RALEIGH — Thirty minutes from the heart of downtown Raleigh off Highway 50 is Hope Reins, a horse ranch that pairs rescued horses with children who have struggled with crisis.
Founded by Kim Tschirret in 2009, Hope Reins aims to be a safe place for kids who have suffered from abuse, trauma and anxiety by connecting with horses — some of which have gone through similar stories of neglect and abuse. The cause is dear to Tschirret, who grew up in an abusive household and found refuge in her horse, Country.
“I grew up in a home that looked really great on the outside, but my father was an alcoholic and very abusive, and so I never knew safety as a little girl,” Tschirret said. “We didn’t have a faith, and I didn’t have anybody to talk to. … When you grow up in an environment like that, you are very shutdown, and nobody talks about it. My comfort and my safety was my horse.
“I grew up with an American Saddlebred that looked so much like Selah [a horse at Hope Reins that was rescued from a hoarder], and that was the place that I went,” she added. “I would sit in his stall. He was the only person — thing — that I would talk to. I know what it’s like to be comforted by a horse in the midst of trial, and so as I grew older and I sought the world for all the things I was missing in my heart, it just never satisfied.”
Tschirret then read “Hope Rising” by Kim Meeder, a story that gave her inspiration to create a ranch that offers equine therapy.
“I didn’t have a safe place to talk about what I was going through, and so I’m very driven to make sure our kids and families have a safe place, because there’s so much sigma around mental illness,” Tschirret said.
One of those kids finding a safe place is 10-year-old Ashley Faiella, who was diagnosed with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder that was consuming her life. Her mother, Tina, started looking into animal therapists because Ashley had a love for animals, and she thought an animal would help her daughter break through. Tina Faiella found Hope Reins and signed her up with her first session.
“That one-on-one session was just a miracle,” Tina Faiella said. “Just that 90-minute session — I hadn’t seen her smile in months. You could just tell her facial expressions changed, laughing. There was a connection with Buddy instantly.”
Ashley Faiella, now 15 years old, said she and Buddy connected, and she later understood it was because of their similarities.
“It was an instant connection,” she said. “I didn’t think I was going to end up really liking him. We ended up really connecting, and later on I realized why, because I heard more of his story.
“A lot of the horses there came from abuse and neglect, but he actually came from a really good home,” she continued. “And even though he did come from a really good loving and supportive owner, he still had anxiety. He was always very timid. It took him a while to open up and trust people, and I related to that. Even though I had an amazing family that took care of me, loved me and helped me through everything, that didn’t really alter the way that I lived my life.”
Jennifer Bleakley discovered Hope Reins when she was looking for a way to give back and to work with children. She stopped by the ranch not knowing anything about the organization or about horses. She was drawn to a leopard Appaloosa named Joey. Bleakley explained she felt like Joey could see her and gave her a sense of belonging at the ranch. She later found out Joey was completely blind.
“I just love the irony that God is helping us all see hope in the eyes of a blind horse,” Bleakley said. “In a time and a culture where we are so hungry for hope and that message there is beauty in brokenness and purpose in pain, I’m so grateful for this opportunity.”
Bleakley saw the value of the ministry and decided to write about Hope Reins and the horse that made her fall in love with the organization. Her book “Joey” was released in May and details Tschirret’s story of how she started Hope Reins and how Joey helped kids in need.
“After meeting Joey and hearing the stories that [Tschirret] was sharing, just hearing those stories just connected my heart to this ministry and wanting to share his story to bring awareness to what they’re doing out here,” Bleakley said.
Kim Tschirret will join N.C. author Jennifer Bleakley, who wrote about Hope Reins in her book “Joey: How a Blind Rescue Horse Helped Others Learn to See”, at Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books on Saturday, June 16. Tschirret will introduce Bleakley at the event. More information on the book event can be found at quailridgebooks.com.