From left to right: Roxie Bradford, 11, Sophia Luna, 12, and Danielle Hershenson, 13, with two service dogs from Redemption Road K9, Lazarus, left, and Crixus, right at the Hopes Through Horses Open Barn on Saturday. Emily Alvarenga/The Signal

Open Barn raises awareness for youth mental health

In order to tackle different challenges faced by teenagers, such as bullying, peer pressure and stress, SRD~Straightening Reins teamed up with Redemption Road K9 to host their first Hopes Through Horses Open Barn on Saturday, April 27.

The goal of the event was to raise awareness for the services Straightening Reins provides to improve adolescent and teen mental health, according to Deborah Rocha, executive director of Straightening Reins.

“This program helps us all learn how to do things that we wouldn’t have done before,” said Vicky Salazar, a 20-year-old in the Straightening Reins program.

Both organizations work with animals to help kids deal with these issues and are dedicated to promoting the mental well-being and empowerment of children and teens.

Roxie Bradford, right, petting service dog, Crixus, as John Anthony, owner of Redemption Road K9, speaks at the Hopes Through Horses Open Barn on Saturday. Emily Alvarenga/The Signal

Straightening Reins uses horses to help children be able to articulate and sometimes even recognize their behaviors, allowing them to learn about themselves and others by working with the horses and then processing and discussing those feelings and behaviors.

Visitors were given a glimpse into what happens at the ranch and shown the impact it has made on some of the teens in the program.

“I came here in search of extra therapy to help me with my struggles with mental health that I’ve dealt with my whole life,” said Danielle Hershenson, 13. “The animals have helped me through my daily struggles and even long time struggles I’ve dealt with like my separation anxiety. I’ve been able to overcome a lot of things by coming here.”

Mayor Marsha McLean was in attendance, and was moved by the children’s speeches.

“The fact that these kids got up here to speak today is absolutely amazing,” McLean said. “I’m so proud of these kids, and it speaks volumes for what has been accomplished here.”

Olympian Norris Frederick, a USA track and field medal-winning long jumper, speaks at the Hopes Through Horses Open Barn on Saturday. Emily Alvarenga/The Signal

Special guest, Olympian Norris Frederick, a USA track and field medal-winning long and high jumper, also spoke about his experience with bullying. This was a stop on his “goodwill journey” around the world with the aim of tackling these very issues.

“I used to be a bully,” Frederick said. “Now as an adult, when I look back and I see these kids that hurt other kids or fight other kids. I can relate. I think that given the opportunity if we could just sit down and hear the youth out, I think it can help a lot.”

Guests were then given a demonstration by John Anthony, trainer and owner of Redemption Road, and his service dogs, Lazarus and Crixus.

Raymond Bradford, 14, with John Anthony, owner of Redemption Road K9, as service dog, Crixus, demonstrates an attack at the Hopes Through Horses Open Barn on Saturday. Emily Alvarenga/The Signal

Raymond Bradford, a teen in Straightening Rein’s program who has also spent some time shadowing Anthony, put on a bite sleeve so Crixus, a search and rescue dog, could demonstrate how he would apprehend a suspect. Crixus then showed guests that he could also “go say hi” to Bradford happily following the “attack.”

Guests were also able to meet the SRD therapy herd, which includes five horses, two miniature donkeys, two goats and nine chickens.

The event was free to attend, but anyone who donated received raffle tickets for a chance to win an array of prizes, including signed sports memorabilia and dog obedience training.

All the proceeds will go toward Straightening Reins’ equine-assisted therapy programs.

John Anthony, left, and Raymond Bradford, right, petting Crixus and demonstrating how the dog can “attack” and then “go say hi” afterwards at the Hopes Through Horses Open Barn on Saturday. Emily Alvarenga/The Signal

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