Victims to Survivors
Adopt-a-Horse Advocates for Local Sex Abuse Victims

By Brittany Edwards
Covington News [Georgia]
June 22, 2005

For each of the 73 registered sex offenders in Newton County, there are an untold number of silent victims living in the community.

Adopt-A-Horse, an innovative organization new to Newton County, seeks to transform local victims into survivors by teaching them rewarding life skills.

"For the 30 percent who speak out against their abusers, 70 percent don't come forward," said Dennis Horion, founder and survivor. "We're trying to promote a healthy lifestyle choice and give victims a voice."

To offset the negative impacts of child molestation in Covington, the foundation allows victims the opportunity to partake in competitive sports and recreational retreats, along with support group counseling.

Adopt-A-Horse Inc. also rescues and adopts horses to good, loving homes — all of which helps support victims of child abuse through equine-assisted therapy. Eight horses and several dogs currently reside on the organization's 176-acre ranch in Covington. The animals come in angry or afraid, just like the children, Horion said. With time both the horses and children learn to trust again.

"Personally, riding horses is what kept me away from drugs and other destructive habits," Horion said. "If we can keep these survivors talking, it will probably keep them alive."

Depending on the age and interest of each participant, Adopt-A-Horse will teach activities such as horseback riding, ranch maintenance, dance, biking and boating. Participants who show talent and enthusiasm eventually will train for endurance races.

"It's an opportunity to let these kids know they're not alone," said Linda McFarland, a survivor who will teach ballet and tap dance classes to victims in the community. "It's about letting them dream again, giving them something to take pride in."

Adopt-A-Horse is the first of its kind to be owned and operated completely by survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Horion and his team of adult mentors understand first-hand the perpetual toll sex abuse takes on those victimized.

As a survivor of the Catholic Church scandal, Horion has been actively pursuing this project since August 2003. For the past 20 months, Horion has worked to organize survivors of sexual abuse.

Horion met McFarland and another survivor, Jimi LaBonte, during Catholic Church seminars in New Hampshire. All three have left their lives in New England and moved to the Covington area to assist with the local program.