How a Horse Named Maggie Changed the Lives of Sex-Trafficking Survivors
This is Maggie, a therapy horse. And this is the true story of the profound lessons Maggie taught survivors of sex-trafficking from The Covering House.
There’s another photo I wish I could share with you. But I cannot in order to protect the privacy of the girl.
But let me describe the photo for you.
The setting is an indoor horse arena at Shiloh Stables, the organization that provides equine therapy to the girls of The Covering House.
On the dirt floor of the arena, a line is drawn with a string of small plastic cones. To the left of the line stands Maggie, an obstinate paint horse clocking in at over 1,000 pounds. In the moment right before the picture was taken, Maggie had made a move to step over the line.
But she didn’t take the step. Someone stopped Maggie in her tracks.
On the right side of the photo stands a wispy young girl who couldn’t be more than 100 pounds soaking wet. But in this moment, she carries herself like a Marine.
The girl’s feet are rooted to the ground. Her left hand is on her hip, and her right hand is pointing up at the horse’s face. The expression on the girl’s face is firm and confident and — to be honest — a bit menacing. She mouths the word, “NO!”
At the girl’s command, Maggie stepped back. The girl had won the battle of wills.
This is the story behind the picture.
“Why can’t we use that horse?”
The question came from one of girls of The Covering House.
“Her name is Maggie,” Stephanie said. “We don’t use her because she has a recent history of biting and kicking.”
Stephanie Read is a certified Equine Specialist through EAGALA, which stands for Equine-Assisted Growth and Learning Association. She’s worked closely with our girls to help them overcome the trauma they’ve faced from sex-trafficking.
On this particular day, the girls were giving the horses baths.
“Maggie is a work in progress,” Stephanie continued. “She’s moody, but we’re working with her. She’s not ready to be in the program.”
One girl spoke up. “I’d like to give her a bath anyway.”
Stephanie acquiesced, but used caution. She held Maggie at her head while the girls gently bathed her.
Toward the end of the bath, Maggie pinned her ears back and began stomping her feet.
“Let’s back away, girls,” Stephanie said. “Maggie is acting that way because she’s getting agitated.”
“That’s the way I am sometimes,” one of the girls said. “She’s acting out because that’s all she knows how to do.”
Stephanie smiled. “OK. Then what does Maggie need in this moment?”
“Unconditional love. Protection,” one girl said.
Another added, “She needs to feel safe.”
“Good!” Stephanie said. “What else does Maggie need?”
“She needs to be respected.”
“She needs her space right now.”
“She needs a break.”
Over the following weeks, the girls continued to work with Maggie, learning how to interpret Maggie’s quirkiness. Maggie began to trust the girls. She let them brush her and lead her.
But there were still those moments when Maggie got frustrated, when she’d stomp and pin her ears.
“What does Maggie need when she gets like this?” Stephanie asked.
The girls considered the question.
“She needs to know she can’t lash out like that,” one girl said.
“That’s right,” Stephanie said. “We need to respect Maggie’s boundaries, but she needs to respect ours, too. She needs to learn that it’s not OK for her to treat us disrespectfully.”
So, Stephanie began to teach the girls how to stand up to Maggie and say “No” when she acted up. And to say the word with confidence and with force so that Maggie would listen.
The girls continued to work with Maggie, loving her, giving her space when she needed it, but learning to enact strict boundaries when called for.
And one of those magical moments of a girl asserting a boundary was captured in the picture I described earlier.
Through the equine therapy the girls received, they each learned to recognize their own reactionary behavior. And they learned that overcoming it is a laborious process that takes place over time.
The girls learned to to love Maggie as she was and respect her boundaries.
And in the process, they learned to do the same for themselves.
As I’m writing this, the world is in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic (March 2020). As a result of shelter-in-place instructions, the girls of The Covering House are unable to attend equine therapy sessions.
This breaks our heart because the girls get so much from it.
Another result of the pandemic is that The Covering House has experienced a tremendous financial hit.
We’ve been forced to postpone our gala that was scheduled to take place in April. There is always a lull in giving at this time of year, so the gala comes at the perfect time.
Which means this pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Can you help The Covering House financially?
If so, please click here to make an emergency donation. Your gift is tax-deductible.
I’m sure that you are experiencing hardships too, so I know this is a substantial sacrifice. But our girls have never needed you to come through for them more than right now.
And please pray for protection and healing for our girls. Our staff too, because they are our heroes in the midst of this.
Thank you so much for standing by us during this crisis. And may God bless you!