IF YOU GO
WHAT: Boots & BBQ featuring food, live music, silent auction and line dancing
WHEN: Oct. 15, 5:30-8:30 p.m.
WHERE: Faith Equestrian Center, 243 Appaloosa Way, Guyton
TICKETS: $45 single; $80 couple; $320 for a table of eight
ATTIRE: Western casual; there will be a best-dressed contest
GUYTON — The reins of Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center (FETC) have been handed to a new CEO.
In May, Brent Bissell was given the task of guiding FETC out of a period of doldrums caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and other problems. Using horses, FETC’s goal is to help students with special challenges gain confidence and self-esteem.
“Because of COVID, we couldn’t give lessons — and lessons is one of the main tools we use to help kids with autism, learning disabilities and behavioral problems,” Bissell said. “At the same time, we also couldn’t do fundraising. That meant we had two years of famine.”
FETC will look to solidify its financial footing with Boots & BBQ — its first major fundraiser since 2020 — on Oct. 15. The 5:30 p.m. event at the center at 243 Appaloosa Way will feature food, live music, a silent auction and line dancing.
The music will be provided by Headin’ Home, a Savannah-based bluegrass gospel group.
“They play all throughout the Southeastern states,” Bissell said. “They are going to play for two hours.”
Bissell is looking forward to being entertained and the opportunity to share information about FETC.
“There is room for the story to be told about what’s going on (at FETC)” he said.
Bissell knows how to craft a message. His strengths are building consumer relationships, brand development, strategic planning and communication. He is a specialist in digital marketing.“I’m an advertising guy,” he said.
FETC began in 2006 and is a premier accredited center of the Professional Association for Therapeutic Horsemanship International. It is one of seven premier accredited centers in Georgia and the only one located in the southern half of the state.
It grew from having two children with three horses on five acres to serving more than 125 riders annually with 11 horses on 10 acres (pre-pandemic).
Non-verbal students with autism have spoken for the first time during a lesson while others have gained core strength in order to ride unassisted and gain independence. Confidence is gained, friends are made and social interactions become the norm.
“Kids who have been through struggles — get picked on or thinking they are not as good as somebody else — just commanded a 2,000-pound animal,” Bissell said. “... They really get a sense of achievement out of this.”
FETC currently has 10 horses and a donkey.
“They are really special,” Bissell said. “Each one has its own personality. Some of the students fall in love with one horse.
“... It’s heartwarming to see.”
In an effort to capitalize on the horse-human connection, the Effingham County School District is set to join forces with FETC for “Horse-Powered Reading” next month.
Bissell stressed that FETC has new staffers, new volunteers and several new board members. Founder and former CEO Bonnie Rachael is no longer associated with FETC.
The current FETC Board of Directors includes Kelsey Elam, Bridget Seay, Michele Shuman and Patsy Zeigler.
Bissell, who spent three years on the Minnesota Brain Injury Association Board of Directors, is also a member of the FETC board.
“That’s why I was attracted to this place,” Bissell said. “People who go through (challenges) need support.”
FETC needs support, too, in the form of donations and other ways.
“We have volunteer opportunities,” Bissell said, “and we also pay people to do barn work. We ask that high school kids volunteer first so that we can find out if they know anything at all about horses.
“If they are right for the organization, we will bring them in.”
FETC recently had a church group from Ohio help spruce up the facility.
To learn more about how you can assist FETC, visit its Facebook page or www.faithetc.org.
To buy Boots & BBQ tickets, visit @bit.ly/Boots-and-BBQ or order at Eventbrite https://www.eventbrite.com/e/annual-boots-bbq-tickets-388722588727?utm-campaign=social&utm-term=listing&utm-source=cp&aff=escb.