Jim Rhodes found his life’s passion the day he took on management of the then newly established Aiken Equine Rescue. In the ensuing 18 years, the 90-acre farm has placed more than 900 horses into loving, adopted homes, becoming the largest horse rescue center in the southeastern United States. At any given time, between 60 and 70 horses reside at the farm.
In this regard, Aiken Equine has achieved its original purpose: to provide a temporary home for ‘displaced’ horses as they waited to be adopted, but somewhere along the way, the organization’s mission expanded.
“As we helped these horses find homes, we realized it also provided us a platform to use our horses to help people,” Jim explains. Today, the rescue center partners with Aiken County’s early-intervention program for first-time offenders. “To complete their community service, offenders learn that must manage their emotions or our horses will avoid them,” Jim explains. Since the non-profit began working with the Aiken County Courts, more than 500 offenders and at-risk youth have participated in the program.
The rescue center also works with the Saratoga WarHorse program, a national effort to assist military veterans suffering with post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). Through this unique, three-day program, Saratoga uses equine therapy to reduce veterans’ symptoms of depression, post traumatic stress and suicidal thoughts. As part of this program, nearly 80 veterans visit the farm annually.
Both programs are effective in part because of the nature of the horse. “Horses are naturally skittish and hyper-vigilant,” Jim says. Sensitive to anxiety and subdued anger, horses are also quick to pick up on verbal and non-verbal cues, providing immediate feedback to participants.
Still, at Aiken Equine Rescue, it’s the horses that come first. “Our entire organization is dedicated to giving horses second chances and new, joy-filled lives, and giving people revitalized, re-energized horses, each with a renewed sense of purpose and dignity,” Jim emphasizes.