Spirit Reins

Ranch offers horse therapy for children

A faith walk—that is how founder Rhonda Smith describes her story with Spirit Reins, an organization that helps children who have experienced trauma start healing through horse therapy.

Smith had a near-death experience in 1999 when she was part of a 12-car accident with an 18-wheeler.

"I walked away from an accident that I should not have survived," she said.

For the next few years, she asked "Why me?", trying to discover what she was supposed to do with her life. She was no longer content with corporate human resources, although she loved helping people. So one day, the lifetime horse owner quit her job and told a Realtor friend she wanted to buy a ranch.

Founded in 2003 in Liberty Hill, Spirit Reins started with experiential learning but evolved into a therapy-based program. Rhonda Smith attributes program director Tim Jobe, and his wife, Bettina, who is the clinical director, with Spirit Reins' growth.

During the last year, the program's client base increased by 400 percent, which led to the opening of the second location of Spirit Reins off of FM 1826.

Often, Smith said, children blame themselves for the negative things they have experienced, but once they are out of those situations refuse to accept any responsibility for future relationships.

For each session, a licensed counselor and horse professional form the therapy team. The client chooses a horse to work with on his or her first day.

When the horses feel a rider has lost control, they are trained to misbehave safely in a way that frustrates the rider, such as trotting to the center of the arena.

Many emotionally fragile children struggle with the horse's rejection of their commands.

"It's a perfect opportunity to talk about why is that happening," horse professional Rachel Winthers said.

At the same time, the horses offer instant feedback. That is the premise behind the Natural Lifemanship program used at Spirit Reins. Jobe developed the program, which evolved from equine-assisted psychotherapy.

When the rider changes what he or she was doing that made the horse insecure, the horse immediately responds.

Unlike a dog that offers loyalty, horses respond to actions in the moment.

"The only thing about a horse being unconditional is a horse will always be honest," said Shelley Smith, a horse professional who is of no relation to Rhonda Smith. "If you teach them you are unsafe to be around, they will reject you."

Spirit Reins, 515-0845, www.spiritreins.org



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