FROM THE FOUNDER’S MOUTH: Debra Avery reflecting on 25 years of Taking the Reins

After 25 years of operation Taking the Reins caught up with co-founder Debra Avery, assessing how the nonprofit has evolved over the years. She could have never imagined it would grow to its current size; however, at the same time, she – and fellow co-founder Judith Hopkins – knew it would never fail.

Avery was passionate about giving girls access to horses. “I learn about myself when I am around horses,” Avery said. “If you are fortunate enough to earn the trust of a horse, it is the most amazing relationship and feeling in the world.” She knew there was a community that would never have this opportunity, because of their limited financial means. That is when she decided to create a program where young, inner-city Los Angeles girls would have the chance to meet and bond with horses. Taking the Reins was created soon after that.

Confidence and strength are two of the most common things that girls gain from Taking the Reins. After speaking with Avery, it is clear that was part of the vision from day one.

“Being with horses made me feel important, strong, and confident,” Avery shared about the inspiration to start TTR. “We weren’t even thinking about the educational value in the beginning. I was driven by the empowering relationship between a young woman and a horse.”

Unsurprisingly, the early days of TTR were not simple. Many people discouraged Avery and Hopkins from starting such a program. The duo didn’t let it stop them because they knew that other’s discouragement was just a misunderstanding. Avery spoke about the assurance they had in 1998 – repeating that they just knew if they kept pushing forward, it would work.

“Chaotic” was the word that Avery used to describe the first few days of operation. She is nostalgic when talking about family potlucks and holiday gatherings. Avery said the girls were eager to show off skills to friends and family members who came to visit.

Personal changes left Avery needing to step back from the organization. “I was devasted to leave,” Avery stated about the massive shift in 2001. However, she has stayed closely involved with the organization since. On May 13, 2023, she attended the celebration of TTR’s brand new education center and barn.

Avery is amazed at how the program has grown over the years. She feels it has recently gone to the next level and credits a lot of that success to executive director Jane Haven. “I am so thrilled to see what Taking the Reins now offers these girls,” Avery said.

Even after all these years, Avery’s favorite place to be is in the barn watching the girls interact with the horses. “I think the best healing and relationship-building happens when there is no agenda and the girls have a chance to just be with the horses,” Avery stated. More than 5,000 girls have been served by Taking the Reins since Avery and Hopkins began their adventure 25 years ago.

Avery encourages the community to give their time and money to this program because of the experiences girls have there. They do not have access to this kind of guidance in any other part of their lives. If the past is any indication of the future, it seems Avery is a good sense of judgment. Donate to Taking the Reins here.