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How CORRAL Riding Academy is helping girls—and horses—reach their potential.
While most of us spent 2020 sheltering in place with the world on pause, 12-year-old Trinity was making an unlikely new friend: a horse named Cap.
Both Trinity (whose name has been changed for purposes of anonymity) and Cap can relate on their rough start in life. Both come from unsafe environments, have had unstable living conditions and struggle with behavioral issues that have resulted in emotional turmoil. Both also never learned how to forge healthy relationships with humans.
While Cap was rescued and rehabilitated before coming to CORRAL (Centered on Riding, Rehabilitation and Learning), Trinity was referred to the equine therapy program by a school counselor and court social worker. The middle school student had been in an enduring cycle of risky behaviors, including fights at school and failing classes. With her future appearing bleak—and a family not equipped to effectively parent a wayward teen—CORRAL and Cap trotted into her life.
Founded in 2008 by Joy Currey after time spent in inner-city Philadelphia teaching and working with children, CORRAL was borne of her passion to help children who otherwise would not have opportunities to end negative trajectories—and thus effectively turn their lives around.With this vision of changing the lives of disadvantaged girls, Currey returned to her childhood home on Kildaire Farm Road in Cary (where her parents still reside) and opened the nonprofit equine therapy academy. There, under its “amplify their voices” mission, CORRAL seeks to pair girls in high-risk situations with rescued horses to show them that if a majestic horse can overcome hardships, perhaps they can too.
In the program, therapists and equine specialists work in unison to guide the girls and horses through therapy sessions to build a relationship of trust and patience. Teaching girls how to have a relationship with a horse when they have often been failed in their human relationships opens the door for dramatic change. “What we do here is transformative,” says Currey. “We are providing opportunities for girls who might not otherwise be given opportunities in life.”
But the galloping success of the program fell to a trot this year as the pandemic put a halt to fundraising events—and the nonprofit that relies solely on donations took a significant hit—both financially and for those it helps. While its budget and needs increased, funding decreased—at a time when it was needed the most. After the cancellation of the equine rehab center’s annual fundraising event, typically held on Kentucky Derby weekend (Derby Dinner), the nonprofit lost upward of $350,000 in donations.
In October 2019, a second farm located in North Raleigh, the Neuse River Campus, was opened to up the number of girls served in the community. But, with the decline in revenue, the growth of the campus has been dramatically limited.
CORRAL corporate strategist Camille Brown says the academy has had to pivot every step of the way during the pandemic. “All aspects of our mission have been affected during the COVID crisis. We had to change the way in which we have the girls, therapists and volunteers physically here on campus because of restrictions,” she says. “The families that we help now need more help due to increased food insecurities, housing concerns and job loss. The girls need a safe and consistent place to do virtual schooling. We’ve really had to think outside the box to make it all work.”
To combat the schooling crisis, CORRAL hired an education specialist to lead pod learning, where a group of girls attend online school together in a supportive environment. Transportation, technology, and educational and emotional support have been consistently provided through this turbulent time. “We provide the space, resources and horses,” says Brown. “The girls are doing the work.”
As for Trinity and her “mane” squeeze, Cap, the pair has continued to forge their bond, through which Trinity has learned to control her emotions and regulate her temper; that trust cannot be rushed, but can be earned; and, most importantly, that the people of CORRAL (and Cap) are devoted to her well-being.
“Cap shows me that I’m worthy of being loved and of having a true friend,” says Trinity. Clearly, there are no “neigh”-sayers that CORRAL is accomplishing Currey’s vision one girl and a horse at a time. corralriding.org
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