Utah non-profit builds hope through horses

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According to the CDC, 57% of teen girls feel persistently sad or hopeless. One local organization is working to change that.

Bridle Up Hope is a non-profit organization that helps women and girls build hope and resilience through horseback riding.

Bridle Up Hope Executive Director Nicole Holgreen said women face increasing pressure in today’s world.

“Having a place where you can come and learn and grow where wherever you’re at, I feel like it really helps impact stress and anxiety and also depression and help pivot things in more of a positive direction,” Holgreen said.

Bridle Up Hope helps women connect with horses, learn life skills and give service to others. Stefania Ashby found Bridle Up Hope as she was going through a hard time and dealing with feelings of loneliness.

“It was calming even from the second I walked in the door here. It was just like a really, really special feeling,” Ashby said.

Ashby said despite being afraid of horses at first, her confidence grew exponentially while learning to ride.

“I just started to feel like I was meeting myself for the first time, like the real me without, like the anxiety and kind of some of the sadness that I had been dealing with layering and covering up who I actually am, and also just proving to myself every step of the way that, like, I can do something hard and have a good outcome. I’m worth it,” Ashby said.

Founders Rebecca and Sean Covey started Bridle Up Hope in memory of their daughter Rachel, who passed away after suffering from depression. Rachel’s family wanted to help girls find peace through horses, just as Rachel had helped her friends.

The program incorporates the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, based off the book written by Sean’s father Stephen Covey. Participants apply the habits through an equestrian lens.

“It’s been beautiful, beautiful to watch time and time again. Women come in with different stories and different levels of, you know, trauma and stress and just watching them grow and then grow as a community as well, watching them come and work together and give back together,” Holgreen said.

When participants finish their program, they can continue going to the barn to give service and earn more riding lessons.

Executive Assistant Sarah Brown said the horses are the key to the changes that happen in participants’ lives.

“It’s so healing because it’s a 1,200-pound animal that you can build a connection with, that they can see you, that they can understand you and a lot of our participants are struggling with anxiety and depression and they feel alone. But then to work with horses, they feel seen and they feel like they can have control over something for once in their life,” Brown said.

Bridle Up Hope recently opened their twelfth location, the latest located in Ukraine. Their vision is to one day partner with 1,000 barns worldwide to bring their program to women like Ashby.

“I just remember that I’ve already learned I can do hard things and I have proof. I’ve got this like horseshoe necklace that I wear all the time. Now that reminds me like, I can do it and all I have to do is try. Maybe it’ll work out, maybe it doesn’t. But you never know if you don’t try,” Ashby said.

More than 2,000 women and girls have participated in Bridle Up programs over the past decade.

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