A little over a year ago, Jodi Freeman had a literal dream about building an organization that would help youth and adults in need of developing a relationship with horses. Today this lifelong horse lover is sharing her passion with others through a nonprofit called Dreamcatchers.
ALLISON: What inspired you to start DreamCatchers?
JODI: I have always been a horse lover. When my kids were growing up, and I was a single parent, horses were out of the question. I longed to give my kids the opportunity that I had as a young girl and teenager, and tried everything I could think of to get them involved but it was just too expensive. When I was finally able to afford horses of my own, I literally had a dream one night where my grandfather told me that my horses were a gift, and I needed to share them with those who didn’t have the means to get involved on their own.
ALLISON: Tell me about your background with animals.
JODI: I was six months old the first time I was on a horse and my grandpa was holding me on one of his farm horses. I used to wander into their pasture as toddler, and sit among them. I was given a Shetland pony when I was seven, and my grandpa fulfilled his promise to me to have his mare bred and let me raise her foal. I raised that filly from the day she was born when I was 11 until she passed away when I was 19. I am an animal lover all the way around, and have had everything from hamsters and rats to dogs and horses my whole life.
ALLISON: What other experience qualifies you to run your nonprofit?
JODI: I have degrees in nonprofit administration and public administration. I have worked and volunteered in fundraising and nonprofit management since 2005.
ALLISON: What mistakes did you make when you first started?
JODI: I think the most difficult thing for me is undervaluing myself. I have a good friend and board member who sat me down one day and reminded me that my time and effort is worth something.
DreamCatchers still does not pay me a salary, all of our funds go to support the program, but I did raise our adult rates to accommodate what I offer. I’m learning that we cannot operate on wishes alone.
ALLISON: What is a funny memory?
JODI: We are still really new, so I’m sure the best are yet to come. The one that I think of right off the top is one of my participants, a 12 year old boy, is crazy intelligent, and gets bored easily. He’s very comfortable with the horse as long as he’s just walking, so I usually stand back and let him do his thing. One day when I was watching from the opposite side of the arena, I saw him drop his reins and start stretching and doing yoga poses. I yelled “G, what on earth are you doing?” He just grinned and said “Horse Yoga, it’s the latest craze. And if it’s not, it should be!”
ALLISON: What is an embarrassing moment?
JODI: We recently had a young man who really didn’t want to participate. His mom kind of dragged him here and made him get on the horse. He just kind of slumped and wasn’t really trying to sit right or pay attention. I had the lead rope and asked if he was ready to move. He muttered and shrugged. One step and he slid right off the horse! (He wasn’t hurt; he just slowly fell to the ground). He and I were both really embarrassed, but it was a good lesson. Despite what the parents push kids to do, don’t make them do anything they absolutely don’t want to do.
ALLISON: What have you learned about children from running DreamCatchers?
JODI: Most kids are little sponges, thirsting for knowledge. That said, we need to give them credit for knowing what they want and don’t want! If it’s the parent who wants their kid involved in horses, and the kid is terrified, it’s probably not going to work out. We need to push them out of their comfort zones to an extent, but we also can’t force them to love what we love or think they need to do.
ALLISON: What have you learned about animals by working with horses?
JODI: I have always known that horses are intuitive and empathic. They literally feel everything their rider is feeling: If the rider is confident, the horse is confident or if the rider is scared, then the horse is uneasy too. And if the rider is having a bad day, sometimes the best thing we can do is just stick with activities on the ground. Let the horse be your therapist, love on them, and they will love right back on you.
ALLISON: What challenges have you encountered on the business side?
JODI: Right now, my biggest challenge is being so new. We really have to prove ourselves to get funding from grants and corporate sponsors. We have had enough income from private donors, Give to Lincoln Day, and local businesses that I haven’t needed to use much of my own funds to cover our horse care and our marketing but we are surviving month to month. As we grow, we need to add a second horse. We also need to be able to have a larger marketing budget for a website, print materials, etc. Sustainability is huge for us.
ALLISON: Who can apply to Dreamcatchers?
JODI: Anyone can come to DreamCatchers, but it is primarily designed for those who cannot afford private lessons or a horse of their own. We offer programs for youth support and mentoring organizations, and we can take horses to daycares and retirement communities (or have them visit the farm). The only thing we don’t do is offer birthday parties and the like (but I can refer to instructors or others who do).
ALLISON: Why should individuals or businesses sponsor a participant?
JODI: Since our mission is to reach those individuals who cannot afford private lessons, or horses of their own, this is a great opportunity for individuals or businesses to give (primarily) young people something they would not otherwise have.
Horse/human relationships are one of the most unique and exciting relationships to watch, and have been proven through a number of studies to be one of the most beneficial animal/human relationships there is. DreamCatchers is unique in that we are not a therapy organization. Participants do not need any sort of diagnosis or requirement to attend, other than the desire to learn and build that horse/human bond.
ALLISON: Anything else?
JODI: One thing I really struggle with is that people assume we are an equine therapy organization. There are at least seven to eight really amazing equine therapy organizations spread throughout Lincoln and Omaha who reach everyone from special needs individuals to veterans to those with physical limitations. We are not a therapy organization; we simply offer the opportunity for those who might not otherwise get the chance to develop a relationship with horses.