Haley Becker has loved horses since she can remember— no wonder, given the recent high school graduate’s mother, Cindy, has always owned horses.

“I got my love for horses from my mom,” she said.

Now, Becker is taking her passion for horses one step further. She founded HERO Barn, which stands for Haley’s Equestrian Rescue Operation, earlier this year.

“We rescue horses, and we rehabilitate them so that we can rehome them,” Becker said. “And then we’re going to also rescue some to put into our lesson program. And then kids can come here.”

HERO Barn’s mission targets children with chronic illnesses, anxiety, depression and other issues that can benefit from therapeutic interactions with animals. Approaches range from riding lessons to touch therapy, which allows kids to pet and be near horses.

Brianna Hunt, a HERO volunteer, has seen great improvements in her daughter Piper’s behavior since the 9-year-old has taken up riding.

“(She) had a development delay and as soon as we got her involved with it, she blossomed,” Hunt said. “Her grades, her confidence, just everything improved.”

With Haley and Cindy’s help, Hunt was even able to reduce her own fear of horses and saddle up.

“Piper gave me the courage one day to start riding and Haley and Cindy were so amazing, they got me up on a horse and I felt like a 5-year-old, they led me on the lead line,” Hunt said with a laugh.

Becker herself has experience with the therapeutic effects horse can have: At age 14, she was diagnosed with Auto-immune Polyarticular Juvenile Arthritis. The disease causes Becker to live with chronic pain and joint aches, but the horses help her stay active. She event participates in competitions with her horse Argo.

“It gives me a lot of pain every day in all of my joints and I take medications for it daily, and it gives me a lot of fatigue,” Becker said. “But horses really helps me stay active and stay outside and try to get my mind off of everything going on.”

So far, HERO Barn has rescued two horses from kill pens, which are now enjoying life alongside the Beckers’ own horses.

“A kill pen is where horses go when they’re about to be slaughtered for glue, zoo food, stuff like that before they’re shipped to either Mexico or Canada,” Becker said.

HERO Barn is currently raising funds to expand the operation and save more horses from slaughter.

“The next step is building a barn where we can have about eight stalls and we can take in as many horses as we can,” Becker said.

Becker is currently preparing to attend Truman State University in the fall and study agricultural and equine science. In the future, she hopes to make HERO Barn her full-time job.

To donate to HERO Barn and stay updated on future events, visit www.herobarn.farm.

Jessica Kopp can be reached at jessica.kopp@newspressnow.com or you can follow her on Twitter: @NPNOWKopp