Karin Taylor at Weisberg Stables. Photo: David Molnar.
I started off as a model. I first signed with the Ford agency and later Wilhelmina Models. I modeled in the U.S. and abroad. From there, I transitioned over to acting. I did that for about a year and a half before I got engaged to my husband and moved to Pennsylvania. After we had five kids, my husband said, “No more kids!” My daughters and I had been riding and we were boarding our horses. I really desired a place of our own because you don’t have as much control over the care your animals are getting. Three years ago, we transitioned to a 20-acre equestrian farm in Jupiter, Florida. I like to tell my husband that the animals “just showed up.”
Our family philosophy is that we believe everything you’re given – your time, your talents, your resources – is something that you should share. We’d always been working with foster kids. I started inviting some of the group homes to come to the farm. When I started seeing the impact and the difference that was making in the children’s lives, I got certified in Equine Assisted Learning and we started having more formalized programs at the farm.
Anyone can benefit from Equine Assisted Learning or Animal Assisted Therapy. We do both at the farm. Our Unbridled Power program for kids is an eight-week program. It enables special needs kids. They have social challenges. I talk to Moms who have children with autism and they try to set up play dates and then their child makes a mistake or doesn’t behave exactly right and then there’s no more play dates. They never get a chance to improve their skills.
With the animals, the children don’t feel like they’re going to be judged, so they’re already more relaxed, and then you have opportunities to work with them on interaction, like noticing an animal’s body language. Some of the children don’t have an awareness of personal space. Animals are all about personal space. Horses mirror us. Their senses are highly astute. If you come at them with a strong energy, and a horse is upset by that and moves away from you, you can adjust your energy and then they will come to you. Sometimes we get on the wrong foot and we never get a chance to recover from that. With animals, it doesn’t work that way.
When we work with our animals and the children, it’s “at liberty,” which means the animals do as they wish because they’re not tied to a rope. As big and as intimidating as horses can be, they can also be super gentle. That’s a confidence builder when you realize that you can control a 1,000 pound animal or that an animal chooses to be with you. It’s pretty powerful for the children because a lot of them feel rejected in everyday life, especially some of our foster kids, who feel rejected by their own parents.
There is something magical and unique when an animal bonds with you. A lot of times, when you give someone an opportunity to choose the animal that they’re working with, oftentimes they’ll choose an animal that really complements them and what they’re needing. There is something therapeutic about being with an animal and having that feeling of safety and comfort. We all have a desire for affection and relationship, but sometimes those things don’t feel safe to us in our real life.
Our veterans program is 12 weeks. The veterans we’ve been working with come with PTSD issues. Their senses are heightened. Having the chance to let their guard down with an animal feels safer. A lot of times the veterans don’t want to burden their families with things they’ve seen or are experiencing. I’m not a therapist, so we don’t perform actual psychotherapy, but it’s an opportunity to be with an animal and experience these things that can help you know more things about yourself. The person is realizing things on their own versus me saying, “This is why you do this.”
We love to share our farm. I think it’s great for the animals, too. Just like as a mom you tend to fall more in love with your husband when you see him with your children, I fall more in love with my animals when I see how they impact others’ lives.
We never charge anyone. I feel we have a responsibility to do as much as we can. Once you’ve seen what these programs can do for people and what it means to them, it’s really hard to say no.
Karin Taylor is the founder and operator of Weisberg Stables, a 20-acre equestrian farm in Jupiter, Florida.