Angel Reins: Where Horses Bring Hope to Human Trafficking Victims

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A woman at Angel Reins hugs a horse
Photo by Shelley Paulson

The horses of Angel Reins are bringing hope and healing to victims of human trafficking.

When we think of therapeutic work with horses, traditional programs for people with physical challenges are what usually come to mind. But in recent years, equine therapy has been expanding to include those with mental health challenges, including survivors of one of the worst traumas a person can face: human trafficking.

A woman in a fringe jacket holds a horse
“Angel Reins is a place where I came without dreams or hope. As I continued to visit Angel Reins, I learned to hope again [and] gain confidence once again. My faith in humanity was gone, but faith and hope came back alive, as well as my dreams. Angel Reins is truly a place where healing takes place.” Photo by Shelley Paulson
Per the U.S. Department of Justice, human trafficking “involves compelling or coercing a person to provide labor or services, or to engage in commercial sex acts. The coercion can be subtle or overt, physical or psychological … Traffickers around the world frequently prey on individuals who are poor, vulnerable, living in an unsafe or unstable situation, or are in search of a better life. Trafficking victims are deceived by false promises of love, a good job, or a stable life and are lured or forced into situations where they are made to work under deplorable conditions with little or no pay.”


Also Read: The Best Therapy


Hope Through Horses at Angel Reins

Angel Reins Stable, located on 40 acres in St. Augusta, Minn., is a 501(c)3 nonprofit providing a place of hope and healing for victims of human trafficking with the help of a gentle herd of rescue horses.

A healing victim of human trafficking hugs a horse at Angel Reins
“At Angel Reins, I met a horse who was dealing with many of the same issues I myself was going through. We both were coming out of some the hardest situations of our lives—we were broken, hopeless, and desperately in need of companionship. So we leaned on each other for support.” Photo by Shelley Paulson

These women have suffered not only physical trauma, but also mental abuse. For some, they are not ready for traditional talk therapy, and being able to just be with horses can start to heal and unlock their hearts.

A woman pets a palomino horse
“Angel Reins leaves me speechless. The horses are gentle. If there is a door for Grace, it is this place.” Photo by Shelley Paulson

“We find that rescue horses are good for this kind of therapy because they, too, have been through trauma and are able to mirror the women’s emotions,” said Kathy Zachmann, the program’s founder and director.

A victim of human trafficking heals via equine therapy at Angel Reins
“Angel Reins Stable has quite literally changed my life. When Kathy introduced me to one of her horses, Gideon, for the first time, I felt happy and at home. As crazy as it sounds, he understood me, and I didn’t even have to say anything. Having hope that I could maybe [be] both happy and safe gave me hope for my future. And I will always be thankful to Kathy and Gideon for changing my life.” Photo by Shelley Paulson
Therapy sessions with the horses are not heavily structured; what the women need most is a place to relax and find that special kind of peace that only being with the horses can bring.

“In all honesty, sometimes they just like to get the country air, to breathe, to brush their horse, [and] to talk and cry to their horse, and that’s OK,” says Zachmann.

A woman smiles in a portrait with a horse
“I thank God for women like Kathy in our communities. A lot has happened, but I give God the glory for the gift of life and wonderful friends.” Photo by Shelley Paulson

Being at Angel Reins gives the women the chance to forget about the past and their pain and just be with the horses. The women feel safe because the horses are honest and don’t ask or expect anything in return.

In the words of one of the program’s participants, “When I’m out here, I feel like I’m 12 years old and I don’t have any worries in the world.”

Kathy Zachmann (center) with two women from the Angel Reins Stable program.
Kathy Zachmann (center) with two women from the Angel Reins Stable program. Photo by Shelley Paulson

This article about Angel Reins appeared in the June 2022 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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