Q & A
We spoke to Rhonda Smith at her ranch in Liberty Hill, home to thirty horses, three goats, two donkeys, and the groundbreaking nonprofit Spirit Reins.
You have a very unique way of doing therapy here. Can you describe it?
We have effectively implemented a model of therapy, using horses, that’s based on the neuroscience of how a child’s brain develops and how trauma interrupts that development. At Spirit Reins, we give children the opportunity to have experiences in therapy that allow them to repair that damage to their brain; to actually form new pathways from these lower regions of their brain to the more thinking, cognitive regions of their brain.
What kind of backgrounds do your clients come from?
We have a heart for kids who’ve been in foster care; kids who’ve been touched by the child welfare system in some way. And those are kids who come from really hard places. Probably, more than I’d like to say, a majority of kids we’ve worked with have experienced sexual abuse, severe sexual abuse… Children who’ve been hurt by the people who are supposed to love and take care of them – who’ve been failed by those people – those kids need an opportunity to build a relationship in a different way; to see how relationships can be done. And horses are honest with them. They’ll give them that opportunity in a way that people won’t, and in a way that people can’t right now in their lives because they’ve been so damaged.
What is unique about horses that makes these relationships so powerful?
They can’t lie, and they don’t tolerate lies in the round pen with them… They live very much in the moment. They have to, since they’re prey animals. They want you to be authentic and in the moment, and they want you to be present to the relationship that you’re building. I think that’s something that all of us forget – not just the kids that we work with. I mean, the adults forget that too, and forget how to do that. So the horses are powerful lessons for all of us.
What does the average day look like for you?
Probably the majority of my day is spent in meetings… educating people about the work that we do here; talking to donors, educating folks about why it matters to support the work that we do at Spirit Reins. Why it costs a little bit more to do therapy at Spirit Reins than it does – maybe – in an office, but why, ultimately, the work that we do at Spirit Reins is worth that investment… These kids have been in traditional therapy for years in their lives. In a year here at Spirit Reins, we make a real difference for these kids and for their families; changes that are lasting. So in the long run, our therapy is much cheaper than what they’ve been doing.
So, you spend a lot of time thinking about how to make the business side of things work.
I think it’s incredibly important to view the work that we do as a business. As a small business. The fact that we are not for profit doesn’t mean that we’re not supposed to do good things, and to raise and make money that we can invest in the clients that we serve – and in a million more families out there that want to be a part of the work that we’re doing. Investing that in a way that allows us to grow, to serve more kids and families – to be able to open locations in other places that need us to be closer to where the need is greater… In order to be able to raise funds effectively, we have to be able to prove how we’re operating as a business. We have to show the care that we take, you know, how we value everything that we do from human resources, to finances, to fundraising, to billing insurance for the work that we do… I have the opportunity to work with some incredible professionals who have made a choice to work for a nonprofit, because they believe in the work that we’re doing. And they’re incredible at what they do. They could work anywhere, quite frankly, and have chosen to work at Spirit Reins and to see this business thrive in order to do more. To do more for the kids and families that need us the most.