Lightly edited for clarity and length.
TW: Mentions of abuse and drug use.
Slick’s Hard Cash, better known as “Slick,” is a registered Tennesee Walking Horse. Prior to joining Dusty Spur Farm as a therapy horse, Slick was living with unkind folks who left him with both physical and emotional scars. Despite being poorly treated, Slick has done something that no person or therapy has been able to do for my son.
At only 8 years old, it sometimes feels my son Gabriel has experienced a lifetime of obstacles. His father and I divorced when he was only 7 months old. At the age of 2, he still wasn’t speaking and we learned that he had hearing loss and needed to be fitted with hearing aids. This started a long journey of speech and occupational therapy for him.
We entered kindergarten hopeful and optimistic. Unfortunately, COVID hit and life changed for everyone.
In early 2021 I entered into a new relationship, and soon after that person moved in with me. In a very short period of time, I found myself in the middle of a physically and emotionally abusive relationship. In an effort to cope, I turned to drugs. Regretfully, Gabriel and his brother were around for all this.
Gabriel’s once stable home life had been flipped upside down into a world of chaos and his mom was turning into a person he didn’t recognize.
By September of 2021, I knew I needed to make some big changes to ensure the safety of my family. I left Virginia to get treatment in Mississippi for 30 days. Gabriel, who had never been away from me longer than a weekend, had to adjust to his mom being gone, staying in an unfamiliar place, and being away from his home and dog.
I returned home after 30 days of sobriety, feeling optimistic, but the setbacks kept coming.
First, Gabriel’s school administration let me know they could not accommodate Gabriel’s behavior needs. Then, to ensure our safety from my ex, we moved into a friend’s house. Then, we all contracted COVID. After we recovered, Gabriel started running a very high fever. I took him to the doctor but they were unable to find any cause for his fever. They did emergency blood work that evening and informed me that he had MIS-C. This is a post-COVID complication that affects children ages 7–9 and causes inflammation of vital organs within the body. We were immediately sent to the Children’s Hospital. After a week-long stay, we were finally cleared to go home. Finally, on December 17, my ex was arrested in response to a domestic violence call.
Also in December, we discovered Gabriel has a sensory processing disorder and is considered to be a highly sensitive child (HSC). This means that Gabriel experiences his feelings on a much larger scale than the average person. I was on a mission to find everything possible to help Gabrie learn how to communicate and process these very big emotions.
That journey led us to finding Spur’n Up Hope…and Slick.
I signed up Gabriel for a weeklong summer camp stay at Spur’n Up Hope. On that first day, he ran away from the barn and locked himself in my car, too anxious and afraid to go in. The staff was amazing and incredibly patient with him. They finally coaxed him into participating. There, he met Slick.
Watching them together brings joy to everyone who witnesses their bond. It’s as if the two melt into each other. Despite Slick’s prior poor treatment at the hands of people, he is protective of Gabriel and very gentle with him. He does everything he can to make Gabriel feel comfortable and safe. Historically, this is something that has never been easy to accomplish.
On the final day of camp, Gabriel became overwhelmed with the thought of not being able to see Slick every day. I found him hiding in the barn, crying, not wanting to leave. Again, the staff at Spur’n Up Hope was amazing; within a few days, they had set up weekly times for Gabrie to visit Slick.
The change I’ve seen in Gabriel is so encouraging. We’ve explored every type of therapy out there (play therapy, occupation therapy, etc), and none have given us as much hope as Slick has. I’ve watched Gabriel grow confidence, learn patience, and connect on a level I haven’t seen before. He happily shares all the things he learns with Slick. Seeing that smile when he talks about his favorite horse is something I can’t put a price on.
Recently, Gabriel was having a difficult day. His emotions were all over the place and he was in tears for most of the day. It just so happened that that afternoon we were supposed to see Slick. After his visit, Gabriel’s entire demeanor changed. We went home that day with him smiling, happy, and calm.
After the turmoil and challenges we have faced the past few years, the gift of joy and calm Slick has brought Gabriel is something to be treasured. We will forever be grateful for finding Slick and Spur’n Up Hope.—Jodi D.
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