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Healing bond between horse, girl helps her emerge from self-imposed silence

Posted November 21, 2018 11:08 a.m. EST
Updated November 21, 2018 9:03 p.m. EST

— At Hope Reins in north Raleigh rescued horses help hurting children find hope. A 12-year-old girl can attest to that.  Alyssa Hakim found her voice through her relationship with a blind horse named Joey.  She was featured in a book about Joey, written by local author, Jennifer Marshall Bleakley.

"My name is Aly. I like to draw, paint, play in my pretend kitchen and go on walks with my mom and sister, says Alyssa Hakim. "As you can see, I like to do lots of things, except for one thing. I don't like talking."

Ten years ago, Cindee Hakim adopted Alyssa and her older sister from foster care. Their parents were not in the picture, and Alyssa's sense of abandonment had manifested itself in a self-imposed world of silence.

"Every time I would bring her into a setting, she would almost crawl into a turtle shell and be so shy and full of anxiety and definitely was not comfortable," Cindee Hakim remembered.

Hakim brought Alyssa to Hope Reins, a faith-based organization that uses horses to reach children who are hurting, abandoned or abused. It is here that the then-5-year-old found her voice, in a blind horse named Joey.

"He's a white horse with black spots. He doesn't seem to notice the crowd around him. I imagine he's much like me and would rather just be alone," Alyssa says.

The girl who wouldn't speak and the horse that couldn't see quickly developed a bond.

"I think our paths are very similar," she says.

As similar as a horse and a human can be. Joey was a show horse. An injury cost him his career, and he bounced around from owner to owner, eventually falling victim to severe abuse and neglect. When a rescue group found him, he was blind and had nearly starved to death.

"He really connected and trusted despite his disability," said Hope Reins Founder and CEO Kim Tschirret. "I think Aly was very drawn to him because I think she felt a kindred spirit with him."

Aly had found her safe place. And with the help of Joey, grew more confident and vocal. She slowly began to take down the walls around her.

"I've changed a lot," Alyssa says. "Now, in public places, I don't just sit in the corner doing nothing. I actually play with my friends and stuff."

When Joey died four years ago, it hit her hard.

"I just wanted to give him a proper good-bye before he leaves, so I wrote a note in the sand for him," she said.

She left the note in his stall and now wears a lock of his tail around her wrist.

Alyssa's book about her lessons from Joey is the subject of a movie that is now in the works. And she volunteers at Hope Reins, serving as a mentor to other children.

"Just ask yourself, do you want to live a sad life or a happy life? Then you figure out a way to make it happy," she says.

Alyssa Hakim has blossomed into confident, caring leader, all because of a horse that taught her to trust again.

Alyssa is writing her book about the lessons she learned from Joey, which she hopes will one day be published. She now volunteers at Hope Reins, serving as a mentor for younger children.  The book by Bleakley is the subject of a movie, now in the works.