Horses for Orphans: how orphaned boys began their journey into healing and horsemanship

28 08 2010

Two horses out of a herd of 15 that were donated to the orphanage. Photo credit: Ingela Larsson-Smith

I’ve been working on a project for the past month that I absolutely love, which has the working title “Horses for Orphans”. It’s the powerful story of how a natural horsewoman and her team tame and gentle a herd of unwanted, almost-wild horses in order to reach a group of orphans. Both the animals and the boys are wounded, have experienced abuse and neglect at the hands of those who were supposed to love and care for them, and have been “given away” because no one is able to look after them anymore. In learning to handle the horses, the boys begin to understand their own journey to healing.

A boy gets in close and personal with a young horse – but he’s gotten that far only because the horse is beginning to trust him. Photo credit: Ingela Larsson-Smith

A horsewoman and photographer, Ingela Larsson-Smith sets out to teach the boys first how read a horse’s body language so they can begin to understand what the horses are thinking and feeling as they begin to approach them in a new way – as friends. Most of the horses have had some traumatic experience at the hands of humans in the past, so they’re scared, untrusting, ready to fly  at the first sign of danger, and can’t possibly understand that this group of humans want to help them.  All they have known is being “used” for their ability to work, and when they were no longer useful, they were neglected or given away. So why should they trust humans?

A horsewoman who teaches a natural, respectful approach to animals, Ingela makes initial contact with an animal not with lassos or ropes, but only through trust, when the animal accepts that she’s not out to hurt it. Photo credit: Richard Smith

At the same time, the boys have been through much pain already in their young lives and although they have been brought to a safe place – the children’s home is a good place to live – they have only begun to heal. As Ingela and her team (husband Richard Larsson-Smith, horsewoman Katy Overton) and the children seek to establish a new relationship of trust with these horses, the hope is that the boys will see themselves and their own inner journey reflected in these animals.

As they begin to understand why the horse flees to a safe place when it senses danger, the boys will perhaps make the connection why they hide behind walls of self-protection with their own behaviour, to prevent being hurt again. They might see that the battle to win the horses’ hearts and minds can only start when they themselves begin to trust and open up.

The project leaders hope not only to teach the children horsemanship, but also communication and leadership, essential skills in any part of life. They are creating a program that includes English lessons and a horsemanship curriculum from which the children can graduate to be certified to work with horses once they leave the orphanage. It is about real life-skills, but also about healing the heart and soul.

The footage was shot as a gift to the Horses for Orphans project by my friend and business partner, Charlotte Gentis, a videographer who freelances for CBC Vancouver, over a 14-day period in 2010.

Charlotte films Katie_IMG_7039

Charlotte’s challenges included:

– tropical rainstorms that lasted for days, during which the work of building an arena and of recording important milestones with the horses and children had to continue;

– an issue with language, as specific natural horsemanship terms had to be translated by a non-professional Brazilian translator, extremely challenging;

– working in the field as a one-woman production team, trying to manage sound capture, perfect image capture and do interviews;

– all the while learning a brand new camera (Sony EX1r) that is very very unlike the heavy shoulder-mount cameras she uses at CBC.

So it was a challenge, but so very worth it, as I can see now logging the video. We have about 60 hours of to wade through, so much of it usable that I think we have a problem of too much rather than too little. Going through the moments, I discover what the team faced when they got there, how they overcame their challenges day by day, and what ultimately happened in the end. It’s a daily delight.

Stay tuned for news of the next project, which I’m getting ready to dive into this week with a trip back up to Northern B.C., to my dearly loved frontier towns, Dawson Creek and Fort St. John.



7 responses

22 09 2010


27 10 2010
vicki honer

This is fantastic work you are doing ! I hope by changing these childrens feelings on life through seeing and understanding how a horse can learn how to trust again and enjoy life and feeling love for an animal so they can help them trust again will enable them to love and trust people even though they have been hurt in their lives . If a horse can forgive and move on perhaps they can too and then help others in the future that need helping all over the world .I think animals are here to help in so many ways of the wrong humans do to each other and so many lessons can be learned from them . Dont never stop the world needs people like you.

27 10 2010
Donna Jones

This is amazing work! Please continue to post the progress of these horses and boys!

14 11 2011
Deb Taylor-Lansky

Saw your work on RFD TV two days ago and cannot get it out of my mind…I am so intrigued with what you are doing and how it helps these kids…God bless you and your work

14 11 2011
Deb Taylor-Lansky

Keep my posted as to what’s going on etc. I would love to hear what’s happening with that:)

14 11 2011
Tobi Elliott

So good to hear you were caught up by the film! It IS an awesome project, the kids are getting so much out of it and the horses too! It has real potential to transform so many lives because the boys at Betel are really taking it on and want to become leaders who can help other children who struggle like they have.
You can find out more about H4O here (their website isn’t terribly up to date but they’re working on it):
Facebook page has lots of great photos:
And our website has the full 20 minute story if you want to re-watch:
Stay in touch! Thanks, Tobi Elliott > Blue Cyrus Media > Vancouver, B.C.

8 04 2012
Loretta & Dan McInerney

This is no small task, Richard and Ingela have a passion for horses, but a compassion for the lost and hurting, true faithful servants. God Bless all of you and your teamwork to expand the kingdom here on earth!

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