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A Saturday at CORRAL

by Mary Catherine Benson / Carolina Hurricanes
I spent Saturday, Jan. 7 at CORRAL Riding Academy. This fall, Kids ‘N Community Foundation provided scholarship funds for two at-risk girls to enroll in their riding academy for an entire year.

Mary Catherine Benson
At CORRAL, participants are selected based on a high level of risk (e.g., poor academic performance, personal or family history of court involvement, substance abuse, living at or below poverty, gang involvement), and the organization is currently serving 15 girls. Most often girls are referred from Wake County Health & Human Services, Juvenile Justice, Teen Court and/or the Raleigh & Cary Police Departments.

Arriving at 11:00 a.m., I pulled up to the quaint farmhouse that CORRAL calls home (after I missed the unmarked drive twice). The farm was buzzing with girls and the “CORRAL cowboys” working on general maintenance chores. I set off on a farm tour with Joy Currey, executive director and founder (the site is actually on her family’s working farm). Our group received a crash course on their programming which includes horseback riding, academic tutoring, vocational training, equine assisted learning and mentorship. Through these five facets, participants learn equine knowledge and skills, while developing the behaviors, attitudes and skills necessary for success in life beyond horses.

Nora and Lauren (our two Canes girls) helped me serve lunch to the entire group. While heating up chicken chili and cornbread we got to know each other. Nora, an avid sports fan and softball player, wants to be a lawyer, specifically a Generel Counsel for a professional sports team, when she grows up. Does our Billy Taurig have competition? Nora is about to start high school and is excited to take AP courses. Lauren, on the other hand, is a little apprehensive about the transition to high school; I remember that feeling well.

Both girls, when asked what their favorite part of CORRAL was, said the exact same thing: “It’s a family.” And you can feel it. The girls quarrel like sisters, there are lists of chores hanging on the wall and on that particular Saturday, caffeine was off-limits.

After lunch, I observed their equine assisted learning session that day. The girls stood inside the arena with five horses freely walking around. They were instructed to form a body unit and communicate to each other like a neurotransmitter in your brain would. Two girls acted as “hands” while Nora acted as the brain, communicating requests to parts of the body to help groom one particular horse. Take-away messaging focused on communication, leadership, being a team player and making good choices.

While the girls were participating in their session, Joy shared some highlights of the program participants. One story she shared had me in tears (thank goodness I was wearing sunglasses) coupled with chills. A participant came to CORRAL and at the time was affiliated with a local gang. She was gang-raped in order to achieve entry into the gang. If that’s not enough to make your stomach churn, her stepdad was violent and sexually and physically abusive at home. Her mother tried to start over and left her abusive husband. Mom is a bit of a wet mop after years of abuse and her daughter was basically running the household. Thanks to CORRAL, she is no longer in that home.

What I didn’t know about horses before my Saturday at CORRAL is that they are intuitive creatures, reacting most strongly to human emotion. The participant mentioned above was understandably angry; angry at her stepdad, her peers, her mother and her situation in general (mom is now a participant in mandatory parenting classes at CORRAL). As part of her therapy, mom and daughter entered the arena for an exercise. The horses altered the planned exercise a little and started bolting around the arena, most likely reacting to the anger exuding from this child. In the hustle, mom got kicked (not intended to hurt, but to make her aware of the animal); what a perfect metaphor for their home life: chaos, mom’s spirits knocked down and angry children. And what good would that story be without a happy ending? Mom is gaining confidence and sound footing. While still in a group home, her sweet girl is exceling academically and making great life choices.

To Joy, Rob, Jennifer and Anna, you are amazing role models in the lives of these girls. Our community and our children are better because of your mission and the daily dedication you have to making that mission a reality. Thank you for sharing CORRAL with me and for partnering with the Kids ‘N Community Foundation.

To Nora and Lauren, keep up the great work, cherish this time with your “family,” and we can’t wait to see you both soon!

For volunteer opportunities and other ways to support the girls getting “a leg up in life,” visit CORRAL Riding Academy.

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