June 9 marks the 4th annual Take the Reins run for The Red Barn at Veteran’s park. Since 2012, The Red Barn has helped hundreds of children and adults with physical, cognitive, and emotional disabilities or special circumstances. They do this by using the powerful impact of horses to strengthen minds, bodies, and souls.

Red Barn owner, Joy O’Neal, was not always a horse person.

“I didn’t grow up with horses. Didn’t ride, didn’t do anything. So, the first time I saw horses and their impact on children was with my very own children,” said O’Neal.  

O’Neal provided riding lessons for her children and over time noticed how much the horses impacted many aspects of their lives. After her children grew up, O’Neal knew she wanted to do more with the family’s horse barn.

“So, my daughter was taking a class at Birmingham-Southern and learned about children that had autism. And she said, ‘Momma, this is what you need to do with the barn’,” said O’Neal.

That was the moment the concept of The Red Barn was born! The barn would give kids who otherwise would not be able to take a riding lesson the chance to ride.

“It’s not just a ride, it’s everything that they need to improve themselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally and it changes their lives,” said O’Neal.

Over the years, The Red Barn has evolved into helping entire families.

Abby Ward started visiting the farm as a young teenager who was struggling with confidence and self-esteem. Program Coordinator Grace Butler learned that Abby had lost her brother Clay to suicide from PTSD.

“When we learned that, we really started to pour into the family as a whole, along with Abby. And we watched them grow and start to heal,” Butler said.

That healing also extended into Clay’s military family. In 2015, Clay’s friends were inspired to start the Take the Reins run.

“This run, not only, has become an avenue for them to re-connect and heal as buddies that were in the military together with Clay, but has also helped the Ward family heal,” said Butler.

“I think it’s the dream of all of us that work here, every single day God gives us the chance to do what he’s prepared us to do, and what we do best, and to use the strengths of our lives to make the world a better place. And I know that sounds cheesy, but that’s what it is,” O’Neal said.

To sign up for the Take the Reins run, or to learn more about The Red Barn, visit TheRedBarn.org