Horses bring healing
Faith & Inspiration
by Dick Peterson
Posted 9/16/13, 05:35 pm
It started with a horse, an old house, and three acres of land. Leslie and Sidney Clark felt God wanted them to use it to tell others about the gospel, but they didn’t know what that would look like.
On a visit to a nearby stable in 2006 Leslie saw a poster offering to train people in equine therapy. While she had been around horses most of her life, she had never worked with people with disabilities. Still she felt she had to find out more: The lessons were free but the facility offering the training was more than 100 miles from her house in rural Ridgeville, S.C. The organization, Rein and Shine, offered to cover Leslie’s gas expense. She couldn’t say no.
“I told God I didn’t know how to do this,” Leslie said. “If you want me to work with people with disabilities, I need to be trained.”
For three years, Leslie made the 100-mile commute, spent hours studying every day, and worked with people with disabilities so that she and Sidney could open up their own horse therapy program. At the same time, the Clarks started a non-profit, Horses In Service (HIS) Ministries, that offered pony rides and presented the gospel at church and community events. When it came time for Leslie to take her certification test, members of a multiple sclerosis support group she had helped during her training told her they were praying for her.
She passed the test, but faced more challenges as she worked to expand the ministry’s operations. While many in the M.S. support group decided to follow Leslie to her new therapy program, her house didn’t have the accommodations to serve people with disabilities. She needed a riding ring, a wash rack to clean and groom the horses, and an office to hold small group classes in horsemanship. She also needed a bathroom: “We had people lined up at our front door to use our only bathroom.”
Through prayer and faith, they formed partnerships with an at-risk youth program and a group home for troubled teens. Volunteers with building skills mentored the youths as together they tore down a donated barn and used the lumber to build an office-classroom with a bathroom. They also built a riding ring, wash rack, and a ramp for people with physical disabilities to mount a horse at level. Leslie said her responsibilities grew as well: Often she wrote letters to judges and lawyers on behalf of individual youths in the program prior to a hearing. Many of the 70 to 75 youth who worked on the project have professed faith in Christ.
They piloted their equine therapy program with three military families in 2010 and began accepting riders into the program in 2012. They now have seven horses, each named after a person in the Bible, with its own designated verse. When she introduces each horse, the student rider hears the gospel.
Volunteers help run the program, arriving early to pray, feed the horses, clean the stables, and warm up the animals before lessons begin. The equine therapy program has served 22 people so far.
By Leslie’s estimate, nearly 300 have professed faith in Christ through the couple’s church and community events, youth program, and equine therapy: “Sidney and I have learned about faith in God, total surrender, and obedience to his Word. We know that God is faithful, he is in control of every situation, and nothing is impossible for God.”
Dick lives in Summerville, S.C., is a former newspaper reporter and editor, and is now a freelance writer and caregiver for his wife with multiple sclerosis.