Our Founder's Story

Carissa was the little girl who gawked at the big, beautiful horses grazing in pastures beside the road and dreamed of riding one. About once a year, her dream came true when her parents let her go on trail rides, and she fell in love
with horses for good on one of those rides. The group was walking through the middle of a field when, suddenly, the horses spooked and bolted. The guide hollered for everyone to pull their horses up, but Carissa wanted to keep running. She was hooked!


As time went on, her life wasn’t always as easy or fun as that ride. She took some tough turns right out of the starting gate through abuse and neglect, then tried to cope by becoming an overachiever. In her heart, she believed that if she could just be “good enough,” she might get the love and respect she wanted. But no matter how hard she tried to be perfect and perform well, she could never escape from what had happened to her. She became depressed, and her anger at God became her driving force. Determined to never be hurt again, Carissa shut everyone out. . . except horses.


In the middle of the hardest season of her life, she bought a horse named Boston. He was skittish and hard to handle, and she was just learning how to train a horse of her own. Through their training together, Carissa and Boston became lifelong friends as she taught him how to behave like a good horse, and he taught her how to trust again.


Something else started happening, too: God began softening Carissa’s heart toward Him. She began to realize that many of the things she was teaching Boston were things she needed to learn, and the gentle way she was teaching him was the same way the Lord was teaching her through caring leaders.


On October 31, 2012, Carissa made the decision to follow Jesus with her whole heart, and she never looked back! It has not been easy all the time (in fact, it’s not easy most of the time), but God has faithfully been there every step of the way. He has brought complete redemption to the parts of her heart that were broken. Freedom Reigns Ranch was born out of that place of redemption.


A young girl began coming to the barn to visit Boston. Like Carissa, she had faced abuse and neglect, and being around Boston was helping her heal. One afternoon while Carissa was praying for this girl, the Lord gave her a very clear picture of a teenage girl on horseback. The girl was terrified and shut down, but slowly, something in her awoke. She raised her hands, radiant and confident in her riding and more importantly—confident in who she was in Christ. The girl became aware of her inherent value and worth. 

Through that picture, God gave Carissa the idea of a starting ministry that used horses to encourage people. Then, God spoke clearly to her, saying, “This is what I’ve done with you, and now I’m going to use you to do it with others. But this has to be My ministry. Not yours.”

Like a spark erupting into flame, the process of praying into and launching this ministry began. Carissa was still in her career managing a Starbucks, but she took every opportunity to learn from others who were also using horses for ministry. She attended clinics and conferences centered around ranch ministry, and she served wherever she could to gain more experience and wisdom.


Two years after her vision, the Lord released her to leave her career and—on faith—fully step into the ranch ministry He had called her to. The ranch was named Freedom Reigns Ranch because of 2 Corinthians 3:17, which says, "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." God faithfully brought the first volunteer, along with the first official “session kids.” Soon after that, someone donated a pony. The pony was followed by more volunteers, then the first rescue horse, and the ranch has only grown from there. Carissa is continually in awe of God’s faithfulness in this ministry.

 

"God often provides for a need before we even realize it’s there or right in the nick of time. That provision is always wrapped in the heart of who God is, and it's a direct answer to a person’s need. Often, it comes in the form of a horse who needs love and a child who needs to give that love to that horse in order to heal their own heart. . . Nothing compares to seeing kids’ lives change in their time at Freedom Reigns! What a joy it is to serve the Lord in the way He reached me!" –Carissa, Freedom Reigns Founder