BY CHRISTY BURKEY
When Aaron Guin texted his wife Amanda that he was ‘done,’ she didn’t know what he meant until she heard the police sirens. He’d been at home with another deep bout of depression, so she and her two young kids were staying nearby at her parents’ house until Daddy felt better.
But this time it was different. The beloved husband, doting father, 82nd Airborne Ranger, and neighborhood Mr. Fixit, had lost his battle with the demons that haunted him since serving in the Gulf War. Aaron Guin, who could tinker with anything and make it work, sadly couldn’t repair his own life. He killed himself at his home on a Saturday evening. This is how life ended for Aaron Guin. But for Amanda, Garrett, and Ashlyn, this is where their journey of hope and healing began.
Aaron’s suicide devastated the close-knit Guin family, especially Garrett, who spent every free moment glued to his father’s side, playing football, gardening, and serving as his young handyman apprentice. Amanda tried desperately to reach her son, but his thoughts and feelings remained hidden behind a veil of detachment.
When a friend suggested the equine therapy program at Hope Reins, Amanda was skeptical. “I thought, really? Garrett’s going to open up to a horse?” But after their first session at Hope Reins, the 7-year-old seemed instinctively aware of his new 2,000 pound friend’s gentle strength and moved easily around the huge Percheron, a breed known for its mighty stature.
It was a natural connection. The massive horse became Garrett’s confidant – one who could shoulder the weight of his darkest pain without ever divulging a word. He would talk and Abby listened. Session after session, Amanda watched in wonder as Garrett would brush, walk, and then ride Abby bareback through the green pastures at Hope Reins – beaming with pride and accomplishment.
His caring session leader, Karen, who remained a comfortable distance away, would watch in amazement, too, as God’s handiwork helped create a bond of love, trust, and openness just when it was needed most for a lost little boy deeply missing his best friend. “I can’t even put into words how good it makes a mom feel that a horse can do a job that I can’t,” says Amanda.
It’s been almost six years since the Guin family first contacted Hope Reins. And a lot has happened since then. Garrett’s sweet equine mentor, Abby, passed away in 2018 from severe colic. He’s now a strapping 5 foot 10 inch high school junior who loves basketball.
His sister, Ashlyn, forged her own path over the years as an accomplished equestrian at the ranch finding great solace in Shiloh, a beautiful white pony. She and Garrett both volunteer in Hope Reins’ Kids Give Back, where they provide leadership to young program participants and learn how to apply these skills in their own lives as well.
Amanda took her pain and started volunteering at TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) to help other military widows struggling with the death of a loved one. Her passion for the cause formed a conduit between TAPS and Hope Reins by aligning both nonprofits so other families like hers could be helped through equine therapy. TAPS is a cherished partner of Hope Reins.
“I could have never made it through Aaron’s suicide without Hope Reins.”
Last year, Hope Reins celebrated its 10th anniversary and service to over 2,700 individual kids in crisis just like Garrett and Ashlyn. Its mission remains the same: to pair hurting kids with trained mentors and rescued horses for hope and healing. And, they do it at no charge to kids and their families.
“Pain is the ultimate equalizer,” says Amanda. “No one is immune from experiencing a crisis in their lives like we did. But I thank God for Hope Reins.”
For more information about Hope Reins or to make a donation: hopereins.org.