For sixteen-year-old Skyler, Hoofbeats is a second home. Most girls go through a horse-loving phase at some point in their lives, but it was different for Skyler. As soon as she could say “horse,” she was crazy about them. So when she collided with a wall of depression in high school, it was the right combination of horses and people that got her through it. “I think Hoofbeats is probably the single best thing that’s ever happened to her,” said her grandmother, Pam.
Skyler spends every weekend and spare moment she has at the barn – riding, helping teach lessons, mucking stalls, learning about horse care, and just spending time with the horses and riders. She is such a permanent fixture and member of the family, it is hard to believe it was only a year ago she first arrived through a counselor’s referral.
“Last year, I was seeing a therapist and she recommended it. And I was like, ‘Yes, horses!” Skyler explained.
Community services, which had helped her get counseling, paid for therapeutic riding, as her doctor was confident in the medically proven mental and emotional health benefits.
Skyler felt like a new person at the barn. Her counselor released her a few months later after seeing such an improvement. “I think a lot of the reason the counselor felt like she was doing okay, was that when she got involved with Hoofbeats, she did seem to be a whole different person. Her depression straightened up, her attitude was better, everything,” said Pam, who has always been one of Skyler’s primary guardians and with whom she now lives.
At Hoofbeats, Skyler made strong relationships with the horses and the people, especially with Carol Branscome, the director, and with Maria Pennine, the instructor. “Carol’s just awesome. So is Maria. I like working with both of them,” said Skyler. “Carol makes it like your second home. You always have somewhere to go and you know she’s there for you and you can always talk to her no matter what.”
After the counselor released her, social services stopped paying for her lessons, but Skyler could not imagine leaving Hoofbeats. Carol arranged for her to become a working student, meaning she volunteered in exchange for her riding lessons. She is learning to ride, but also how to care for horses and manage a stable. “She would spend every minute there if I let her,” chuckled Pam.
“Normal people think horses are so serious. And then you get to know the horses and they’re just the goofiest things ever. They just make you laugh – like with Grayson when he smiles,” said Skyler, talking about one of her favorite horses – a tall dappled gray Appaloosa who pulls back his lips into a toothy horse grin when you make a camera sound at him.
Horses have helped Skyler find joy and energy, but they have also given her a purpose – helping people. Every week, she invests time and sweat into making Hoofbeats the same second home for others as it was for her. She has also become a friend and role model for the younger riders.
One young rider in particular is someone Skyler looks out for. “She was bullied,” Skyler explained, with deep compassion in her voice. “I think she still is. She was having a really hard time and was really emotional and stuff. You could see it at the barn, she’d get really upset. I just walked up to her and just hugged her and asked if she was okay, and then we talked about it. Now every time I see her, I just run up to her and give her a hug. Her and her mom have been going through a really hard situation.”
Skyler’s constant empathy is encouraging to all those around her. This year has not been easy for her either. She came down with mono last November, shortly after the therapist thought she was healthy enough to stop counseling.
“That was a really rough time,” said Pam. “It was kind of bad timing because the therapist had just released her. She was tired, sick, and she was getting depressed that she couldn’t be out there riding because her doctor wouldn’t let her on the horses. So she would go out there and just sit at the barn.
“But now her mono is gone and it’s getting closer to spring. I think her world is tilting back up now,” Pam said.
Skyler said she is looking forward to the next busy season at Hoofbeats. “I like working with the kids and the horses,” Skyler said. “In the summer and spring, when giving lessons, I like side walking and talking to the kids and everything.”
Hoofbeats has given her a community of caring friends and mentors and also the opportunity to help people, making her less likely to worry about what others think of her, she explained. “I’m definitely more open now,” she said.
When asked what she wants people to know about Hoofbeats, she replied, “Just come. Just come and experience it.”