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Freedom Reigns Ranch


By Nancy Brannon, Ph.D.

Troubled teens. Child abuse. Bullying. Sexual harassment – or even worse, sex trafficking. Young folks who have experienced significant trauma or challenging circumstances in their lives need a place of safety, comfort, hope and redemption. Founded in 2012 by photographer Carissa Ramsdell, Freedom Reigns Ranch was formed out of a place of redemption in her own life, her relationship with her horse Boston, and a young neighbor girl who started coming to the barn. This young girl was “retreated within herself and shut down,” but she started to open up and become confident when she was around Boston.

When the aftermath of Carissa’s own life-experiences set in, she shut everyone else out except her horse. Through Boston she began to soften and trust, and eventually “God gave(her) a vision of a ministry,” Carissa said. She prayed about it; she did a lot of research and due diligence; she shared her vision with a few people. Eventually, she got her project organized and word spread person to person. “It organically grew,” she recalled. Carissa was a manager at Starbucks, but she left her career to devote her work full time at Freedom Reigns Ranch.

Two years after that initial vision for a Ranch, she believed she had the release from God to fully step into Freedom Reigns Ranch. The first volunteer came, along with the first official “session kids;” soon afterward came a donated pony, and it has grown from there. She says she 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 it comes in the nick of time. There is nothing that compares to seeing kids’ lives change in their time at Freedom Reigns!” she expounded.

The mission of Freedom Reigns Ranch is to mentor, equip, and empower people through horsemanship. The Ranch is a 501(c)3 nonprofit ministry in Thompson’s Station, Tennessee. The services are 100% donor funded and volunteer run, and all services are free of charge to the clients. It is a mentorship program geared towards children and teens who have been through trauma or challenging circumstances, and the program is open to people from every walk of life. Horses are a critical part of the program, since the way we communicate with them often mirrors our relationships with others. These “angels in horsehair,” as Carissa calls them, have a keen ability to break down self defense barriers that are a result of past hurts. The Ranch is a safe and loving environment for kids and teens to come and experience a retreat from every-day life where hope is restored.

About 75% of those who come here for help are the victims of sexual abuse, or rape or sex trafficking, and have experienced significant trauma in their lives, Carissa said. Their clients are aged 4 to 30. Most come twice a month, but attendance frequency can vary depending on what they need. The program runs year-round, except in August and December when time is reserved to give the horses a reprieve from their work or help further their training as needed.

The Ranch currently has five session horses. Two are rescues: Gideon and Freedom. Freedom, a Palomino Quarter Horse, was abandoned in a small outdoor pen with no care for over a month when his owner fled, having been addicted to hard drugs. Fortunately, he was rescued from his situation when members in the community noticed what was going on and stepped in to help. Gideon Leil, a Selle Francias/Quarter Horse was entrusted to Freedom Reigns from Safe Harbor Equine and Livestock Sanctuary. He was pulled from a kill pen by a kind individual, who was able to start his training.

Two were donated, Pogo and Dancer, and the fifth is Carissa’s own horse Boston. Pogo was donated from a family who loved him dearly but, unfortunately, he was injured one day, tearing up his leg with a deep wound. Thanks to his owners’ excellent care, Pogo’s leg healed, albeit with a big scar. His career as an Eventing pony had come to an end and he was entrusted to Freedom Reigns as a session pony.“The kids in the program have gained insight as they realize how God can restore and heal us from our wounds as they see how Pogo has healed from his severe injury”, Carissa wrote.
Dancer spent most of his life in a loving home, but it wasn’t always that way. His owner purchased him from a “horse trader” when he was underweight and had a painful skin infection (rain rot). His owner brought him back to health and now Dancer enjoys being loved on by many different people.

Boston is an Anglo-Arabian, “one of those once-in-a-lifetime horses who has a willingness to try anything,” Carissa describes. Carissa purchased him in 2009 and, when trying to track down his history from a string of several owners, words that often were used to describe him were “mean”, “incontrolable”, “crazy”, and “worthless.” But with the patience, trust, and guidance from some amazing horsewomen, Boston excelled and he and Carissa had fun at local Eventing and Jumper shows, and he is now a most trusted session horse.

Sessions with the horses last 90 minutes, and provide one-on-one instruction with the session leader. Sessions teach responsibility and stewardship through horse chores, basic horsemanship, and interaction with the horse. Work with the horse may be at liberty, ground work, games, and riding. Building relationships with the horses is key, and horses give instant feedback. The various activities with the horse, mounted and unmounted, help build trust, leadership, and confidence. The clients may help groom, turn out the horse, or teach the horse something new.

There is a core team of volunteers including Session Leaders, Ranch Assistants, and Horse Care Team members. In addition, the Ranch provides opportunities for groups and individuals to volunteer and not be part of a regular schedule.  The Ranch now has a waiting list of participants for the program and is always looking for more volunteers.

Freedom Reigns Ranch also offers some special events throughout the year including their annual Charity Horse Show, frequent S’mores/Bonfire events, a monthly Work Day – “Hayday,”  and days when the community can come and tour the Ranch, since sessions are by appointment only. On December 2 is the annual Ranch Christmas Party Potluck Lunch, 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. If you want to attend, RSVP to

Find more information about Freedom Reigns Ranch at the website: on facebook at In addition to running Freedom Reigns Ranch, Carissa is a professional equine photographer. See her work at:

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