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People Fund helps build firm foundations

Free Rein Farm helps people find a path to peace

Building a solid foundation is a crucial first step for just about any
project. Kristin Molby of Bellaire-based Free Rein Farm knows the same holds true for a person’s mental health journey. Thanks in part to a recent Great Lakes Energy People Fund grant, clients of Kristin’s equine-assisted learning program will have a little firmer footing as they follow their path to healing.

For about the past four years, Kristin and her husband Troy have been helping people facing mental and emotional struggles to find freedom and healing from issues such as depression, trauma, anxiety, relationship issues, anger, grief, low self-esteem, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Their primary tools for this mission are
horses and miniature donkeys.

Saddle serenity
The mental and emotional help Free Rein Farm offers is a far cry
from the in-office sessions many people associate with getting help with these issues. Although the farm offers services to people of any age, most of its clients are children, teens, and young adults.

“The sessions are very hands-on and tailored specifically for each client,” Kristin said. “The goal is to allow people to decompress and find a path back to peace.
”Sessions at the farm can involve everything from caring for the animals, petting them, walking with them, talking to them, trail rides, and even finger painting on a horse. “Just being around animals, or the mere act of caring for the horse, walking around with them,
brushing them, can bring peace and calm for many people,” Kristin said. The animals often serve as a conduit for people—especially children—to open up about their struggles. Some clients will share their thoughts, feelings, and stories with the animals.

“They will connect with something on the farm, and it might surprise you. It might be a particular duck, donkey, or horse,” Kristin said.

And for some clients, there’s self-confidence to be found in riding a horse.
“Someone who is struggling with low self-esteem might say to themselves, ‘If I can get a 1,200-pound animal to do what I want it to do, I can do anything,’” Kristin said.

Donkeys on duty
While a donkey might seem like an unusual complement to an
equine-based learning program, Kristin said their smaller size and low-key demeanor are ideal for younger children because they are less intimidating and move much slower.“ The donkeys have a peace and a calm you don’t find in many other animals,” she said.

One of the farm’s donkeys, “Chewy,” is a favorite among many of the children. “Chewy knows a lot of secrets that they don’t want to tell anyone else. He’s got that old and wise persona. He just has that ‘Eeyore’ personality,” Kristin said.

She recalled one client who wasn’t able to directly share what was troubling him with other people, but he was able to “speak through
the donkey.”

“He would use Chewy as a conduit, speaking for him. That provided
him with an outlet that wasn’t there before,” Kristin said.

A foundation grant
In the spring of 2023, the People Fund awarded a $1,500 grant to Free
Rein Farm  help pay for the installation of a new floor in the farm’s equine therapy barn.

Previously the barn floor was sand, which Kristin said didn’t provide solid footing for the animals or the clients, was dusty, and was hard on the horse’s tack.

The new floor, which was installed in late May, is made up of composted rubber reclaimed from old tires. Troy said the change has made a big difference, providing a more stable surface that still provides some cushioning. The reduction in dust and tack maintenance has also been notable, he said. Kristin said the new
floor’s firmer footing also serves as a great metaphor for what’s at the
heart of her passion: suicide prevention.

Kristin, who is a lifelong animal lover, had her first experience with an equine-based program when she was going through some struggles of her own. Seeing those results firsthand inspired her to pursue starting a program of her own. She is now a certified facilitator in faith-based equine-assisted philosophy. She has also completed applied suicide intervention skills training and is a Safetalk (Suicide Alertness for Everyone) facilitator through LivingWorks. That means that not only is she equipped to help people who are in a crisis, but she also trains others to do the same.

Kristin said she’s come to view all of the help Free Rein Farm provides for clients as a means of suicide prevention.“ If we work with a child or teenager who is struggling with any of these issues and we provide them with the tools to deal with those feelings and find their way back to peace, it is a good foundation for that person to be equipped to deal with future struggles,” Kristin said.

Anyone who thinks they, or someone they know, may benefit from the services Free Rein Farm offers can contact Kristin via email at [email protected] or by phone at (231) 633-4230. More information is also available on the farm’s website at freereinfarm.org.

People Fund at work
The grant for Free Rein Farm is just one of the many People Fund grants awarded this year, thanks to the generosity of GLE members who agree to have their electric bills rounded up to the next whole dollar each month. That money is pooled with contributions from other participating members to provide grants that truly make a difference in the communities GLE serves. To learn more about the People Fund, including a list of recent grant recipients and information on how to enroll in the program or apply for a grant, visit gtlakes.com/people-fund/ 

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