Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Talking to Horses: Gina Barry

                                   To me, horses are magic.
                                            -- Gina Barry

Gina Barry has been talking to horses since she was a kid. At 12, she was working as a volunteer with the Therapeutic Equestrian Center: there she met a Quarter Horse gelding named Jasper, and they changed each other completely. “I was at the awkward adolescent stage,” she recalls. “And he had just come in from Montana, and he was a bit of a mess himself. So we worked with each other, and we both blossomed. We were just an amazing team.”

Sadly, they were also a short-lived team. In 1984, less than a year after they met, Jasper tripped in the frozen mud and shattered all the bones in one leg. There was no mending that leg, and he had to be euthanized.

The grieving girl he left behind grew up and went to law school. She was working as a law clerk for the Hampden County Superior Court when she was offered a position as an attorney in the trusts and estates department at Bacon Wilson in Springfield.

She loved her work, but something was missing. “I had always loved animals,” the lawyer muses, “and felt that I needed to bring animals into my practice.” So she became involved in estate planning for her clients’ pets. “But I still didn’t have enough animal contact.”

Barry had been mulling over the idea of working with horses again for awhile, but she hadn’t quite firmed up the details. After she did a few Tony Robbins seminars and a Date with destiny program, however, it all became clear to her: she would take in abused, abandoned, and unwanted horses and ponies. They would be Jasper’s spiritual heirs.

The Joy of Jasper, Inc. was started in 2007, following a phone call Barry received about a former show horse whose owner could no longer afford him. Arie, a Dutch Warmblood gelding, became the first of many horses to find safe haven at Legacy Farm in Easthampton.

But it’s not just about the horses. Children and teens work at the farm on a volunteer basis. They are at-risk kids, kids who are lacking self–confidence and/or failing school; working with the animals helps them blossom, just as Barry did with Jasper. “Horses and ponies are powerful yet graceful and sensitive,” she says. “They have an uncanny way of inspiring confidence, self-esteem, love, and trust in those who care for them.” She would like to see the program “continue along these lines and hopefully continue to grow so that we can provide for more horses, more kids, and more adolescents.” There are adults in the program, too, “because children aren’t the only ones with angst.”

The horses are never adopted out. “I think it’s important that we keep the horses until they pass,” maintains Barry, who is also a Reiki Master and an animal communicator. “It allows the children a chance to build up a relationship with them. When it is time for the horse to pass away, we surround their passing with love and dignity, and it teaches the children about loss.” Remembering what she went through, she knows how losing one of the horses or ponies “impacts the children. Everybody’s sad, but we work through it….We honor the horses that have crossed over by bringing in another horse in need.”

She reflects on Jasper, the horse who started it all. “The thing that made it so poignant was that the time we were together was less than a year.” Barry’s voice is both wistful and matter-of-fact. “Well, Jasper had to leave, or I never would’ve left the barn.” Nor would she have gone on to law school and made the pivotal connections she needed to set up the sanctuary.

“To have it be so tragic is what at the same time made it so inspirational,” she says. “If I had spent ten years with Jasper, and he had died in an old-age situation, I don’t know if I would’ve been so driven.”

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Gwynn Rogers said...

I so love this story, Tammy. The connection to animals is valuable, but also helping kids through this connection is so wonderful and positive for both the horses and ponies, and the kids. I commend her for staying true to her love, and helping other young people by remembering her past.

What a heartfelt story. I love it. Thanks!

T. J. Banks said...

Thanks, Gwynn. Yes, I love this story, too. It was originally just supposed to be a short profile piece for WESTERN MASS WOMEN MAGAZINE. In the midst of writing the rough draft, however, I realized that the piece had taken on a life of its own -- that I had a bona fide "Sketch People" piece on my hands.

Samantha Mozart said...

This is a wonderful story, T.J., so heartwarming, and a perfect example of how to turn a negative into a positive. So well written, as always. Thank you.

I have saved this story on my computer desktop so that next time I go to my blog, I can post the link to Gina Barry's website: humanitarian and worthwhile work.

T. J. Banks said...

Thanks, Samantha. I, too, was moved by how Gina took the loss of Jasper and transformed that loss into something so positive for both horses and people.