In the middle of Broward County, there is an equestrian oasis that is detached from the hustle and bustle that is known as South Florida. This peaceful sanctuary, called Horse Gate Equestrian Center, has one mission – to minister to abused and at-risk children and spread the message of Jesus Christ through an equestrian environment. Founded in 2004 through Glenna Waggoner’s combined love of horses and hurting children, Horse Gate bonds neglected or abused horses with at-risk children in a way that no therapy session could match.
A Bump in the Road
“I grew up around horses my entire life. When my kids were grown, I wanted to get back into horses and so I bought myself one. I had gotten my dream – a young horse that I could train and ride and enjoy in my retirement. Apparently, this wasn’t God’s plan for me,” shares Waggoner. “I will never forget the day of the accident. I was riding her in an arena in the middle of the day – there weren’t a lot of people around. She was still young and something spooked her; I came off of the horse and was knocked unconscious. Fortunately, someone found me and called for an ambulance.”
After being transferred to a nearby Trauma Hospital, Waggoner found out that she had a serious injury – a lacerated liver. She spent days in intensive care, heavily sedated and unaware of what was going on around her. “It was a peculiar time. I didn’t really know the extent of what was going on and the day that I was injured was eight years to the day of my mother’s sudden death – the timing of everything was very strange,” she adds.'
While on the road to recovery, Waggoner began to feel like God was calling her to start some sort of Life that involved horses. She also felt a pull to get children involved in some way. “I had previously worked in administrative roles in mental health and youth and I have always had a heart for children that didn’t want to go home for one reason or another – whether it was abuse, parents fighting, etc. Even as my own kids were growing up, their friends who were experiencing issues like this would take refuge in our home,” Waggoner explains. Still unsure about starting up some type of Life, Waggoner began to get phone calls out of the blue from friends saying that they were praying for her and felt that she would be starting something that involved horses. “At this point, I finally began to give in, but I knew that the cost of doing some type of equestrian Life was beyond the means of anything I could afford. I thought that once I called about the insurance, the idea would be shot down, but it was actually affordable.
Then, there was the cost of starting a non-profit…another hurdle which I assumed would stop everything in its tracks,” she shares. “Then, one day out of the blue someone called me and said that they wanted to file my non-profit papers for me and were going to pick up any costs associated with it!”
Shortly after, Waggoner was invited to speak at the church she was attending and she shared her heart about God leading her to start a Life in Davie which would fuse horses and troubled children. The Mayor of Davie at the time jumped on board and in October 2004, just four months after her accident, Horse Gate was up and running and putting on their first outreach in the community.
A Life Blossoms
Today, Horse Gate ministers to men and women under the age of 18 and works closely with the foster care and immigrant children programs of His House. “Many young boys are found illegally in our country and many were being placed in our juvenile detention centers, which was creating a lot of convicts. Now, they are being placed in His House which helps them become educated and find a career. They come out here for outreaches and we just love on them and let them ride and connect with the horses.
These boys are so excited to be out here, in a safe environment and having a good time. In addition to sharing Christ with them, we also feed them and meet their basic needs,” explains Waggoner. “It is really about meeting these young men where they are and ministering to them. Sometimes, they aren’t willing to talk and open up, but as we teach them to ride and teach them about the animals, they open their hearts up to us. Horse Gate allows them to be out in nature and enjoy God’s creation with people who genuinely care about them.”
Young women are also loved on and ministered to at Horse Gate. “Girls that are in rehab or are incarcerated are able to come out to Horse Gate through certain programs, although they are not allowed out in the general public. We try to do little exercises with them that they can relate with their actual situation. For instance, one day when it rained we took them into the stalls and told them to get the donkey into one side of the stall. They were somewhat forceful in hopes that the donkey would move and the donkey refused to go anywhere. The girls were able to relate it to people being forceful with them in terms of getting them into recovery for an addiction. They were able to see that they were being the donkey, refusing to go anywhere or listen and in the end they had collectively decided that they were happy that their family and friends had tried to help them,” she adds.
Offering a Helping Hand
For those in the local area that have a heart for hurting children and animals, Horse Gate may just be the perfect place to volunteer and help spread the message of Jesus Christ. “There are so many various volunteering opportunities – someone can come out and help with the animals or help mentor the children. They don’t have to have any training – we train them in everything they need to know. Some offer us help with maintenance on the grounds, and others have volunteered their time in the office or with administrative tasks,” tells Waggoner.
Other ways to reach out to Horse Gate is to sponsor a horse. The horses are adopted from the SPCA and have been abused, abandoned or neglected – something that the young men and women can relate to. Full or partial sponsors help meet the basic needs of the horse. Helping to purchase hay for the horses is another way of helping Horse Gate, and they also have a new program for those who want to donate just $15.00 to purchase a bag of grain for the animals. In addition to mini and full-sized horses, Horse Gate also houses pigs, goats and donkeys.
One particular area that could use a helping hand within Horse Gate is feeding the young men and women who are being ministered to. “When restaurants offer to donate food, it is just the biggest blessing. It allows us to just focus and spend time ministering to these kids while knowing that they are getting quality food. This is one of our hurdles. I’ve had county programs tell me that if I can’t feed the kids while they are on my property, then they will give them popcorn as their meal before they come out. It is very sad. They need good nourishment – in the form of good food and also in their souls through Christ,” Waggoner shares.
What’s Happening at Horse Gate
For youngsters looking to do something unique this summer, Horse Gate is holding two one-week long summer camp sessions in July and August. Attendees will spend a week at the barn learning about horses, enjoying equestrian activities and doing sports and crafts under Christian leadership.
From their very first outreach, to holding summer camps and countless community happenings, Waggoner feels blessed to see God’s hand at work at Horse Gate. “I have watched God place one thing at a time in our path and He has provided us with what we needed, when we needed it. When we didn’t have any money left, a surprise check would arrive in the mailbox. I had a dream and I wanted to do it, but I did not know the answers on how to make it work. God knew them all and He has shown up in a mighty way,” adds Waggoner.
For more information on Horse Gate Equestrian Center and their upcoming summer camp, visit www.Horsegate.org or call 954-252-9969
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