MINERAL — About 27 years ago a family didn’t know where to turn.
Their 10-year-old son had just attempted suicide, they told his horse riding instructor, Katy Pistole.
With no other options, they decided to take him to Pistole on her farm in Herndon, where she worked with the boy over the next four months, talking as they went over lessons and navigating his trauma.
“I would just remind him that God is the one who gets to tell you who you are,” she said. “And you can give other people that power if you choose to. But they don’t really get to tell you who you are unless you let them.”
Thus Pistole began the path that would lead to Beautiful Brokenness, a nonprofit ministry run from her farm near Mineral focused on the therapeutic use of horses.
The nonprofit helps girls and women learn leadership skills and overcome trauma.
Beautiful Brokenness was founded in 2010 and Pistole has six horses that have been rescued. Earlier this year, she was rated one of the top nonprofits in the country by GreatNonProfits.com, a review site.
Pistole operated out of Bumpass for many years before moving to Northern Virginia and then landing back in Louisa County two years ago. She’s looking for a new, permanent farm in the Charlottesville area.
She works with about 25 people per year in a 14-week program, though the program length can vary depending on a participant’s needs.
“It’s really not about the horses,” she said. “The horses are just this beautiful bridge really to teach women about themselves about who God is.”
Most of the people Pistole works with are recommended through word of mouth or through a church.
Some of the girls and women who attend the ministry have post-traumatic stress disorder from assault or other issues.
“You name it, really, and we’ve heard it,” Pistole said.
Sometimes the girls are hesitant to get involved because they’re being forced to attend lessons.
“When someone says I’m going to take you to a counselor, it means that you’re broken and that you need to be fixed, and nobody wants to hear that. Especially when you’re 16,” Pistole said.
Pistole doesn’t ask the girls to share their experience or force her ministry on them. During lessons and conversation, she said it just comes naturally.
Those experiencing trauma have to overcome fear, she said, which makes the horses a vital connection. Horses, she said, are prey and have “no interest” in participating with predators, such as humans.
Participants have to help the horses overcome fear and accept them.
“I’m convinced that God is not interested in controlling us,” she said, “but inviting us to participate in what he’s doing for us and with us.”
Pistole recently provided a glimpse of some of the techniques she uses in the program. Without speaking, she directed her 21-year-old horse Scooter to walk backwards, let her ride him and trot a circle around her.
“It’s not really therapy; it really is discipleship,” she said. “It really is inviting that person to come along on a journey or asking them if I can come along on their journey for a while and help them process truth.”
She focuses on body language, nonverbal communication and setting and accomplishing goals.
“If you can have this kind of conversation with someone who doesn’t speak, then it’s easier to just have a conversation with somebody who may just look different than you,” she said. “It’s about teaching girls how to connect with a horse and, in the process, they learn how to connect with themselves and with each other.”
Not all of the people Pistole works with are experiencing trauma. Some come to learn leadership skills, which Pistole said is becoming a larger part of her work.
“When I’m with my horse, I’m the leader. I want him to know that I’m the leader,” she said. “And I think it’s really important for girls to know how to be good leaders for themselves and how to pick good leaders to follow because otherwise you end up influenced by whoever.”