Storybook Farm uses equine therapy to help heal emotional and physical disabilities

Finding a way to reach children with emotional, intellectual and physical disabilities requires a special talent, as each individual child responds differently to different methods.

But few approaches are as fascinating as the equine-assisted therapies offered by Storybook Farm.

The name, Storybook Farm, combines two of the passions of its founder, Dena Little: literature and horses. Little sold her successful bakery in Atlanta and moved her family to a 9-acre spread in Opelika in 2001. An English major and avid reader, she found the pastoral beauty of this part of Alabama inspirational, storybook-like. She sensed the magic in the countryside. “I wasn’t intending to start Storybook when I moved here. I just wanted a smaller community to raise my family. I came down here for a visit and just fell in love with the area.”

So, she moved her family, bought a trio of horses and made a home.

About a year later, while reading the magazine Practical Horseman, Little found herself intrigued by using horses in therapy for children. The therapeutic benefits of interacting with horses have been touted all the way back to classical times. As early as the 17th century, therapeutic riding was prescribed for gout, neurological disorders and low morale. With this in mind, it wasn’t long before Little put her passion for horses and literature together to create Storybook Farm.

In 2002, Storybook Farm opened with a barn, six stalls, three riders, 10 volunteers and three horses – Willy Wonka, Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. At the time, the whole experiment felt like a short story. Turns out, it was only the prologue to a much bigger effort. “We grew exponentially fast, Little said. “I had to make a decision whether I wanted to do this full time and commit. I felt like the Lord was leading me in this direction.”

Storybook grew so fast, Little had to sell the initial farm and move to what is now a 51-acre expanse with room to grow. And grow it has continued to do.

They began with a house and a 12-stall barn but have since added a three-stall barn, two riding areas and a horticultural area called the Secret Garden. The next addition? A 2-acre canine area called the Fox and Hound Playground.

At Fox and Hound, children will have six canine friends to entertain them, with names like Ann and Dan (from “Where the Red Fern Grows”), Professor Henry Higgins (from “Pygmalion”), Velvet Brown (from “National Velvet”) and Mr. Banks and Admiral Boone (from “Mary Poppins”).

The dogs will be part of a reading program in which kids read to the dogs. “There’s so much research that tells us that reading out loud is so beneficial, Little said. “And when you’re reading to the nonjudging dog, it’s a whole lot easier than reading for a teacher or your peers or something like that.”

For Tina Ledbetter’s daughter, Channing, it was all about the horse. Channing has a seizure disorder that caused her to develop more slowly than peers. Ledbetter searched high and low for an appropriate activity for Channing – something that would make the youngster feel more confident and accomplished. They tried dance, gymnastics, soccer – you name it – to no avail.

Then, Channing met Mrs. Potts, one of the horses at Storybook. “I thought, ‘This is something that is hers, that she can feel good about, Ledbetter said of horseback riding. “It’s an extracurricular activity that will build her self esteem and also help her build strength.”

Little understands. “Everyone’s equal on the back of a horse, she said. “It doesn’t matter what has brought you to Storybook. Now with three full-time staffers and scores of volunteers from Auburn University,Storybook serves some 1,500 children a year. Children with more than 140 different diagnoses have benefited from the therapeutic horse farm.

Moreover, all these children have enjoyed the experience free of charge. Thanks to the farm’s fundraising efforts and to organizations like the Alabama Power Foundation, the farm is able to serve its guests.

“Nothing is ever charged to any family, group, whatever, whoever is here, Little said. “We just want to be here to serve and be a hopeful place for families.

After so much searching, Tina Ledbetter has found a therapy that’s finally helping her daughter. In fact, Channing is so enthralled with her horse, Mrs. Potts, that she keeps a picture of the gentle, dark bay mare, by her bed. The other day Channing Ledbetter was able to ride the horse for the first time. Her mother will tell you it was a magical experience. Like something right out of a storybook.

For more information on the Alabama Power Foundation and its annual report, visit here.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 hours ago

Chuck Martin endorses Republican Russell Bedsole in Alabama House District 49

Russell Bedsole’s Republican candidacy has received a boost in the Alabama House District 49 special election.

This seat, covering parts of Bibb, Chilton and Shelby Counties, was vacated by the resignation of State Rep. April Weaver (R-Brierfield), who left the legislature to join the administration of President Donald J. Trump.

Bedsole led the pack in the GOP primary held last week, finishing ahead of second-place Mimi Penhale and third-place Chuck Martin. Since no candidate got a majority, a runoff will be held on September 1.

On Wednesday night, Martin endorsed Bedsole in that runoff via a Facebook post.


Martin led Bibb County in primary votes and finished with a competitive 24.25% overall.

In a release, he expounded on why he is publicly backing Bedsole.

“After thoughtful consideration, I am endorsing Russell Bedsole to represent District 49 in the Alabama House of Representatives,” Martin stated. “Like me, Bedsole has deep roots in District 49. I believe he will be a strong voice for Bibb, Shelby, and Chilton counties, and he will fight for our communities’ conservative Christian values in Montgomery.”

Bedsole, a longtime deputy sheriff in Shelby County and an Alabaster city councilor, has already been endorsed by the likes of Shelby County Sheriff John Samaniego and the Alabama State Fraternal Order of the Police in the race.

“It is an honor to be endorsed by Chuck Martin,” Bedsole commented. “As a representative of District 49, I will fight for pro-life and pro-Second Amendment legislation, along with funding for developing crucial infrastructure, in the Alabama House of Representatives.”

Penhale, the legislative director for Shelby County’s legislative delegation, has taken an unpaid leave of absence from her state government job to run for office. She has been endorsed by the Alabama Farmers Federation.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

8 hours ago

License plate to support Alabama business proposed — Must meet 1,000 application benchmark

A license plate that will support Alabama small businesses will be created if 1,000 apply for one by July 31, 2021.

Funds from purchasing the plate will be given to Main Street Alabama, which will in turn provide workshops and grants to small businesses around the Yellowhammer State.

The tag can be applied for here. A $50 fee accompanies the application.

“With this program, individuals can show their dedication to their favorite small businesses, who in many cases are their friends and neighbors, with a tag that gives back to them with workshops and grants focused on strengthening their business,” said Main Street Alabama state coordinator Mary Helmer in a statement.


Helmer added, “Small businesses keep it local by consistently sponsoring the local baseball team, providing gift baskets for the local charity drives and creating jobs in their community.”

Main Street Alabama is a non-profit entity and an offshoot of Main Street America organization.

The artwork on the tag was created by Chris Seagle, a graphic designer based in Birmingham.

The idea for a car tag supporting small business originated among a group of elected officials in Jefferson County.

Casey Middlebrooks, a member of the group and a Hoover City Councilman, said that his fellow officials “felt Main Street Alabama had the statewide presence and resources to facilitate support to small businesses throughout the state.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

8 hours ago

Ivey urges Alabamians to complete Census — Billions in funding, congressional seat at stake

Governor Kay Ivey (R-AL) on Friday released a video public service announcement urging Yellowhammer State residents to complete the 2020 Census.

The deadline to complete the Census recently was moved up to September 30, meaning there is less than seven weeks left for Alabamians to either self-respond or respond to Census Bureau field staff.

Leaders from the public sector, as well as industry, economic development, charitable and civic organizations, have warned for months that Alabama has a lot on the line during the 2020 Census response period.

Projections have shown the state will lose a congressional district and corresponding electoral college vote — likely to a far-left state such as New York, California or Illinois — if Alabama’s response rate continues to lag.


“Complete your 2020 Census today,” Ivey said to begin the new PSA. “We only have until September 30.”

“Without you, Alabama stands to lose billions in funding, a seat in Congress and economic development opportunities,” she continued. “It only takes minutes to complete. Go to or participate by phone or mail.”

The governor concluded, “Be counted — if not for you, for those in Alabama who depend on you for a brighter tomorrow.”


Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

9 hours ago

Report: Birmingham golf tournament Regions Tradition canceled for 2020

A report from WBRC in Birmingham on Friday says that the yearly golf tournament Regions Tradition has canceled the 2020 edition due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The event organizers say it will be back in early May of 2021.

WBRC says they were told by a “source close to the tournament” about the decision to cancel the 2020 version.

The tournament had previously been rescheduled from its normal late spring/early summer slot until September due to COVID-19 concerns.


Regions Tradition is a tournament on the PGA Tour Champions circuit, a series of competitions held each year for golfers over age 50.

According to Alabama NewsCenter, the annual Regions Tradition tournament has an economic impact on the Birmingham area between $20 million and $25 million every year.

The Tradition was first held in 1989 and is one of the five major golf tournaments on the Senior Circuit.

Regions took over as the event’s sponsor in 2010 and relocated the tournament to the Birmingham area beginning in 2011.

Steve Stricker won the tournament in 2019, a title he will now keep for two years.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

9 hours ago

Jefferson County health officials say coronavirus pandemic precautions will continue into 2021

Two impactful figures in Jefferson County’s healthcare system advised on Friday that the coronavirus pandemic and resulting precautions such as mask-wearing will remain a major factor in public life at least through the end of 2020.

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson and CEO of the UAB Health System/Ascension St. Vincent’s Alliance Will Ferniany briefed reporters on coronavirus information during a Friday morning videoconference.

“This pandemic is not going away by the end of December,” warned Ferniany.

Wilson said it was “very likely” that he would push to keep a mask order in place across Jefferson County “through the flu season” which would indicate the ordinance would stay in place at least through the spring of 2021.


“We have pretty good evidence that our face-covering orders, and our help from the public wearing face coverings, has made a difference,” remarked Wilson.

“We still have a ways to go but we’re starting to bend the curve downward,” Wilson told reporters.

The remarks made by Wilson and Ferniany are similar to what Mobile County epidemiologist Dr. Rendi Murphree told Yellowhammer News in recent days.

Ferniany said that UAB is making a significant investment in rapid testing that should be ready for action by the end of the year, the availability of which should make dealing with the virus more manageable.

Wilson highlighted a standard he felt more people should understand.

The county health officer said that any person exposed to someone positive for COVID-19 should quarantine for 14 days, even if they go out and get a test showing they do not have the virus.

“Fourteen days is the maximum amount of time from being exposed to the virus where you could still develop symptoms,” Wilson said to explain the policy.

Ferniany said UAB Hospital is currently treating around 90 patients, down from a peak of 130. He relayed that 40 of the COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized are in the ICU.

RELATED: Alabama coronavirus update: Hospitalizations begin to decrease, new cases falling

The executive also said that the toughest aspect of caring for COVID-19 cases currently is the shortage of nurses. He said the hospitals he oversees are down “several hundred nurses” with the partial explanation that traveling nursing companies are luring workers away with higher wages.

Wilson reported additional good news for Jefferson County. He said that the area is not experiencing a higher rate of black citizens dying from COVID-19 than white citizens.

“So far we’re not seeing a racial disparity in terms of deaths in Jefferson County,” he relayed.

“Forty-one percent of our deaths in Jefferson County with COVID-19 are African American. The African American population is 43%,” Wilson stated.

Yellowhammer News asked Wilson what kind of benchmarks he would need to be passed to trigger a loosening of coronavirus precautions and whether that would be dependent on a vaccine.

“We’re not going to be out of the woods for quite a long time,” Wilson responded.

“The bottom line will be the amount of disease activity we have in the community, and the trajectory of that,” he continued.

With respect to the vaccine, Wilson replied, “It is really hard to predict what is going to happen with the vaccine: How effective is it going to be, how widespread we’re going to be able to vaccinate people and how soon. There are way too many unknowns for us to say much about that.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: or on Twitter @HenryThornton95