HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY, N.L.
Horses for Hope Centre Labrador will host its first Christmas event on Dec. 21.
The casual equine therapy facility provides an opportunity for people who are socially, developmentally and mentally challenged to interact with horses and other animals.
Jim and Tina Barrett own and operate Horses for Hope.
Tina is from St. John’s. Jim is from Corner Brook. They have been living in Happy Valley-Goose Bay for about eight years.
Tina said the Horses for Hope program started by accident when a heath care professional asked if she could take a client to the barn to spend time with the horses.
“After that first private meeting at our barn, I realized that we could help others with mental health issues in our community,” Tina said. “With the high rates of suicide we decided to be a part of the solution and the prevention.”
Word spread about the benefit of spending time with horses and, a year since that initial get-together, Horses for Hope is helping people as far away as Labrador City.
Horses are considered prey animals that are very sensitive and are highly attuned to people’s emotional states, Tina said.
Horses can read people instantly, she noted, and form bonds with those who visit the barn.
“The program is based on casual equine therapy which is a one-on-one interaction with the horses and the person,” she explained. “The bonding through time spent with them and/or grooming them and the building of trust is what it’s all about.”
Horses for Hope clients include people with anxiety and depression, people with special needs and women who are part of local support groups.
Tina and her husband run the program themselves to ensure the privacy of their clients.
The cost associated with owning horses is expensive, Tina said, including shipping hay and grain/supplements.
“We do it because it is making a huge difference and helping fill a huge void in the mental health department for our community,” Tina said.
Tina and Jim raise funds to ensure the program is successful. They held a flea market this past summer and hope to have some other fundraisers in the future.
Tina is quick to point out that neither she nor Jim are health care professionals. However, the feedback they get from parents and other clients indicates that the program is making a huge difference in the lives of others.
Tina is a realtor.
Her husband is a medivac pilot with government air services.
Spending time with the horses is a great stress reliever, Tina said.
“The horses are his grounding point,” she said.
The Barretts also own two pygmy goats and five dogs.
When they are not busy at work or in their barn, Tina and Jim enjoy giving back to their community.
Tina is a public relations volunteer for Mothers Against Drunk Driving and a senior soldier with the Salvation Army. Tina and Jim also took part in the suicide prevention walk in Happy Valley-Goose Bay this year and were involved in numerous other community events.
Tina recently joined the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP). She is also a member of the Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association.
The couple’s long-term goal for Horses for Hope is to have an indoor facility with utilities and one that’s better suited for all weather conditions.
“We especially see more (mental health issues) during the winter when depression and suicides are higher and the need for therapy is greater,” Tina said.
The facility would also allow the couple to gain more personal training and offer additional programs.
The Horses for Hope program is mentored by Rainbow Riders in St. John’s and one of its founding members Margaret (Muggs) Tibbo. A well-known therapeutic riding program, Rainbow Riders has been helping children with physical, cognitive or emotional disabilities reach their full potential for over two decades.
The Horses for Hope Christmas event, which offers two different time slots, sold out quickly. Those who participate in the event will have an opportunity to meet therapy horses Eli, Reese and Nevaeh. There will also be an antique one-horse open sleigh for picture opportunities.
For more information visit Horses for Hope on Facebook (HorsesforHopeCenterLabrador) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.