When former jockey Barbara Slade retired from competitive horse shows in 2008, she looked around for a way to combine her love of horses with giving back to the community.
“I have been competing since I was 5, and I thought, ‘What the heck can I do?’” the Gardnerville resident said in a recent interview.
Slade said she picked up the newspaper one day and read about a child who hung himself after being bullied at school.
She learned of another child who lost her father in a car crash, and was depressed, angry and failing at school.
“I thought what better way of giving back at the end of my career than the sheer magic of horses,” she said.
Since 2009, she has been the head trainer at Between Horses and Humans, a nonprofit organization that pairs able-bodied children with horses to develop leadership and communication skills. She also serves as president.
The organization is hosting a fundraiser Oct. 19 to ensure that program can continue to serve the 60 to 80 children referred each year.
“We work with children with personal challenges,” Slade said.
The children are referred through their school counselors, therapists, or the county’s Court-Appointed Special Advocates’ program.
What they learn almost immediately, Slade said, is that “horses reflect back on what you’re reflecting out to them.”
“Horses run by all their natural instincts,” she said. “They’re not going to think like humans, but humans can learn to think like horses.”
The children develop confidence learning how to groom horses, lead them through ground exercise and ride.
“A horse can’t speak English. They get this huge sense of empowerment. We do a lot of body work with the horse, teaching the children to understand intimacy and compassion.”
Sometimes the children don’t want to touch the horse or be touched. But they learn through this experience to develop better relationships,” she said. “It’s just a wonderful experience. There is such a need for it in the community,” Slade said.
The program costs about $30,000 to operate, and Slade is able to keep costs down because most of the participants volunteer their time.
She said there is a core of 20 volunteers.
“All the people who volunteer are horse people and passionate about the program,” she said. “We are horse-based, not therapy-based. The children have a better appreciation of life and develop self-esteem. We feel all children deserve a chance in life to be loved and to know joy and hope. Everybody on the board has the same mentality. What a fun thing to do, to be able to give back and learn first-hand. We’re on our own self-journeys. I learn something new from my children that just helps me to become a better person.”
There is no cost to the children.
“This gives children a place to come where they feel nurtured and get away from the anxieties of life. They know there is consistency week in and week out, and that the horses love unconditionally,” Slade said.
“One little boy told me, ‘Horses don’t make fun of me,’” she said.
Slade said some of the children have become teachers and helpers in the program.
“One started out at 12 and was with us every year until college,” she said.
Tickets for the fundraiser are $65 per person for the luncheon. The event is Oct. 19, 12-3:30 p.m. at Maddi’s Friesian’s Ranch, 1351 Old Foothill Road, Gardnerville.
Slade said children will demonstrate their skills at the indoor riding arena. The event includes a silent and live auction.
Anyone interested in donating items for the auction is invited to contact Slade at 265-0901, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.