By Jordan Smith
Imagine a child who is diagnosed with Global Development Delay Disorder, a condition that occurs in a child’s developing years that will, among other things, impair that child’s ability to communicate. Loved ones sink their time and money going to one speech therapist after another, hoping that child will eventually be able to talk. After 3 speech therapists, the likelihood of the child speaking seems slim.
An equine therapeutic riding ranch based in Enid, Oklahoma, Bennie’s Barn, promises to do the impossible; to take a child that has slim chances of ever communicating and give them a full vocabulary. The child with Global Development Delay Disorder is just one example of the success that Bennie’s Barn has had in helping children and adults with mental health disorders. Bennie’s Barn builds a therapeutic program that works for each individual and plays to their strengths.
Bennie’s Barn launched earlier this year, in memory of an Enid local, Bennie Mullins. Those that knew her say that Bennie Mullins knew no stranger, opening up her home to rescues, both human and animal. Executive Director, Chip Baker, knew Bennie’s kindness himself; she opened her home to him and his wife after they lost their home in Texas and returned to their hometown. To keep her legacy alive, Bennie’s Barn rescues horses, as well as the occasional abandoned pet, from homes where the horse is unwanted or neglected. Bennie’s Barn volunteers then work with the horses to regain their trust before they serve as a central part of the equine therapy program.
Equine therapy begins with sitting down with a rider and setting goals that may seem impossible. For children with diagnoses that they will never be able to walk or talk, Bennie’s Barn sets that as an achievable goal. Given time, Bennie’s Barn is confident that their riders will be able to accomplish what seems impossible.
The next step is allowing the rider to choose a horse. It’s essential that riders are able to bond with their horses. Equine therapy isn’t just about getting physically stronger but mentally stronger as well. Bonding with a horse and having the opportunity to ride regularly, allows riders to regain a sense of control over their lives and their condition.
It takes time and determination on behalf of the rider, their loved ones, and the volunteers at Bennie’s Barn to see development. But, for Bennie’s Barn, equine therapy has shown improvements for their riders 100% of the time. And for the volunteers at Bennie’s Barn, it’s all about paying it forward. “The volunteers at Bennie’s Barn see the need,” Baker says, “Bennie’s Barn is all volunteer-based. People do what they do because see the benefits.”
Since opening in February, Bennie’s Barn has served 40 kids as well as a number of adults and veterans. Currently they have 8-10 riders each day but Baker would like to see that rise to 15 riders a day, serving at least 120 kids. Partnerships with the Vance Air Force Base and the Multiple Sclerosis Society in Enid, Oklahoma will also bring more adults to Bennie’s Barn for equine therapy.
Baker admits that it takes a tremendous amount of patience to run a nonprofit, especially one that is entirely volunteer-based. Working with volunteers can be challenging, he can’t expect or demand too much and it takes time to get the horses to trust again. “Nonprofits are hard,” Baker says, “but the more you persevere, the more benefits you’ll have. You have to be selfless; you have to be the last person that matters. But we’ve been able to do it with the respect of the community.”
Bennie’s Barn rescues and rehabilitates abused, neglected, and displaced horses and uses those horses and the process of rehabilitation to minister to the emotional and spiritual needs of mentally and physically disabled children and veterans.
Jordan Smith is a recent graduate of NC State, holding her Master’s degree in English with a concentration in Rhetoric and Composition.