February 2018
Farm & Field

Healing Through Horses

Dena Little and hundreds of volunteers discover a passion for helping children at Storybook Farm.

 

Storybook Farm is more than just a horse farm. It’s a place of refuge for the children who find healing on its 50 acres with the help of loving equine friends.

Sixteen years ago, founder Dena Little discovered her passion for healing children with the help of horses after reading an article about a woman who had started a horse therapy program for children with disabilities and emotional issues.

"Horses have always been a mainstay of comfort throughout my life," Little said. "I thought maybe I could help others find the same thing."

Little calls herself a "champion of the underdog" whose mission is to show the love of Christ.

Little, who grew up riding and competing on horses, bought a small farm in Auburn after selling a successful corporate bakery in Atlanta so she could raise her two daughters with horses.

As Little’s horse therapy program grew, she bought another larger property near Opelika.

Today, Storybook Farm services over 1,500 children a year, according to Director of Communications Andrew Skinner.

Children who ride horses at Storybook Farm participate in a form of physical therapy made fun.

 
   

Families bring their children to Storybook for scheduled lessons where the children participate in educational activities while riding horses.

When Little first began horse therapy, she admitted it was an intimidating task.

Little said one of the first children to come to Storybook was a girl with a brittle bone disease.

"She could’ve broken a bone very easily and it was very daunting for me," Little said. "If I could’ve wrapped her and the horse up in Bubble Wrap, I would’ve."

However, the girl experienced no injuries or problems at Storybook and thrived from the therapy she received.

"This is a safe place for the children and it’s a place where families can escape the issues they face," said Lara Potts, who is a parent/supporter of Storybook Farm.

The lesson plans at Storybook have themes designed to make it not feel like traditional therapy.

The horses at Storybook are named after characters from literature such as Huckleberry Finn, Boo Radley, Mrs. Potts and more to make the activities as fun as possible.

In addition to horses, the children who visit learn about nutrition and gardening in "The Secret Garden."

 

The volunteers at Storybook connect with the children as they experience healing through horses.

A new dog agility course will be under construction soon where children will be able to play with dogs.

"We create an environment where the children are relaxed," Little said. "It’s a form of therapy they can enjoy that isn’t run by counselors or physical therapists."

According to Little, the impact of Storybook is threefold in that it helps children, their families and the volunteers.

"For the children, this is a safe place; for the families, it’s a place to escape; and for volunteers, it’s a place where they learn service before self," Little explained.

Volunteers undergo two weeks of training before they begin working at Storybook. Most volunteers are students from Auburn University, so program sessions are condensed into time periods aligning with university semesters.

Little said that, after their time at Storybook is over, many volunteers go on to pursue careers dedicated to helping others.

A rider makes a slam dunk.

 
   
   

"In the volunteer training sessions, I try to instill a sense of service before self," Little said. "The program is also therapeutic in many ways for the volunteers."

With the help of over 300 volunteers per year, generous donations, grants and fundraisers, Storybook provides their services to families at no cost.

Storybook hosts an annual Derby Dinner and Auction on the farm the first Saturday in May during the Kentucky Derby. Attendees dress in their best Derby attire and spend a day cheering on their favorite contenders and bidding on auction items to benefit Storybook’s mission.

Last year, Little purchased 25 additional acres for the expansion of Storybook Farm. On the new acreage, a new barn will be constructed to house more horses.

With a projected budget of $400,000 for 2018, Little’s hopes for the future of Storybook Farm are for it to continue to change lives and share love and dedication of service.

 

Rebecca Oliver is a freelance writer from Auburn.