“Good boy,” Sheri Biller cooed, brushing the tawny coat of her horse, Prancer. And as he bobbed his head and neighed, Sheri felt the familiar soothing calmness that descended over her whenever she was around the gentle animal.
From the time she was a child, growing up in an abusive household, horseback riding had been Sheri’s one solace. When she’d gone riding, all her pain and sadness faded. But, unfortunately, that heartache had become ingrained in Sheri, and like so many victims of abuse, she’d ended up marrying an abusive man.
As an adult, going riding at a stable near her North Carolina home had also become Sheri’s lifeline. And when a friend told her about Prancer, a spirited four-year-old horse whose owners just couldn’t handle him anymore, she’d jumped at the chance to take him in.
Sheri knew she had to get herself and her two children onto a path to healing, and it had all seemed too overwhelming — until Prancer came into her life. Talking to him made it easier to think clearly, to be in touch with her feelings, to plan and, finally, to leave her abuser.
Now, as she built a new life, Prancer remained central to her healing and growing confidence.
Thank you, Sheri whispered into her best friend’s silky mane.
Discovering a New Path
To make ends meet, Sheri got a job as a substitute teacher, and after being assigned to a special education class, she went on to get a degree in special education.
“Sheri, can my son and I come meet your horse?” a teacher friend asked her one day. As the young boy stroked Prancer, his face lit up.
After a couple of afternoons with Prancer, her friend came to Sheri with a grateful smile and shared, “My son suffers from terrible anxiety, but spending time with Prancer has made him feel so calm!” Sheri’s heart squeezed.
I know how Prancer helped me work out the issues I was going though, and now I can see how amazing he is with others too, she thought. And Sheri suddenly knew what she had to do.
A Legacy of Healing
Sheri rented space in a local barn and began welcoming kids who suffered from anxiety, had autism, and were affected by a variety of other emotional or physical issues to ride, groom, feed and just talk to Prancer. And just like her teacher friend, parents came to her with grateful tears in their eyes as they shared the remarkable progress their children were making.
Sheri’s program was so successful that after two years, in 2018, she founded Loving Reins, a riding program that offers equine therapy to children and adults, including veterans with PTSD. Although Prancer has sadly passed, Sheri now has a stable of 65 other horses who are carrying on his legacy of healing.
“Loving Reins is absolutely amazing,” says a client, Lisa. “I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing my daughter conquer fears, control her emotions, and gain confidence.”
“I was going through a tough time,” one veteran confides. “But working with Sheri and her horses helped me understand what I was feeling. They had a big impact on my emotional growth.”
Sheri smiles hearing that. “As herd animals, horses are good at reading others in the herd,” she explains. “As humans, we tend to bury our emotions, but horses have a way of drawing them to the surface, allowing us to deal with them. To be completely healthy and happy, we must be at peace with ourselves. Horses help so many achieve this!”
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.