A debut book tells the true story of a horse therapy ranch’s success helping traumatized children.
Kim Tschirret’s father was an emotionally aloof alcoholic. As a child, she found comforting solace in a relationship with her saddlebred horse, Country. That experience inspired her as an adult to found an equine therapy ranch in Raleigh, North Carolina, Hope Reins, a daunting and potentially expensive task but one that her husband, Mike, wholeheartedly supported. The Bay Leaf Baptist Church also believed in her mission and expressed its confidence in her by leasing Tschirret 20 acres of its land for only $1 a month. She learned about the heartbreaking plight of Joey, a leopard Appaloosa, who just barely survived malnourishment after his owners abandoned him. He was found emaciated and blind, and it took weeks to slowly nurse him back to some measure of stable health, all points of concern for Tschirret. But when she heard that he was so gentle he allowed a 5-year-old to ride him bareback, she decided to bring him to Hope Reins. Joey’s impact on the ranch was immediate: he befriended Speckles, a cantankerous horse suffering from terrible arthritic pain. He also helped to coax Ethan and Aly, two troubled and socially withdrawn children, out of their protective shells. But running a horse ranch turned out to be a costly affair, a predicament exacerbated by Speckles’ mounting health care costs. Meanwhile, Sarah Stewart, a young volunteer, became a naturally talented counselor but quietly struggled with an abusive past that she was ashamed of as well as her shaken faith in God. Bleakley lucidly braids all these storylines into a coherent narrative tapestry about the power of faith as an antidote to anxiety and trust in God as a counterpoint to an uncertain future. The prose is plenty sentimental but stops short of becoming cloying, avoiding the pitfall of too laboriously plying a lachrymose reaction from readers. But sometimes the narrative is a bit overly didactic, stressing too ostentatiously the lessons embedded in the story. Still, this is a touching tale, and Joey’s extraordinary, intuitive sensitivity is memorably depicted. At one point, the horse comforts a distraught Ethan: “Joey never moved. He stood fiercely and firmly, providing refuge for the weeping boy. Two deeply wounded creatures were giving and finding solace in one another.”
A tender account of an abused animal’s healing power.