Dare 2 Dream: When the heart is freed, dreams can come true

22nd Apr, 2024

Written by Jennifer Davies and photography by Jade de Klerk

Hero horse images by Ashleigh Kabe

Every horse needs a purpose in life, and for the equines at Dare 2 Dream, theirs is truly a special one: they are an integral part of a therapy programme for vulnerable, neglected and abused children. The horses themselves are no strangers to neglect and abuse, having been rescued and rehabilitated, which makes them ideally suited to their work.

Founded in 2004 by Brenda de Klerk and Lynn Wheatly, who’d been involved in horse rescue for some time, the Dare 2 Dream programme truly changes lives for traumatised people and animals alike. Brenda explains that, although it’s challenging work, if you can save one child, it’s worth it – and the horses are a critical part of this work.

Brenda says that, “Each horse has a unique history and specific strengths, which matches up with the children that need them most. For example, huge bay gelding Bear suffered abuse and overwork and was surrendered to another animal welfare organisation before finding his way to Dare 2 Dream. Once rescued, he took on the role of ‘protector of the herd’ and forms special bonds with children who’ve suffered abuse and need protection.”

At Dare 2 Dream, the staff and volunteers are facilitators; the child chooses the horse with which they feel a connection and they work together (with help from the instructors). “A lot of the children aren’t confident in their lives,” says Brenda. “Working with big animals like horses builds confidence, which is something these children can take through into their daily lives. Essentially: ‘if I can do this, I can do anything’.”

Daring to dream

Brenda and Lynn had been looking for an outlet to involve some of the horses they rescued with helping children. In 2003, they invited various institutions caring for children to join them and their horses at Walkerville in a pilot programme; in January 2004, the Twilight Children home in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, accepted the invitation.

In May 2005, Dare 2 Dream was formally registered as a non-profit organisation (NPO 039-940), with Brenda and Lynn along with Jade Saunders. The programme aims to enable the participants, through the nurturing abilities of horses, to understand that there’s a better future for all, hence the name – Dare 2 Dream.

Since then, Dare 2 Dream has worked with several children’s homes and places of safety, including Abraham Kriel Bambanani, St George’s, a bridging organisation for boys and girls, and Cotlands, using programmes designed to address PTSD, sexual abuse, substance abuse, as well as mental and physical abuse.

Healing herd

There are currently six active horses in the Dare 2 Dream Healing Herd and a few retirees who help out from time to time – if they feel like it. No horse is ever forced to work.

Handlers take everything one step at a time, ensuring the horses are comfortable with what’s going on around them at all times. If they don’t want to be involved in the programme or they’re too old or have health issues, they get to retire in comfort and “be field flowers”, either with Dare 2 Dream or being adopted to private homes.

Bear, mentioned above, weighs in at almost 1000kg, yet he exudes such a gentle demeanour that even tiny children of four or five years old will ride him. Brenda explains that he was used for dressage and was suffering from kissing spine and fused hocks and could no longer cope with the demands of high-level dressage. It’s suspected that, in order to allow him to be ridden and compete, he was on constant pain medication; once we had him and the meds were out of his system, he couldn’t tolerate the pain caused by the weight of a rider/saddle and he was consistently lame in his legs. He’s undergone treatment for this and is no longer in any pain. Today, this once overburdened horse has found his place as “protector of the herd” and now works with children burdened with trauma who seek out that protection.

Nevada is a strong, dominant mare who specialises in helping children who have either been bullied or are themselves bullies. She has a quirky nature and knows exactly what’s best for each child. With children who’ve been bullied, Nevada is as gentle as a lamb, nudging them in the right direction; with children who are bullies, she doesn’t hold back and gets them working hard.

Tiny Pepper has a sweet nature, a passion for soaking up attention, and happily works with everyone. This white pony is the perfect “starter pony” for anyone scared of horses and does an excellent job building confidence.

Bay horse Bo, who was left to his own devices in the veldt, doesn’t often get chosen by children but has a special person who works with him and indulges his need to be loved.

Storm, a gentle bay mare, is another ex-riding school horse who was ridden so relentlessly that, on arrival, she refused to be ridden at all. To this day, this once-broken horse won’t accept a saddle – but happily allows children to ride bareback. Her forte is working with children who themselves feel “broken”, specifically those who’ve attempted suicide. She sees what they need and nurtures them.

Imposing black beauty Ludi (aka Lodenwijk) is a gorgeous gentle giant. His sheer beauty means he’s chosen by a large number of volunteers, but he’s a very sensitive horse and is therefore very selective about the people and energies he’s willing to work with (which is always respected in the programme). Although a privately owned horse, he consistently works with one of our participants’ mothers, who’s also in need of trauma relief due to the situation she’s in with her children.

Retiree horses, sway-backed Porky, who’s around 34 years old, and Neddy and Harley, who have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, live at Dare 2 Dream and still sometimes get involved with special cases. As horses who’ve worked their whole lives, they enjoy the opportunity to be needed.

The magnificent horses at Dare 2 Dream come from many different places, from private owners and riding schools to breeding facilities or other rescues. When they arrive, they get as much time as they need to just be horses. All need plenty of patience and hard work to overcome their past. Each horse is different, but it can take two years before a horse is emotionally and physically stable enough to be integrated into the programme to help in the children’s healing process.

Horses for courses

As the saying goes, horses sense the truth in our hearts long before our minds do. They see through all facades and allow you to be your authentic self, without judgement. This is where the magic lies. To a horse, emotion is information.

According to Dare 2 Dream, “Horses have a highly developed ability to respond to subtle changes in stance, muscle tension, breathing, and the general arousal level of other horses as well as predators – an ability which they can easily transfer to human handlers.”

For example, chestnut gelding Red, a once-neglected thoroughbred, could immediately pick up if a child was smiling but angry inside, and refused to work with anyone on drugs or alcohol. Brenda explains that Red saw people’s authentic selves and would only work with those who put aside their “masks”. Sadly, Red passed away recently, but the good that he’s done will live on.

Equine therapy is about much more than just spending time with animals (although, as any animal lover knows, this alone already has a positive impact on stress and anxiety). Dare 2 Dream explains that, “Horses provide fun, interest, physical stimulation, challenges, goals, and repetition (all factors which are conducive to learning). [On a physical level], the success of equine therapy and riding is in the stimulation of the vestibular system. The inner ear has three semi-circular canals filled with fluid, which are sensitive to movement and are activated during riding. The spinal column, brain stem, cerebellum, and cerebral hemispheres are particularly responsible for sensory reception. This in turn influences perception, movement, posture, coordination, and academic learning. The vestibular core receives information from the muscles and skin, visual and auditory receptors, and many other sensory areas of the brain.

[As a result], equine-facilitated therapy is beneficial to people with physical disabilities, psycho-social issues and mental health needs that result in any significant variation in cognition, mood, judgement, insight, anxiety level, perception, social skills, communication, behaviour or learning disabilities.”

In addition, by encouraging conversation, equine therapy can improve speech, language and auditory abilities, while social skills and confidence are supported through the non-judgemental interaction with the horse. Simply working with the horses can promote a healthier self-image, because each success and moment of progress is an important milestone. Depending on the situation, some children can improve after two or three sessions, while others take longer.

Therapy starts with the children meeting Dare 2 Dream’s Healing Herd. With gentle guidance, they choose the horse they’d like to work with and then get stuck in grooming them (this helps to ground the child and horse, and creates a relaxed environment). Depending on the situation, they “take the reins” by leading the horses. Only once everyone is comfortable will they get onto the horse and start with exercises.

Staff watch the child’s body language and set exercises accordingly, says Brenda. “Often, a child will sit slightly to the left or right, which indicates that the brain is ‘not crossing over’ (between left and right). The solution is to do cross-over exercises on the horse in order to create balance. Physical balance is also connected to emotional balance. As they improve, they can do more.”

Children ride bareback with only a halter and lead reins. This is to assist in developing balance, posture, coordination and, perhaps most importantly, trust.

You can help!

These majestic animals need proper stabling, special food, farrier services (hooves, etc.), veterinary care, specialised equipment, and more. Then there are all the necessities needed for the children and those working with the horses. It adds up.

Brenda says that, following the Covid pandemic along with the variety of other economic factors plaguing South Africa, Dare 2 Dream has been forced to scale back their work. They help where they can and currently support a much smaller group of children.

With your support, Dare 2 Dream can rekindle the programme and continue making a positive impact for those who’d never have the opportunity to encounter the wonder and healing power of equines.

Monthly donations help alleviate the burden of monthly operating costs and provide a reliable source of funding on which Dare 2 Dream can rely, giving the programme the ability to plan in advance, explore new opportunities to enrich our participants’ lives, and direct event and sponsorship funding where it’s needed most. However, says Brenda, every single bit helps, even if it’s R10 – it all makes a difference.

You can easily donate by credit card via the secure online portal on their website here: https://www.dare2dreamprogram.org/donate or on PayPal.

For more information, email Brenda or Jade at d2dcharity@gmail.com , visit their website at https://www.dare2dreamprogram.org/, and follow them on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Dare2dreamSA/ and Instagram https://www.instagram.com/d2d_southafrica.

View images as Gallery | Carousel
FB: 0