Healing with Horses at Horseplay Farms
Our Heroes, Inc. connects those facing emotional, physical or mental challenges with therapy horses at Horseplay Farms.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Lindsay A. Miller
With more than 60 acres in Bolivia, Horseplay Farms offers all the wonderful things one would expect: riding lessons, camps, boarding, horse training, picnics and trails. It is even an ideal venue for weddings and other life celebrations because of its scenic landscape, arbor, ponds and stage. But Horseplay Farms is so much more. It also is the home of Our Heroes, Inc. and is a haven for healing, convalescence and joy.
Our Heroes, Inc. is a nonprofit organization that offers equine-assisted therapy and activities to adults, children and their families who face emotional, physical and mental health challenges. Veterans of all services, Wounded Warriors, disadvantaged and at-risk youth and those with special needs have experienced positive outcomes from Our Heroes, Inc.’s programs. The 501(c)3 charity is also an animal rescue that provides a permanent home for retired, neglected or abused horses.
In 2013 Ruth and Phillip Jenkins purchased the farm that had once been a nursery with the hopes of transforming their vision into a reality. The Jenkins always held three things dear to them: the military, Brunswick County and horses, and when they decided to tie all three together, Our Heroes, Inc. was born. They made it their mission to help bring physical and emotional healing to those who needed it.
“My husband came up with the name, Our Heroes,” says Ruth, “The name really refers to all involved, the participants, the horses, the staff, our donors and volunteers, everyone.”
Ruth, a Southport native who grew up on a small farm, is a retired civilian of the Department of the Army. Her husband, Phillip, served in the U.S. Army for 26 years and is a Vietnam veteran. The Jenkins lived in Heidelberg, Germany, for a time, and it is there that Ruth continued to ride horses.
“I just did a lot of pleasure riding,” says Ruth.
Ruth has been shaped by her experiences and has gone through hardships in her life. She was working at the Pentagon during the 9/11 attacks and lost people close to her. She says during her time growing up in Brunswick County, her family didn’t always have it easy and she knows first-hand the lasting impact and the power of helping hands. She will never forget the generosity that her family received when she was a child.
“A friend of my mother’s paid for me to go to a horse camp similar to this one,” says Ruth.
Paying it forward is a high priority for Ruth, and she knew that someday she wanted to help the veterans, youth and others of this community to overcome difficulties and find strength, too.
“There is a need here in Brunswick County,” she says. “There are so many children and adults who need support.”
“Connecting Horses with Heroes in a Healing Environment” is Our Heroes, Inc.’s motto and it is exactly what they have been doing for the past three years.
Ruth understands the power of horses and their positive impacts on a person.
“There are studies done that prove stress levels decrease when working with horses,” Ruth says.
The Jenkins praise their staff and value their dedication.
“We have a great team here at Our Heroes,” Ruth says.
One such team member, Allie Sabo, is a Certified Professional Equine Instructor at Horseplay Farms and Our Heroes and runs equine therapy sessions.
Equine therapy takes advantage of the unique human-horse relationship, and both parties reap its benefits.mSome therapy is even conducted while the individual is on the ground and not riding the horse.
“In Equine Assisted Learning (EAL), we may model by leading a horse around the pen and through obstacles, then have the people do it themselves,” says Allie. “In Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, an individual brings their own mental health professional with them to the session, and the therapist, for example, can analyze the person and horse relationship. From watching patients interact with horses, the therapist can understand a lot about how a person may interact with other humans in their lives and help them accordingly.
In addition to offering these type of equine therapies, Our Heroes has trail riding and weekend sessions for Wounded Warriors and their families. It provides a destination for Brunswick County Schools field trips, has scholarships for children’s summer camps and clubs and also goes on-site to Camp Lejeune for special clinics. They recently added a junior horsemanship club called Horseplay Heroes, that meets on Saturday mornings.
Furthermore, Our Heroes gets out in the community and actively promotes the program to those who could benefit.
“I called the American Legion here and we now have people come from there,” says Ruth. “We’ve reached out and are working with the Autism Society as well.”
Our Heroes is in the process of many exciting new ventures.
“We are currently looking into getting PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International) certified,” Allie says.
Allie is also working on getting her EFT (Equine Flexion Therapy) license. EFT benefits the horses by using deep motion flexing, a special type of massage that helps the horse relax its muscles.
“Ruth would like Our Heroes to be able to offer this,” Allie says.
Ruth has a knack for networking and is always looking for ways to involve the community. She welcomes people to volunteer and is thankful for donations of materials, money and time. Our Heroes couldn’t help others without the financial and physical support from individuals, families, and local businesses, she says.
“We want to get the word out to our sponsors that their donations really do make a difference in people’s lives,” Ruth says. “We get donations from all over, and many people help. Our Heroes is solely supported by others.”
To keep the farm’s current momentum going and help spread the word about the organization, a fundraiser is being planned for September to include a Fun Run, music and activities.
In addition to continually looking for ways to develop and hone their programs, the Jenkins are building more structures and enhancing the farm.
Plans are underway to make use of the recently promised donated materials to cover the horse arena, so that they can offer sessions independent from the weather.
Ruth envisions so much more for the future of Our Heroes. They want to expand the barn for their senior horses. A trailer and materials to upstart mobile equine-assisted learning programs are also on the wish list.
“I want Our Heroes to be an enduring facility way after Phillip and I are gone,” Ruth says. “I want this to continue being a safe, enjoyable environment for Brunswick County residents. It’s a place where everyone benefits. That’s all I want.”
Want to help or learn more?
Our Heroes, Inc.
Horseplay Farms, 1757 Clemmons Rd. SE, Bolivia, NC 28422