Grace Rides: A Story of Compassion, Community and Equine Healing

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By Doug Stauffer

In the heart of Niceville, a remarkable story unfolded at Grace Rides, a sanctuary where humans share a journey of healing and growth with horses. Founded in 2008 by Sherry Hall and her husband, Steve, Grace Rides has transformed from a modest pilot program at the Oak Heaven Stables equestrian facility in Niceville into a beacon of hope for many, embodying a God-sized vision of love and service.

A Vision Born from Compassion

Grace Rides originated from a desire to intertwine the daily presence of horses with the mission to serve people of all abilities. Inspired by the foundational efforts of the local RACE program (“Riding for Adults and Children with Exceptionalities”) and supported by entities like Storybrook Farms and Shangri-La Therapeutic Academy of Riding, Grace Rides took its first steps toward making a significant impact in the community.

Since 2008, Grace Rides has grown from a pilot program of four riders per week. Last year, devoted volunteers invested almost 6,000 hours into the program and provided nearly 900 rides for program participants. The exponential growth will only continue with community involvement.

The Spiritual Journey

At the core of Grace Rides is a profound spiritual philosophy guided by scriptures like Matthew 25:40 (caring for the least in society) and Philippians 4:13 (Christ making all things possible). These scriptures are not just verses displayed on their website; they are truths that fuel the mission to serve through the healing power of equine-assisted activities. Sherry Hall, the executive director, asked God to “break my heart to what breaks yours.”

Programs That Transform Lives

Grace Rides offers a variety of programs designed to cater to individuals with special needs, including physical, cognitive and emotional challenges. These programs range from Therapeutic Riding, which teaches riding skills tailored to the needs of the participants, to Horses for Heroes, a dedicated initiative for veterans that focuses on ground handling and relational skills with horses.

The Stable Friends and Equine-Assisted Learning and Enrichment programs provide unmounted experiences promoting emotional, social and cognitive growth through horse interaction.

Abi Copeland is a true example of success. She started as a participant in 2016 and transitioned into a volunteer with a special needs child last summer. She also helps clean out the stalls, and when asked about that, she said, “Someone has to do it—they don’t clean themselves.” Abi wants to continue pursuing volunteer work, because she loves animals and finds so much joy in giving back.

The People Behind the Mission

The dedication of individuals like Sherry Hall, a PATH Certified Instructor, and Anne Jennete, a Therapeutic Riding Instructor and veteran, highlights the commitment and passion that drive Grace Rides. Their stories of personal growth and the joy of seeing others transform are testimonials of the power and success of this program.

Involvement and Support

Grace Rides thrives because of the community’s support and sponsors’ generosity. Opportunities to get involved include volunteering in various capacities around the farm, sponsoring a horse, or contributing to the operational needs through donations. Each role is crucial in sustaining and expanding the impact of Grace Rides. Would you believe that the program participants span ages 4 to 84 years old?

The Future Vision

With steadfast community support and the dedication of volunteers and donors, Grace Rides is poised for significant expansion. The construction of a 9,000 sq/ft barn in Defuniak Springs serves as a vivid testament to what collective faith and support can accomplish. Sherry Hall proudly declares, “This is the barn that God built.”

Looking ahead, Grace Rides has outlined a 10-year strategic plan to broaden its scope of services. “Currently, we operate without a required fee structure, relying entirely on donations and volunteer support,” explains Sherry. The future roadmap includes introducing full-service overnight stays to complement existing day camps, enhancing the breadth of therapeutic engagement available to participants.

Moreover, Sherry shares an ambitious vision to construct a large event center featuring a gymnasium and a fully catered kitchen. This facility would host community events such as weddings and family reunions and offer employment opportunities to program participants and volunteers. “We envision a space that serves our mission and becomes a hub for community gatherings and celebrations,” she adds.

Grace Rides is seeking substantial funding opportunities to realize these goals, including an Impact 100 grant. The organization is also calling for donors to provide matching funds, a critical step towards leveraging larger grants and ensuring the financial sustainability of these expansive projects.

By engaging with Grace Rides, community members, and supporters can play a pivotal role in transforming these aspirations into reality, paving the way for a future where the organization can touch even more lives through its equine-assisted programs.

A Call to Action

Grace Rides invites everyone to join their journey by volunteering, sponsoring, or simply sharing their story. The experience at Grace Rides isn’t just about riding; it’s about building confidence, fostering relationships, and creating a community where everyone is valued and empowered.

Conclusion

Grace Rides is more than an equestrian program; it is a spiritual journey that intertwines faith, compassion, and the therapeutic power of horses to create profound changes in the lives of participants and volunteers alike. It stands as a testament to what can be achieved when a community comes together to support “the least of these,” embodying the very essence of grace and service.

As Grace Rides continues to write its story, it calls on us to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, to contribute to a legacy of love, healing, and empowerment that will resonate for generations to come. Check them out at www.gracerides.net.