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Standing Ovation by Ovation Riding: Freedom Reigns Ranch

Every Friday, Horse Nation teams up with Ovation Riding to spotlight an individual or organization doing good work in the horse world. Today, we recognize Freedom Reigns Ranch.

“I feel we have a responsibility to steward our horses well. It’s something God requires of us.” Carissa Ramsdell – Founder and Executive Director of Freedom Reigns Ranch in Franklin, TN.

Photo provided by Carissa Ramsdell, founder/owner of FRR

Freedom Reigns Ranch (FRR) offers an equine assisted mentor program for young people who struggle with emotional trauma and/or PTSD. The program pairs rescued horses with children as the foundation for their program. Given that the basics of the program are on their website, I will share the extras — what Carissa taught me about slaughter sales and how her rescued horses fill the needs of the children mentored in the program.

The Rescued Horses

Some of Carissa’s horses have been donated. Many of have come from slaughter sales. My interest was in the issues versus the benefits of enlisting the rescued horses in the mentor program.

Basics of Livestock/slaughter sales:  My education on livestock/slaughter sales came from a Tennessee Walking Horse rescuer. I was told, “You need to know the sale game before you play it.” Carissa validated that view. She was educated by a seasoned rescuer/sale-buyer. She also eye-witnessed several auctions before she ventured into the bidding.

I didn’t know that, per Carissa, kill buyers may work together to bid against rescuers to drive up the price of horses for the benefit of the auction yard. Carissa shared, “They work in conjunction with the yard to bring in additional profits. Knowing how to ‘pull’ a horse at the auction without allowing your money to go into the profits of a kill buyer is a key rescue responsibly.”

“Joseph” (formerly hip #1790) was purchased by Carissa from the kill buyers at an auction in Middle Tennessee in March 2019. He is a Saddlebred cross. Joseph was more than 300lbs under ideal weight. A fecal test later revealed he was infested with parasites, inside and out.

Per Carissa, Joseph was “one of the ‘lucky’ ones. He had his own 3’x10’ pen (likely because he was so thin) made of broken boards and woven fence held together by wire. Other horses were crammed together in box pens lending themselves to cuts and other injuries. One stallion I saw in the pens had gouged his eye. It bled profusely as he was auctioned for a mere $70.”

Carissa added, “Despite what he had endured, Joseph seemed to love people and showed a great desire to try to please. At some point, someone had loved him.”

“Freedom” is another of FRRs’ rescues.  He is a Tennessee Walking Horse/Quarter Horse cross. Freedom had been abandoned in a dog pen for over a month. His only food was what neighbors threw over the fence. Once home at FRR, he struggled with fear and trust issues. Tight spaces, crops/whips, and sudden movements no longer create anxiety thanks to patient, knowledgeable care.

Carissa and Freedom, Gideon, Dancer, Boston, Pogo; photo provided by Carissa Ramsdell, founder/owner of FRR

Big “T” and little “t” Traumas for Horses

“Big T” and “little t” are terms used in counseling humans to clarify intensity of trauma. Carissa explained that the term works for horses too. Cumulative little “t’s” can be as debilitating as a single Big “T.”

My experience is with Big Lick TW show horses. Carissa used my experience to explain that “big ‘T’ could be physical abuse to intimidate a horse if he refuses to stand still while practicing for Designated Qualified Person inspections. A little ‘t’ might be long-term stall confinement – the withholding of freedom to graze, roam, and interaction with a herd, all primal needs for a horse.”

“For the FRR horses, big ‘T’ might stem from an abusive former owner or the fear due to the chaos of being dumped at a livestock auction. A little ‘t’ — repeatedly forced to do a job the horse hates or repetition of something that causes the horse pain or fear. Discounting the size and/or frequency of the trauma experienced by a rescue horse can bring tragic results.”

How the Horses Rescue the Humans

Equine Assisted Therapy comes in many forms. I once volunteered as a walker in a program that worked with mentally challenged kids. My other experience was the Sandra Bullock movie 28 Days. My experience — fairly limited.

The human participants at FRR are young people who have experienced trauma and/or severe life challenges. Carissa explained that her rescued horses are vital to the connection with the participants because the horses have been through traumas of their own. She shares, “Working with the horses is empowering for the young participants. We encourage understanding the nature of horses and full respect for ‘the being’ of each specific horse.” The interaction refocuses the human from self to the horse.

Carissa shared that trauma for a human tends to create inner focus. For the students, “Focusing out — to the needs and nature of a horse — generally feels safer than focusing on themselves or on another human.” FRR knits the horses’ natural responses with the human’s contrived responses. Both are born from the need to protect and survive.

Learning Basic Lessons – Via Horse

Riding is secondary to the FRR program. Some participants are eager to ride – some not so much. Either way, learning respect and safety on the ground is vital. Ride or not, all are taught the following basics:

  • Mindfulness: To be aware of themselves, how they respond, and to read their environment.
  • Honesty: “Ya can’t fool a horse. The participants learn to accept themselves when they learn they can’t fake it with a horse.”
  • “How Do You Do”: How the participants introduce themselves to horses shows respect, as with people. Carissa teaches, “Imagine someone walking up and putting their hands all over your face. Horses prefer we introduce ourselves by starting at their withers then move to the neck, hindquarters, and then face. A handshake before a hug.”
  • Horse “zone education”: Where to stand, to be a quiet presence, where and when to keep a hand on a horse so she knows where you are if she can’t see you, etc.
  • How to motivate a horse: Carissa teaches, “Suggest, ask, tell, promise and keep the promise. The goal is for our horse to respect us based on trust.” Trust seems to speak to the heart of the FRR students.

Photo provided by Carissa Ramsdell, founder/owner of FRR

As an older rider, horses have rescued me from my fears, frustrations, stresses and my own brain that can be pretty harrowing at times. The horses at FRR have found the sanctuary from their pasts. In turn, they pay it forward to troubled young people — people rescuing horses and rescued horses rescuing people. Perfect.

Many thanks thanks to Ovation Riding for their support of both Horse Nation and individuals and organizations that are doing good work in the horse world. If you know someone who deserves a Standing Ovation, we would love to recognize them in a future post. Email the name of the person or organization along with a message about the good work they do to [email protected]. Photos/videos are always welcome, and include a link to their website if applicable.

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