The therapists at Barnabas Horse Foundation have long hair, well-muscled bodies, and four legs. Well, some of them do.
The foundation has been providing Equine Assisted Therapy to victims of trauma since 2011. Equine Assisted Therapy uses horses to provide opportunities for therapists to connect with their patients on a deeper level.
Founder Sue McKinney and other volunteers don’t actually provide therapy, but instead facilitate therapy sessions to provide safety when working with the horses.
So far, the organization has not had the ability to provide therapy for special needs individuals, such as children with autism or traumatic brain injury.
But after McKinney volunteered at a Timmonsville therapy facility as part of a certification for Barnabas, she decided it was time to expand.
“I have gotten a phone call at least once a week since we opened our doors from somebody with a special needs child who wants to get them into a program, and there’s nothing close to us,” McKinney said.
During her time volunteering in Timmonsville, McKinney says she fell in love with working with special needs clients.
“They just stole our hearts,” she said. “It was so positive and uplifting.
“We thought, ‘Our area needs this,’” she continued. “We thought it was a good fit, and God has opened up doors for us ever since.”
Now Barnabas is opening up a second location that will provide therapeutic and rehabilitative treatment for special needs individuals. Once that occurs later this summer, Barnabas Horse Foundation will be the only equine facility within a two hour radius that will provide both phycological and physical equine therapy, according to McKinney.
Barnabas is also getting attention from the community. Tuesday night, the foundation was honored as one of the top three finalists for the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce’s Nonprofit of the Year, along with Ground Zero and the Boys and Girls Club of South Carolina.
While they didn’t win, McKinney believes it’s a great honor.
“We’re still newbies, so to be in that top three, we’ll take it,” she said.
Getting there took a lot of work, though.
“Fourteen horses poop a lot, so you have to deal with that,” McKinney noted. “Then you’ve got the horses that test fences and sometimes tear down fences, buildings being put up, painting that needs to be done– the work is never-ending.”
But despite having so much to get done, a great group of volunteers get much of the work done, and that is inspiring to McKinney.
“I think Saturday alone we had 83 volunteer-hours put in that day,” she said. “These people don’t care if it’s cleaning up horse manure or holding the hand of someone who needs a little bit of extra attention.”
The results are stunning, too.
According to McKinney, she had been working with a client but was unable to make an appointment one day, so another individual joined the client and his therapist for a session.
The next time she saw the client, she was shocked at the change that she saw in him.
“He is a totally different child,” she said. “Where he was defiant before, that defiance isn’t there– it’s just this calm peacefulness.”
What made that even more special is that the child had bonded with a horse that wasn’t easy to reach.
“He has taken one of the horses that is so hard to relate to and created such a special bond with her that she has, in turn, become more loving to the rest of us,” McKinney said.
That horse has changed so that she will now beg for attention, something she hadn’t done before.
McKinney says that she sees miracles every day.
“One of the things I pray to God and ask Him is, ‘Please don’t ever let me become so unenamored with these miracles,’” she noted. “I just always want to stand in awe of the miracles I see.”
“Barnabas is full of one God story after another,” McKinney concluded.