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Turning Tears Into Smiles

A Ranch Where Happiness Reigns Supreme

Article by Sue Baldani

Photography by Freedom Reigns Ranch

Originally published in Brentwood Lifestyle

At Freedom Reigns Ranch, people and horses work together to heal one another. Although primarily focused on teenagers, the organization also assists children and young adults who've been through trauma.

Carissa Ramsdell, FRR founder and executive director, can sympathize with those who come to the farm, both human and animal. “Because of the abuse and trauma I endured growing up, I was super angry at the world, at God, and everyone and everything,” she says. “But God basically used my horse, Boston, who was also dealing with a difficult past, to save my life. Through working and training with my horse, God unlocked my own heart.”

Freedom Reigns Ranch was officially founded in October of 2015, but Carissa was helping kids with her horse, which she got in 2009, long before that. “Some kids from church were going through some challenging things, and being outside with one of God’s most beautiful creatures was really something that brought them a lot of peace.”

While caring for and training with Boston, she watched them become more confident and empowered. “They stepped outside of their own comfort zones in a way that led to growth, not only with a horse, but in their everyday lives. We basically combined a broken horse with a child whose heart had been shattered and watched God heal both at the same time.”

Shortly after, a friend came to volunteer, someone donated a pony, and then she ended up taking a rescue horse that had been abandoned in a dog pen. “It just snowballed, and all of a sudden these kids were coming and more people were coming to help,” says Carissa. “Then more horses needed rescuing, too.”

At that point, she knew she had to start her own nonprofit. “Caring for horses is expensive, plus we felt from the very beginning that we were never supposed to charge anything. So, we really needed to create an avenue for folks who believed in what we were doing to support it.”

This summer, the ranch will have officially provided more than 10,000 hours of mentorship. “We have about 50 individuals that come twice a month for the season and some who stay for multiple seasons because they really need this safe space to continue to thrive in their lives,” she says.

For many of these kids, getting up on a horse and trusting it is life-changing. “I see this unbelievable thing happening where they're building this relationship with the horse,” she says. “We usually share that horse's story -- over half of our herd has their own history of abuse, starvation and neglect. As you watch, it's like these puzzle pieces coming together and you see how they realize that the horse that had been thrown away by the world, means the world to them and they connect that with their own life. That then translates into their own emotional sense of well-being.”

The ranch has been leasing about 8 acres in Thompson’s Station, which houses 12 horses, but it needs to expand to provide its services to more people. “We have a wait list that extends 12 to 16 months and over a hundred kids are on it,” says Carissa. “Our hope and prayer is for someone to grant or donate 25 to 40 acres somewhere in Southern Williamson County or even Northern Murray County.”

They’re also busy raising money for a long-term lease and/or to build up the new land and make any renovations necessary. Individuals and corporations can go to #UNimpossible to donate. “We will be doing a big fundraising push on Giving Tuesday on Nov. 29 that will be social-media based.”

They were also planning on doing a fundraising gala on Sept. 10, but because money is tight for everyone right now, they’ll be having a fun hoedown for the community and donors instead. “We’re doing it true to our style -- it's a boots and bling style hoedown,” she says.

Carissa says she’s amazed and overwhelmed to be a part of something like this. “Going from not having a reason to live 10 or 15 years ago and feeling like I would never overcome what I had been through to watching so many kids find hope again, there is nothing better. Watching the trajectory of their lives change course because God chose to use a horse to reach their hearts -- I've seen it so many times and it's special every time.”