Freedom to Hope

By Alana Harrison

As the first glowing fingers of dawn bleed into the horizon, Sara breathes in the sweet smells of hay and horseflesh while watching a sea of billowing wheat stalks slowly turn gold in the morning light. She finds a deep beauty in the day’s early hours, when the quiet is broken only by the eager whinny of her new friend.

A survivor of human trafficking, Sara endured years of recurrent trauma that left her feeling empty and broken, profoundly affecting her physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. But after connecting with a special therapy horse, her perspective on life drastically changed. For the first time since she can remember, Sara feels something akin to hope.

Gentle Healing

Every trafficking survivor has a deeply personal story interwoven with vulnerability and brokenness, and every story provides a shocking glimpse into the rapidly growing underworld of modern-day slavery, present in the U.S. and elsewhere around the globe. In response to this often under-reported crisis, non-profit, advocacy and faith-based groups across the country are partnering with safe houses and legal entities to provide victims with a new chance at life.

Recovering from the pain and trauma of trafficking requires a multifaceted and comprehensive approach, but mental health experts are finding equine therapy to be one of the most beneficial methods for providing survivors with long-term healing. As a result, horses are becoming a crucial component of rehabilitation in many recovery programs.

Since 2015, Pure Hope Foundation in Mount Vernon, Texas, has worked to spread awareness about sex trafficking, end demand and help survivors recover to lead healthy, independent lives. Offering long-term restorative care through its residential recovery program, the foundation provides survivors with individualized therapy, life coaching, educational support and vocational training. Pure Hope Foundation Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer Ryan Morris says equine experiences also play an integral role in helping survivors regain a sense of identity, improve their self-worth and learn how to develop healthy, meaningful relationships.

“Horses are acutely tuned in to human emotions and have the special ability to make people feel completely in the moment. This offers a tremendous support tool for young women dealing with deep trauma,” Ryan said. “Often, survivors connect with the horses before they connect with people.”


This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Fall 2021 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.


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