Horses have a value other than their racing, farming, or show jumping. These majestic animals can also serve others by teaching them to overcome insecurities, rejection, and trauma. Some horses even understand bullying and help those in need to set safe boundaries and avoid poor decision-making.
Sound a little unbelievable? Not according to Jeannie Hellem-Ramsey, Founder & Director of Eagles’ Wings Educational Girls Home (385 Butterfly Lane, Hedgesville, WV), established in 1997 as a faith-based, nonprofit, 501(c) 3.
The horses, coupled with Jeannie’s work at a local children’s shelter, is where the vision for the ministry began. “I saw young people with no avenue to understand God and his love for them due to their pain and circumstances,” explained Hellem-Ramsey. “I saw their despair and God graciously cultivated Eagles’ Wings as a plan of action.”
The purpose of Eagles’ Wings is to help girls in every aspect of adolescent growth become all that they can be. They incorporate biblical principles coupled with basic horse-whispering techniques to help girls understand body language and behaviors, all of which lead to how to focus on situations at hand using critical thinking and comprehensive communication skills, conflict resolution, anger management, self-control, and the importance of coming under authority. This non-traditional approach promotes self-evaluation of attitudes and behaviors, encourages proper decision-making, and develops accountability and responsibility.
Hellem-Ramsey believes their property is the trifecta for the girls who come to Eagles’ Wings.
“There’s no mistaking the peace, beauty, and tranquility that surrounds this place,” she said. “Our twenty-one-acre ranch is located in Back Creek Valley, Hedgesville, West Virginia, nestled in close proximity to Sleepy Creek state land and breathtaking Third Hill Mountain, with access to twenty-four thousand acres.”
Eagles’ Wings is in its twenty-first year as a unique service nonprofit explicitly designed for adolescent girls ages 11-18. These services extend to families all over West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, as well as extending to Baltimore, Washington, D.C., New York City, Long Island, and Florida.
The programs have been designed to teach a variety of skills to help girls find success in all aspects of their lives, including: overcoming debilitating behaviors and fears, as well as specific anxieties, panic disorder, ADD, ADHD, mood swings, insecurity, abandonment, and working through forgiveness.
Using horses at Eagles’ Wings to help the girls was a natural concept for Hellem-Ramsey, due to the similarities in their personalities.
“Horses are a dream for most girls, so incorporating them into our programs was always part of the equation,” she explained. “A horse is very much like a teenage girl in that they can be the most lovely and the most explosive all in a split second. Horses are flight animals, and therefore, their instinct is to run when they are afraid. For girls, their emotions drive them, so they can overreact instead of responding to a situation or a feeling. When we teach girls about the natural instincts of a horse, we can relate that behavior to a person who is reacting in an out-of-control manner. When you understand a horse, you can understand yourself.”
Chris Ramsey, Jeannie’s husband and Director of Maintenance and Field Operations, was unfamiliar with horses to the extent that, early on, he had to hire a trainer—who used and taught basic horse whispering, or as some call it, natural horsemanship.
“Once the light bulb went off, and we connected the dots on a psychological and spiritual level, we started to implement it with our horses,” he noted. “I had experience in counseling, and so the psychology behind natural horsemanship and people in many areas looked very similar.
“Negative behavior from past experiences; lack of confidence from fear; the way the herd interacted as a group with the alpha, leader, and the omega; least in the group; and everyone in between—it wasn’t difficult to see that the horse would be a great asset for teaching. Incorporating biblical principles fits right into all of it.”
Both Jeannie and twin sister, Carol Hellem-Cerreta, co-founder of Eagles’ Wings, have been around horses since they were 17—initially working with thoroughbreds right after high school, and remaining in the field for over twelve years at various racetracks across the country.
Both began as hot walkers, walking a sweaty horse after a workout—particularly after a workout on a racetrack. They also groomed for a bit, and broke yearlings and two-year-olds in Maryland, South Carolina, and Florida. They both galloped horses (exercised) for most of their career. Jeannie also had a jockey career that lasted for two years.
“Being a jockey was an amazing experience as a young adult,” she stressed. “The horse industry itself is exciting, energetic, and competitive. My career was short-lived, but the opportunity to pursue a non-typical career and achieve my goal was a huge part of how I viewed myself, and it gave me a different perspective to my life.”
A variety of programs at Eagles’ Wings includes: Adopt a Horse, Horse Passion Summer Day Camps, Horse Passion II-The Dance, Mini-Passion Condensed Overnight Camps, Mini-Passion Cowgirl Camp, 4×4 Overnight Camp, Wrangler Camp & Training Course, One-Day Wilderness Overnight Camp, Riding Lessons, and Hunger Games.
The endeavor also offers work scholarships for girls to help defray costs for their camp, which in turn cultivates responsibility, a strong work ethic, and ownership of their desired camp. Work on the ranch is in exchange for a percentage off of their camp experience. There is also a fundraising program where a girl can raise all of her camp money. Parents must register their daughter for these opportunities.
Eagles’ Wings comprises nine horses—each one acclimated to work with any level of rider, as well as teaching on certain aspects of life. Because of their unique backgrounds and stories, it’s easy to relate their personalities, fears, and pain with that of the girls.
Hellem-Ramsey is proud of the positive changes that occur with every girl that has experienced the opportunities at Eagles’ Wings.
“Girls learn about life, themselves, and God in one of the most amazing and thought-provoking ways,” she reflected. “We see lots of light bulbs go off when girls come to our programs. We’ve been honored to work with a lot of girls in helping them see the bigger picture of who they are.”