MURRELLS INLET, SC (WMBF) – A 15-acre farm tucked away behind the trees is sanctuary to a special type of healing. At Barnabas Farm in Murrells Inlet, rescued and donated horses work to bring happiness to local people who have their own hardships to recover from.
"We saw how horses helped, and decided to combine our love for horses and our love for children," said Barnabas Farm president and founder Sue McKinney. She has been around horses since she was 11 years old. She was inspired to start the foundation after a family tragedy of her own, she said. Barnabas Farm began in Socastee with only a few horses in January 2013. Two years ago, the farm moved to where they are now in Murrells Inlet. Today, the non-profit has 13 horses and several miniature donkeys and ponies. Most of the animals were donated, but some were saved from traumatic situations themselves.
McKinney said horses are great therapy animals because of how they bond with humans. She explained that horses react to fear in three ways: fight, flight or freeze. Ironically enough, humans react this way as well. Horses' intuitive nature also helps them read a human. McKinney told several stories of an inconsolable client who was approached and 'hugged' by a horse. Other stories she told were about stand-offish clients. The latter type of client, typically one in therapy to learn about trust after a traumatic experience, the horses may not approach right away.
"If you were grump, they might move away from you because they'll feel that it's not safe to be with you. If you were sad you might find a horse wrap themselves around you and give you a horse hug," McKinney said. Once the client calms down, the horse will feel safe to approach. This is therapeutic, when trust is learned, and the lesson is applied to real people-to-people situations.
There are many different types of exercises to do with horse and client depending on their personal struggle. Ten-year-old Holly has struggled with anxiety for most of her life. She attended typical therapy, but never improved much. This all changed when she visited Barnabas Farm. Holly has been a client for two years, and is thriving more than ever. Holly is one of hundreds of clients. In the month of March alone, Barnabas Farm has over 65 sessions booked; that's twice the amount of sessions as last year. The foundation is only growing, expanding to more than just kids. Barnabas Farm is open to adults, entire families and veterans suffering from PTSD.
Barnabas is different from other horse therapy farms because Barnabas uses only certified therapists and "equine specialists" during each session. The session is an actual "psycho therapy" bonding time to improve on the needs of the client. Each client also chooses their therapy horse. McKinney says most veterans choose the large Clydesdale-looking horse, Toby - the one reporter Meredith Helline is seen riding. A client who recently was widowed chose her horse because he had lost his pasture-mate.
In the above videos you can meet Holly and get an idea for how two types of horse therapy work.
Barnabas Farm runs 6 days a week entirely on volunteers, donations and government grants. If you're interested in getting involved visit http://www.barnabashorse.org/