The Horses for Orphans Story
The H4O Story: A Vision of Hope
The Horses for Orphans (H4O) project in Brazil began as a vision of hope:
- Hope for a better life, and a brighter future, for street children and orphans barely surviving day to day.
- Hope for the emotional healing and development of young leaders among the underprivileged.
- Hope for the next generation, and the generation after that.
The vision for taking horses to an orphanage in Brazil began in 2008, when Ingela Larsson Smith responded to the call of God, “I want you to go to Brazil.”
H4O founders, husband and wife team Richard and Ingela Larsson Smith, and their support team spent many months in prayer and preparation.
In November 2009, Richard and Ingela and their team went to Sao Paolo, Brazil in search of the right orphanage. One of their stops was at Betel Children’s Home, near Cocalzino in the State of Goiás. The orphanage had previously been given 13 neglected and abandoned horses that were now living on 2,500 acres of land, as a free-roaming herd.
In Ingela Larsson Smith’s words, this is what happened next…
“The leader at Betel Children’s Home had been desperately searching for an answer for what could be done with their horses. Our team’s arrival was an answer to prayer.
We spent time building relationships with the Betel leadership, the children at the orphanage, and the horses.
Together with our team, we assessed the horse herd, and were able to help some of the most challenging horses become gentler, and overcome their fear of man.
The children enjoyed the new after-school activity of learning to interact with the horses naturally and safely. They also picked up some basic horsemanship principles along the way.”
By the end of that week, the Horses for Orphans (H4O) team and the Betel leadership had agreed that Betel Children’s Home was the right location for the H4O project.
STAGE 1: LAYING THE FOUNDATION OF RELATIONSHIP
From 2009–2012, the herd doubled to include 26 healthy, and well cared for, horses. Through a combination of financial and mission trip support, a large arena, stables, and a tack and feed room were built. The native grass is only good for cattle, so a specific grass for horses was planted.
Meanwhile, the connection between the Betel children and the H4O horses began to grow. Out of the 110 children housed at the orphanage, 55 chose to take part in the horse project over the next 3 years.
These children learned to care for, and work with, the horses. In doing so, they learned how to develop relationships with the horses, based on love, trust, and honour.
By this time, the H4O vision of hope was beginning to show tangible evidence of success.
“Our team taught horsemanship and horse analogies to illustrate spiritual principles to the leadership and children, and offered practical instruction and advice on horse handling and horse care, including feeding, worming and foot trimming.
In 2010, we learned that a boy name Reginaldo was required to leave the orphanage, because he had turned 18. We offered to train him in horsemanship to become the local leader of the project. He loved children and horses and we watched his transformation from a sad and withdrawn teenager to a happy, outgoing and caring young man who had a bright future.
After completing his training with us, we entrusted him with the responsibility of taking care of the horses, and teaching the other children every morning and afternoon.
He is one of the dozen or so boys who became our sons in those 3 short years.”
2012: A Year Of Devastating Loss
Although the Horses for Orphans project was displaying major signs of success, the orphanage the H4O project was attached to, was facing closure.
In 2012, Betel Children’s Home did close, and all the children were returned to their original environments. Some to single, alcoholic mothers, some to broken families where violence was a daily occurrence, some to a distant relative they had never met, and some even to the streets.
It was a heartbreaking time for the founders and the children of the Horses for Orphans programme.
“The children and youth involved in H4O were devastated at the thought of losing the only part of their lives that brought them joy. Losing the close bonds they had developed with the horses was heartbreaking for all of us.
Releasing these horses back into the wild, was a painful reminder for the boys, of the friendship built and trust gained.
It felt like the end of everything. Not just safety, food, and a place to sleep, but the relationship with the horse, the joy of connecting, the freedom to laugh and ride, and the hope of a future as a horseman.
It seemed like all hope was lost.
Yet, in every painful moment, we can find beauty. When the 12 most advanced horsemanship boys, our sons, turned their beloved horses loose, not a single animal left. The entire horse herd stood in the same place where they once roamed free, in the same wide open space where years earlier, they wouldn’t let the children near them.
In that place they now stood motionless, just staring at the boys who had reluctantly taken the halters off and whispered: ‘You are free.”
The boys had expected the horses to turn and gallop off. Instead, they had their eyes fixed on the boys who had become their leaders and friends. Each boy returned to his horse, giving one last hug that contained all the love and all the emotions of that relationship, before finally letting go.
Heads hung low, everyone returned to the now empty horse arena. The pain was high and it manifested in outbursts of anger. There was lots of forgiveness that needed to happen toward the Betel leadership.
After much talking and praying, everyone was able to forgive their Betel leaders for ripping everything that meant anything away from them.
Forgiveness is beautiful, and nothing beats trusting God, even in an uncertain future.”
A long 18 Months
Over the next several months, the children were returned to their original environments. Richard and Ingela had no idea where they had been taken, but the boys’ pleas rang in their ears: “Mom, dad, promise me that you will come get me. Promise me that as soon as God gives you another place, you will come get me!”
At that time, Richard and Ingela had no place of their own, and no authority to do anything about the lives of their “horse boys”.
They immediately started to search for their boys. Several weeks passed before they found 3 of the younger ones at a school.
Their teacher described the current reality of the boys’ lives. Although the school fed them lunch and sent food home for dinner, their alcoholic mother was selling their evening meals. The boys were getting thinner and thinner, and consistently arrived at school dirty and unkempt, but the school had no authority to do anything about it.
Richard and Ingela were grateful to have found these 3 boys, and more determined than ever to find the others.
It took nearly 18 months for Richard and Ingela to relocate their 14 sons and some of the other children who had been involved in the project.
Some were hungry and dirty, some broken and alone, and others on drugs or trying to survive on the streets.
It was a challenging time of pain and suffering, however hope started to rise about what God would do.
STAGE 2: RECONNECTING AND REBUILDING RELATIONSHIP
God gives us beauty for ashes (Isaiah 61:3).
In November 2013, Richard and Ingela received a donation that enabled them to purchase a beautiful farm, Wild Horse Farm, near Anápolis. There, they started a new Horses for Orphans (H4O) project, with just Reginaldo leading it.
Soon after, they found another of their sons, Douglas, and brought him home. The farm needed a lot of restoration which has been underway ever since.
In July 2014, their first horse, Categoric, a purebred English Thoroughbred, was donated. In the spring of 2015, 2 more horses arrived. Yankee, a purebred Arabian, and Alegria, a small Criollo mare.
More of Richard and Ingela’s sons came to live on the farm, to become part of their growing family. Some had finished school already and were learning life skills on the farm, and some were still at school and receiving help with homework. All of them grew in their relationship with God, as well as in horsemanship and English skills.
Maintaining A Presence in the Lives of Their Boys
Through H4O, Richard and Ingela have also helped their other sons who didn’t come to live on the farm, but had finished school. They have been able to help find these boys jobs mostly in the horse industry, and continue to mentor them.
Richard and Ingela regularly visited some of the horse boys who were sent to live with distant aunts or uncles after the orphanage closed. Some of them were picked up to come and spend time on the farm, on weekends and during holidays.
Establishing New Horses for Orphans (H4O) Programmes
In 2014, a new children’s programme was started with a local orphanage. Not only did this allow for renewed outreach by H4O, but it provided the opportunity for ongoing leadership skills training for some of the older boys living on the farm. They became actively involved in teaching the younger children about caring for the horses, and mentored them in building relationships with horses based on love, trust, and honour.
Ingela proudly describes how this unfolded….
“It was beautiful to see how those who once were fatherless, had such a heart for others in the same situation. The children from the local orphanages would come and spend the day at Wild Horse Farm, eating fruit, interacting with different animals, and enjoying the horses, while learning horsemanship.
Wide-eyed, they would stare at the older boys who now had a home, and a mom and a dad. They saw a possible future for themselves, in these older boys who had become brilliant horsemen, were doing well at high school, and could speak English.
It was an honour to watch these boys as they became inspired, and hope started to grow in their hearts.
The older boys had a wonderful way of reaching the children, because they too had grown up in an orphanage. With their stories and their testimonies of what God had done in their lives, they deeply touched the hearts and minds of this younger generation. The older boys prayed for the kids, as well as played games, and taught them some English.”
Then in 2017, H4O had another setback.
On September 5th, 2017, during the height of Brazil’s dry season, a terrible fire ripped through the Wild Horse Farm. A neighbour’s fire had gotten out of control, and jumped the road.
Fire devastated the property around the houses.
Thankfully, all the boys and animals were safe and unharmed.
Donations Made The Difference
A fundraiser was set up to rebuild the project after the fire. H4O gratefully accepted a generous outpouring of love through donors’ efforts and giving, allowing them to start rebuilding.
Ingela describes the results of this generosity…
“In November of 2017, my husband Richard, together with our workman Wagner, and our sons Reynaldo, Douglas, Valdemir, Fabricio, Antonio and Rogerio, were able to repair the damaged water and electrical lines, as well as reseed a field. They also rebuilt the side of the arena that had burned down, and replaced the burned posts of the outer perimeter fence.
This work meant the farm was up and running again, and ensured that the children’s programme continued.”
Additional Updates and Highlights Since Rebuilding
“The fire had burned much of our fence lines but in February 2018, new gates were put up, a new fence was constructed around our top field, 2 of our houses were painted, 50 Papaya trees and a garden were planted, and 6 new stables and egg-laying boxes were built.
We also put up a new shed, with a sunroof and open side, as a shelter for the horses from the hot sun or torrential rain. In the past, the trees did that job for us, but the fire had destroyed them.
IN MARCH 2018, we received 2 new horses. One was a lovely Arabian gelding whom we renamed Simba. The other horse was semi-wild, and had lived on a huge farm. We had a great adventure catching her, taming her, and transporting her back to our place.
The boys named this mare Maple, because she looks like Canadian maple syrup, which they enjoy on their pancakes every Sunday morning. What we didn’t know was that she was pregnant when we got her, so we were overjoyed to discover that!
IN JULY 2018, we had an open day, where 5 of our boys had the opportunity to demonstrate the amazing relationship they have with the horses.
IN NOVEMBER 2018, Maple’s son, Eragon, was born. He was healthy, apart from a hernia on his navel that resolved itself. The boys imprinted him and have been playing with him ever since. He is a joy to be with. He is the cause of great excitement and delight, and a new beginning for the boys.
THROUGHOUT 2019, we took in 2 horses that do not belong to the project, but were in need of care. One of them has since left in good health. The other will remain with us, until she has recovered.
We welcomed our first intern, Welder, who is being trained by Douglas, in horsemanship, farm life and the kids’ programme. Welder is also being mentored in growing his relationship with God.
Additionally, financial giving allowed us to replace the roof over the biggest stable, the roof over the fire pit, and the roof over the pump. A large, covered garden was constructed, to supply everyone living on the farm with fresh organic vegetables.
IN DECEMBER 2019, Douglas and Welder successfully finished high school. Douglas is the first and only high school graduate in his entire family line. We are very proud of him.
As of January 2020, Douglas is leading the children’s programme and will be training new interns. He lives on our Horses for Orphans (H4O) base at Wild Horse Farm, along with Wagner, our caretaker; Welder, our intern and our other son, Reginaldo.
You Can Help
Through the support of our generous donors, we will continue to honour our commitments to these at-risk and orphaned children. Please consider adding your support, either giving of your time or financial gifts, to Horses for Orphans.