the difficulties or mistreatment the rescued horses at the ranch have endured.
“When you share the story of the horse, you can see the flicker of recognition in their eyes: ‘This is like what happened to me.’”
That’s the moment when a powerful bond often begins between a child and horse, a relationship that Hope Reins says helps children cope with what has happened to them. In helping a horse to heal from its losses, they can heal as well.
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“We’re not here to have a pony ride,” said Tschirret, the founder and CEO of the nonprofit. “We’re here for the connection.”
On Saturday, Hope Reins celebrated the purchase of a new 33-acre ranch off Route 98, five miles north of the group’s current leased home in North Raleigh.
The new location, financed with a $1 million, 40-year loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will allow the nonprofit to expand its services to hundreds more children. The nonprofit has helped more than 1,000 children ages 5 to 18 from 13 counties in one-on-one sessions and group activities since 2010.
Hope Reins’ mission to help children with emotional wounds springs from Tschirret’s Christian faith, but the group welcomes volunteers and families of any religious background. All of the sessions are free.
A session usually begins with farm chores, where a volunteer and child work side-by-side. Then it’s on to groundwork, such as walking a horse on a lead around the ring, then games designed to strengthen the relationship between child and horse.
Some of the horses at Hope Reins are donated but many are rescued, often from situations in which they were starving. The animals, “equine counselors” in the parlance of Hope Reins, offer children lessons in how to trust again, said Tschirret.
Evie Huntley, 10, first came to the ranch as a volunteer, but as time went on, her family saw that she might also benefit from participating. Two of her siblings had died because of medical conditions.
Evie said she feels like the ranch is a second home. She loves riding Buddy, a gentle, chestnut quarter horse, walking a wooded trail in the summer and visiting the garden. She hadn’t been around horses much before joining Hope Reins but found the experience a calming one from the start.
“It was easy to be with the horses, and I just felt soothed by all the kind people,” she said.
The nonprofit’s team of 160 volunteers also seeks to make the experience welcoming for parents, who can talk about what their family is going through or enjoy a moment of solitude.
“There’s something about being here that just sets you thinking about the positive things in life and the beauty that surrounds us that we don’t see because we’re so focused on surviving or on the next task,” said Amie Huntley, Evie’s mother.
Since its founding, Hope Reins has leased land from Bayleaf Baptist Church, but the staff knew they would eventually need to find a permanent home.
When they found their new location, a former cattle ranch with a wood-beamed lodge and two ponds, they knew it was perfect. But they didn’t know how they could afford it.
They submitted a bid anyway for $1 million with a six-month due diligence period to raise the money. Two hours after it was accepted, word came from the USDA that Hope Reins had qualified for a rural development loan under the community facilities program.
Each year the program provides grants and loans to dozens of projects or purchases that support communities, such as hospitals, town halls or fire trucks.
Hope Reins’ staff members have big plans for their permanent location. They want to increase their outreach to Durham families and organizations, build a covered arena so they never have to cancel a session because of bad weather and grow their community.
The nonprofit hopes to begin sessions at the new location in the fall.
Call 919-345-4914 or go to hopereinsraleigh.org to find out more or donate to Hope Reins.