EP2: Joy O'Neal - The Red Barn - AL, USA

Rupert Isaacson: Welcome
to Equine Assisted World.

I'm your host, Rupert Isaacson.

New York Times bestselling
author of the Horse Boy.

Founder of New Trails Learning
Systems and long ride home.com.

You can find details of all our programs
and shows on Rupert isaacson.com.

Here on Equine Assisted World.

We look at the cutting edge and the best
practices currently being developed and,

established in the equine assisted field.

This can be psychological, this
can be neuropsych, this can be

physical, this can be all of the
conditions that human beings have.

These lovely equines, these beautiful
horses that we work with, help us with.

Thank you for being part of the adventure
and we hope you enjoy today's show

welcome back to Equine Assisted World,
where we look at the, amazing mosaic

of, how horses help humans, and
how it's evolved from its early days

with therapeutic riding and assisted
riding into the super complex world

of neuropsych and, emotional,
conditions and all points in between.

This week I've got a phenomenal guest.

This is Joy O'Neill, who runs
Red Barn in Birmingham, Alabama.

And, if you live in the usa,
you know, Alabama's always

one of the forgotten states.

And people often don't expect to see
cutting edge work come out of there,

but often it does look at Huntsville,
for example, the tech center and, you

know, the amazing work they do at the
university in Tuscaloosa and so on.

And Red Barn is no exception.

I've been following the, the progress
of that work there forever, a

decade now, and, where it really,
excels and goes to the cutting edge.

he actually does this in many ways,
but, there is a real, there were one of

the early pioneers in work with trauma.

And now of course it's a relatively
common thing to find people working,

with horses and trauma and so on.

But really red, bam, were one of the
first to get into it on a, on a really,

Deep level and their, work with, JC
Dugard who I will let Joy talk about

if you don't know who she is and now
their work with polyvagal theory and

the vagal nerve and all of this, it's,
it's, it's gone from the, oh, let's

look at this thing and because we
know that it works, to now knowing the

science behind it, and, it's really a,
a beacon, within the American Southeast

and I'd say within the US in general
for how this type of work should look.

And Joy is a really interesting,
person to be doing this cuz she

didn't come from that background yet.

When you go out to Red
Barn, it looks so beautiful.

It's one of these
beautifully manicured places.

You think, oh, it's gonna be
like a fancy hunter jumper barn.

And then you go in there and it's like, oh
no, they do this really interesting work.


They all ride really well.

That's interesting.

So they also have a showing background.

But Joy's background wasn't
with horses originally at all,

nor really with neuropsych.

So, and then Joy also has her own
work that she does, representing

women with, heart conditions, which
she will let you know about because

that's another rather forgotten world.

We generally think about heart
conditions as, a male preserve.

But of course it isn't.

So without further ado, joy, welcome.

Joy ONeil: Thank you so much for
having me and for all your kind words.

I hope I can live up to them.

Rupert Isaacson: Well, it's that
very modesty, which as you know,

makes you do all that amazing work.

So tell us who you are.

Where did you begin?

Where were you born?

Where'd you go to school and how'd you
get into this funny old horse thing?


Joy ONeil: my goodness.

It's a, gosh, I'm not
even sure where to start.

If I start rambling, you'll just have
to tell me and tell me to move on.

Not to, not to go too much, but,
I was born in Birmingham, Alabama.

I've lived here my entire life
and, my mother was married to, in

a very abusive relationship and,
it was a horrible relationship.

She left when I was very young and
we moved in with my grandparents

and lived there for quite a while.

And then my mom remarried
and we moved around a lot.

And so I went to eight different
schools when I was growing up

and, never in any of that time
had anything to do with horses.

Kind of fast forward many, many years.

Got married and my, my
two children and I, got.

To be part of this blended family.

And we were, one, one spring break.

We were gonna take all the kids on a
trip to Disney World, and we decided

that we just absolutely would not
be strong enough to survive a trip,

even to the happiest place on Earth.

And so we canceled the trip and we
let each of the five children pick

something that they wanted to do.

And so my oldest child, Alexis, decided
that she wanted to go ride horses.

And so we all went as a
family to go ride horses.


And, while we were there, Emmett and
I just kind of looked at each other

and noticed that all the kids were
getting along and that that was very

unusual for them to, to all be together.

And it was something new
for our entire family.

None of us really had a whole
lot of experience for it.

And, just from that one, that one thing,
we just started going back to the barn

for the kids to take riding lessons.

And one thing just kind of led to another
and I saw firsthand how great horses

were for kids who had disabilities.

And, that was kind of what
started at all was not going to.

So, okay.


Rupert Isaacson: so the moral
of the stories don't go to Izzy.

Well spend your dogs on horses.


I think we can order on that one.


But so very interesting.

So right from the get go there
you are in a difficult situation.

You have kids from another relationship.

You've now blended those kids.

Into a family, maybe it's a little rocky.

And the thing that Yeah.

Brings them together is horses.

Joy ONeil: Correct?


I mean, there was a lot of stuff
that happened kind of in between,

you know, there, but no doubt.

Didn't know how long you, how
much you wanted to get into.

Well, we,

Rupert Isaacson: we, we
want to know the full story.

We, we want, we want, you know,
the Game of Thrones version,

but obviously, oh my goodness.

You know, it's, it's whatever you
feel comfortable sharing and, but the,

the, what stands out from that story
is that in that difficult situation

and kids in blended families, you
know, it's, it isn't all roses.

We know this.

It's wonderful what horses can do to
unite people, I feel, and, help 'em find

their sort of tribe, their, you know,
their, their, their functional family.

Because everyone.

Sort of concentrates on that job together.

But you say Alexis, your oldest daughter,
so she was the one you felt who really

took to it initially the most, but
the others also of the five kids.

Joy ONeil: Yeah.

All five of our kids rode when, when
they were little, when Emmett and I

were married, the kids were, he had a
10 year and eight old, this was six.

I had a four year old, and
then he had a three year old,

so 5, 10, 8, 6, 4, and three.

And we all began to ride horses together
and it just really was a great, just

a great way for us to be outside.

I feel lucky that at that, at
that timeframe, kids didn't have

as much access to cell phones and
iPads and so many electronics.

So we really were just out at
the barn together, learning

together and, and I think.

You know, one, one of the things I
know now, that I didn't know then

it just sort of happened, is that
there's this concept that, Dr.

Rebecca Bailey from transitioning
families in the Polyvagal Institute

talks about, and that is the, the
therapeutic dose of a conversation.

And it's really just a few seconds.

And so as I was trying to get to know
my stepchildren, and we were, you know,

just talking or kind of going through
some, the, the difficult times of being

in a blended family, which I had also
grown up in a blended family, so I, I

had an appreciation of what they were
going through, but it's that therapeutic

dose of just a few seconds, you know?

So as we are maybe grooming a
horse side by side, Not having

direct eye contact that can feel
sort of like a lot of pressure.

You're just sort of doing
something and learning something

together in a relaxed atmosphere.

When you're outdoors, you
hear the birds chirping.

You have that support of the, the
community around you, like you mentioned a

found family and the warmth of the horse.

And then also what we know about,
now with people just slowing their

breathing to match the breaths of the
horse and the electromagnetic field of

the horse's heart and its heartbeat,
of which I'm certainly not an expert.

But, just all of those things combined
just really helped us to develop

relationships and, to spend time
together in a happy, in a happy place.

How long did

Rupert Isaacson: you find it took, for
the harmony that you were finding when

you guys went together to the horses to
transfer back to your life in the home?

Joy ONeil: Oh goodness.

Well, you know, that's a really
complicated question because at the ages

that the kids were at that time, 10, 8,
6, 4, and three, if you think about the

eight, as they became older, those are
just naturally more difficult ages, right?

Like, ask anybody with five teenagers
in their home how much harmony there is.

So it's you, you know, I, I don't, I
certainly don't wanna give the impression

that it's like, oh, we all went out and
groomed horses and everything was fine.

Never had any problems.

Cuz we certainly had, you know, a
lot of problems with five teenagers

in the house all at one time.

But I'll say that now that the youngest
is in their thirties, It's really, I,

I think it's like just the other week
we were, we were talking about it, you

know, they're, they're starting their own
families and having children of their own.

And so now they're coming back and
going, oh my gosh, I remember how

we used to do X, y, and Z together.

And I'm like, I think I vaguely
remember that, but I thought that

you were like in the car throwing a
fit cuz you didn't want to do that.

Or, you know, you were pouting
or you didn't really like it.

And so I, I think one of the, the
fun funner things about getting

older is being able to relate to your
children on a new and different level.

And to look back and relive those times,
and see that even things that you didn't

think really meant a lot to them at,
in that moment, because maybe they

were like extra teenager at that time.

That it really does pay off and it
help draws you together later in the

Rupert Isaacson: end.

Yeah, sure.

I think a lot of us when we're teenagers,
While we're pouting and throwing

fits, we sort of assume that our
parents know that underneath all that

we sort of actually do quite dig it.

And, and the parents, of course
are, are completely mystified

thinking, no, actually I thought you
were just a really terrible mood.

And there, there goes one of
God's great jokes about how

humans misunderstand each other.

But how did you go from, I, I love
this, term you used about, the, the

therapeutic dose of a conversation.

How, how did, how did you transition
from that then into suddenly running?

Cause I'm sure it wasn't
sudden this therapeutic barn.

Please talk us through that chronology.

Joy ONeil: Okay.

So the kids all started riding
horses, and so of course we, I was

there with them in a part of it.

And it was something like I
mentioned all five of the kids.

They were, they picked, they got
involved in other activities and

just one thing kinda led to another.

And, but when we were really in
the thick of it, we decided that

we wanted to purchase some land
and keep horses there ourselves.

And, and the more that we learned
about horses, the more that we

realized that the place where we were
taking the kids to have the riding

lessons wasn't in the best of shape.

And they were very hardworking.

And we really wanted to do
something to, to make it possible

for more and more people to, to
experience what we had discovered.

And so the, the person who I
considered kind of my, one of my main

mentors, her name was Anita Coward.

And, I was talking to Ms.

Coward about it and I said like,
you know, we found this land.

Would you go with us to look at it?

And we're thinking about buying it to
keep horses there and, you know, if you

wanted to operate out of this, you could.

And so we met Ms.

Coward and we were driving down to
look at the barn at the property here.

And Ms.

Cower just began to cry, and I couldn't
figure out what was going on or about her.

And then she backed up a little bit,
told me the, the story about, many,

many, many years in the sixties ago when
her daughter was killed in a car wreck.

And Ms.

Cower was just devastated because her
daughter was her, her best friend,

her, you know, her only daughter.

She had three sons.

But there was just something special
about having a daughter, and she was, Ms.

Cower was.

Just upset and angry with the Lord.

And so she stopped on this
very property where we were

located and, stopped and prayed.

There's a really peaceful
spot down by the river.

And so she stopped and prayed there
and she asked God to take the hurt away

from her so that her anger wouldn't
be seen as a lack of faith, but that

she would still be able to find a way
to, to show everyone that she trusted

the Lord even in this hard times.

And so she remembered the Bible verse
that said, when things are given up

to and still glorify the Lord, that
they can be returned a hundred fold.

And so she writes in her journal
about, kind of having this argument

with God and she describes it
to like wrestling with them.

And she's like, okay, I don't want
just a hundred fold more daughters.

I want a thousand fold more daughters.

And so more and more her
daughter's friends kept coming

to their house to ride horses.

And of course the boys will tell
you it's because they were handsome

and charming and, and they are.

But if you talk to the girls, they
say it's mainly because of the horses.

And so one by one, all those, all those
families just kept coming to ride with Ms.


And of course, Ms.

Coward moved at several times throughout
that until one day that was our family.

And so,

Rupert Isaacson: and Ms.

Cart was the person you'd been riding
with all this time with your kids?

Joy ONeil: Right.

She had owned the, the barn.

She was the founder of the,
the barn where they had ridden.

And so, as she got older, she sold the
barn to someone else who, who ran it.

And, my kids got older and
they had other interests.

And Ms.

Cower and I would walk around the property
and just talk about how much it had meant.

And our family went through a
really, really difficult time.

And I, you know, I told Ms.

Coward, I felt like the
barn saved, saved my life.

You know, just having that sense
of peace and, being there and the

relationship that I had with our
children, I felt like it wouldn't have

been possible and how lucky I had felt
because horses are very expensive.

And through some course of volunteer
work that I had done, you know, I really

realized that it, like if there were
so many people who wouldn't ordinarily

have access to this, And so Ms.

Coward and I talked about using
the back half of the property to

set up a therapeutic program for
people who would not otherwise be

able to afford to work with horses.

And but it was always just kind of a
dream, sort of like this, this thought.

And so, but, and nothing
really happened about it.

And then, I was, went through a
really difficult time physically

and the doctors could not figure
out what was going on with me.

And, they started mentioning something,
this little disease called Lou

Gehrig's Disease and I was terrified.

Cause the thought of being
diagnosed with Lou Gehrigs was,

just, oh, it was just awful.

Rupert Isaacson: Talk us to
Lou Gehrigs, for those of those

of us who dunno what it is.

What is Luke Ericks?

Joy ONeil: It is, a l s so your
body sort of shuts down and you

become like a prisoner in your own
body, even though your mind is fine.

It's, what Stephen Hawking has

Rupert Isaacson: the
motor neuron, wasting.

Joy ONeil: Yeah.


And so, I was just terrified.

And so I have this big old scar on
the arm right here where they did

a, muscle biopsy and I had to wait
to get the results of that biopsy.

And it, while I was waiting, I was like,
oh, dear God, please, please, please

don't let this be what they think it is.

If it's not what they think it is.

Like, if it's not Lou Gehrigs, I promise
I will, I will start the barn that Ms.

Coward and I dreamed
about before she died.

Like, I'll do anything.

Just like, please don't let this
be, please don't let this be.

And sure enough, it ended
up that's not what it was.

And so I felt like I had
needed to keep my end of the.

Keep my end of the promise.

And so that's what prompted
me to, to live out Ms.

Coward's, vision that she and
I had walked, talked about as

we walked around the property.

There's a, a little red barn
on the backside of the property

that wasn't used very much.

And, she had this vision that children who
had afflictions as she called it, being

from her generation, that they would walk
through this barn and that they would

be healed as they worked with horses.

And she kind of compared it to a car wash
that they would like, walk through the

barn like it was a car wash, be healed
and come out on the other side dancing

and happy and just, just full of life.

And so that's what.

That's what I set out to do after
that when I found out that I did

not have Lou Gehrig's disease.

And so I went back to school and got
a degree in nonprofit, administration,

and we opened up in 2011 and then got
our nonprofit certification in 2012.

Rupert Isaacson: Now, up until that
point, you've been keeping horses.

Your, your kids have been showing.


Alexis became a show rider.

Joy ONeil: All of the, all of
the children showed for a while.

She was the one who has, continued
to do it for the longest, but

Rupert Isaacson: Yeah.

And still does it to this day.

It still does.

Yeah, she does.


So you'd gone through this thing,
so you, you'd had, you'd found

family healing through it then.

Your kids found, you know, their,
their sport world through it.

Some moved on, some kept going,
but you still retained this vision

that you'd had, with Anita Coward.

When you decided to open, had you limbed
up by doing like some volunteer work here

and there, had you sort of tested out
your, your therapeutic biceps at all?

Did you just jump in cold?

How'd it happen?

Joy ONeil: Well, I had been a barn mom,
you know, with all five of the kids

showing horses and riding and doing all
sort, you know, all of that kind of stuff.

So I, I was, I thought I'll put it
that way, at least I thought I was

pretty, new, knew more, at least
than I had ever known at that point,

up until then in my life about it.

I felt like I had a good education at uav.

Just sort of teach me
the ins and outs of it.

I had volunteered for many,
many years, at different places,

particularly a homeless shelter,
which of course makes you infinitely

qualified to go start a barn, right?

So I volunteered at a homeless shelter.

I'd done a lot of programs with kids.

You know, I, I really did though
feel like everything in my life was

leading me to that point, you know?

And of course I, I wouldn't say I
knew exactly what I was getting myself

into because then I might not have
done it cuz it was a whole lot harder

and a whole lot more work and a whole
lot more difficult than anything I,

that I ever thought that I would do.

So I was sort of very, blessed with
the gift of ignorance in some ways.

But I think it's, I.

I, I just do, I just feel like every
single thing in my life, even all

of the hard parts in the difficult
childhood that I had, and some difficult

experiences that I had been through,
that they had prepared me for that.

And, and I feel like one of
the greatest gifts that I had

was, the support of my family.

And I, I certainly don't mean to my
extended family, and I, I don't mean

to say that our, that my extended
family hasn't been through some

difficult times because we have.

But I think what makes it unique is that
we have all stuck by each other through

those difficult times, and that I have
never doubted that I was loved and I've

never doubted that they would support me.

And whether that was when I had
kind of this crazy idea of starting

this therapeutic barn, you know, my
cousins brought their kids out and

we practiced on them to, to, to let
them ride horses and practice some of

the different activities that we did.

And, It just all, it's
just all worked out.

Rupert Isaacson: So you dive in cold
and you feel okay, I sort of know

kind of what I'm doing, then what
happens, but not really who, who,

who, who are the, you know, have you
had much experience with, kids, with

physical and, and mental challenges?

Do you know how to get 'em on a horse?

Have you, have you had any formal
training or do you just kind of

go, well, we'll give it a go.

How does it go?

Joy ONeil: I'll give it a go.

I would say some of yes and no.

Some of, no.

So when I was growing up, there
were a lot of people in my life who

had disabilities and I never really
thought of them as any different.

And, you know, just,
here's a, a little story.

So I grew up in this really small
town way out in the middle of

nowhere in the middle of the country.

And the biggest thing to do was
to go to the baseball field and

watch the youth sports baseball.

And this field was named Billy Joe Field.

Billy Joe Young Field.

And so Billy Joe Young was a guy
who, when he was in high school, in

a freak football accident, became
paralyzed from the neck down.

And, but he still loves sports.

And so Billy Joe's mama would, drive
him up to Billy Joe Young Field that was

named in his, in his honor and behind home
plate, they had this big concrete block

rectangle, and she had this big old yellow
suburban and he lived in a hospital bed.

And so she would back up to that,
roll his hospital bed out behind home

plate and a microphone was hanging
from the ceiling and he would.

Call and announce the games.

Now he, I wish, I know this is a
podcast so people can't see it,

but he had very little motion
with his arms that he could talk.

He was a talker, a talker, a talker.

And so when I was little, some of my
very first memories were going to sit and

watch those baseball games while Billy
Joe called him out and feed him a hotdog.

And if you were a really, like, if you
got, you felt lucky if you were the

chosen person to get to go feed Billy
Jo a hotdog and learn how to, keep

the scorebook for the baseball field.

Like I never thought of Billy
Joe as anything other than.

A great, a great person and, and
like I was not ever raised to think

that just because somebody was in a
wheelchair or paralyzed from the neck

down or, or different, and, you know,
there were certainly people that now

I look back and I'm like, oh, I bet
if autism diagnosis had been around

or more known, then that's what, you
know, uncle so-and-so would've been.

Or that's what so-and-so like, like,
it just never occurred to us that

somebody that was different was less
than, my uncle, David's sister had

polio and so she was, you know, in
a wheelchair and sort of bent over.

And my, my grandmother's Aunt Cora,
you know, came over to her house

and she was also in a wheelchair.

My, all of my family worked on the
coal mines and at that time, safety

wasn't as, common maybe as it is now.

And so there were lots of people who were
missing fingers and parts of their legs

or arms, and it just never occurred to me.

That they were less than or that
they couldn't do, anything that

they really set their mind to.

You know, if it was possible to do it
without a leg or without three of your

fingers or something, you know, like
it was just So who were your first,

it was just a great way to be raised.

Rupert Isaacson: Who, who were
your first clients when they

came in through your door?

You opened the doors of Red Barn.

Who comes in?

Joy ONeil: So, when I was first talking
about, about opening up the barn, Alexis

was going to school at Birmingham Southern
or to college at Birmingham Southern.

And she had had a speaker come to
her class and talk about autism.

And so when, Alexis and I were
talking about the barn and my

vision, she said, I think you should
start by going to meet this person.

Her name was Sandy Nemore and she
was the executive director at a

place called Mitchell's Place.

And she said, I think you should go
talk to her and see about having some

of their students come out and be.

Like the first groups that you work with?

So it was actually someone, with
autism, whose name was Reid.


And he, I, you know, I
went and met with Sandy.

She's like, sure, I'll
put up some posters.

And so Reid's mom saw it and,
and she brought Reid one day.

And, I had hired someone who was
going to be a, who was a therapeutic

horseback riding instructor.

But she left the week before, like
we had made the appointment with Reid

and then she, she decided to leave.

And I didn't know how to get
in touch with Reed's mom.

So like I, I just like
talked to her on the phone.

I had not written down her
phone number, so I did know

how to cancel the appointment.

Because the instructor had left.

And so I called Alexis and I was like,
Hey, I like, I'm gonna feel really bad.

Will you come be here with me?

This lady's coming, you know, I'll
explain to her that we're probably gonna

have to close because the employee that
we hired isn't gonna be able to do it.

Will you like, you know,
so we'll just come.

So I had every intention of closing
that very first day, cuz I just

felt like I'd already failed.

And so Reid's mom gets here and Reid
gets out of the car and I look at his

precious face and he is just so excited.

And all he wants to do is
just pet and touch the horse.

And I, I just look at him and I just, I
couldn't tell her that we were closing.

And it, that's what really gave me
at, like, I tear up even just thinking

about it, but it was, it was like in
that moment I thought even though I

don't have a clue what to do next.

I know that I've got to do whatever
the next step is because this

little kid is worth it and all
he wants to do is pet a horse.

And I know enough to let him do that.

I'll figure the rest out as we go along.

Rupert Isaacson: Now, as you
know, then one begins to look

into all the methodologies and
trainings and go, oh my gosh.

It's, you know, it's, it's
a confusing world there.

Do I, do I choose this one?

Do I choose that one?

They all seem to say that they're
the right one or the only one.

So how do I make that choice?

So did you then decide, okay,
I'm gonna look for some sort of

more formalized training, and if
so, what did you choose and why?

Or did you just feel your way
or was it a mixture of both?

How did it evolve?

Joy ONeil: It's a mixture of both.

I would say that I'm not very, a
very impulsive person, but I do.

And I do like to do a lot of research,
like look things and, analyze it.

But I, I'm also though very intuitive,
so I may spend weeks researching things

and then go, but I feel like doing this.

So, like I, I just wanna make
an informed intuitive decision.

And, so I just began to learn as much
about autism as I could after going to

to talk with sanity and meeting Reid.

And, one day my Uncle David called me and
he, he knew that I was learning more about

autism and he actually saw an interview by
you on one of the Sunday night TV shows.

And he called me up.

He's like, quick, quick turn on your tv.

There's this guy and he's
talking about autism.

And he went all the way to Mongolia
and like he's doing stuff with horses.

You need to learn more about him.

And so I did from that very beginning, and
I know it's kind of weird to think about,

but that was way back in, I guess like
2010, 2011, you know, within those years.

And, it's not like it is today
where you can just Google everything

and you know, everybody's got a
website, you know, it was much harder

to learn about things back then.

And so, and then you came and spoke at
like, just a few months later you came

and spoke at something in Birmingham
and I recognized your name and that

was the first time that we met.

And, and so I, I immediately learned
about Horse Boy and there was a lot in it

that I felt like was just common sense.

It just really resonated with
me that you find something

that somebody is interested in.

And you tie that together with
being outdoors and with, with

mainly love in them, which was Ms.

Cowart's, I guess kind of her, her
theme in her life was that love,

like if you love somebody, you
will do what is the best for them.

Even that may sometimes be a hard thing
to do, but if you love somebody, you

will do what's best and, and you'll
help them in whatever ways you could.

And just that sense of giving
somebody that felt like they didn't

belong a place where they belonged.

And because I went to so many
different schools and we moved so

much when I was growing up, you
know, I always had that sense of

going back to my grandmother's house.

That was that one place where I
felt like, This is where I belong.

This is, you know, like,
like this is, this is it.

No matter where I was, I loved the
little house on the furry books.

But when I was growing up, because
those were the things, no matter

where Laura moved, she always
had, you know, her family with

her no matter what was going on.

And I really wanted to provide
that for kids who felt like they

didn't fit in because for so much
of my life I had felt like I didn't

really have a place where I fit in.

Where it was easy, it was always hard for
me to make friends cuz we moved so much.

It was, our, our family was, I would
say very poor and a lot of the time.

And, you know, not having the
things that everybody else had or

not being able to afford to go.

Sometimes even on school field
trips, like there might be times I

couldn't even afford to go on that.

And you know, you're the one
kid who doesn't get to go.

Do those other things.

Everybody else is, and they're
like, why didn't you go?

It's like, oh, I didn't wanna go.

Like, well, I wouldn't,
I'd never wanna go do that.

But, deep inside you're going, oh my gosh,
I wish I could afford to do those things.

But, it, it's like, I mean, I know it
sounds kind of hokey or like a, like

silly or whatever, but I just felt this
desire to do it, even though it made

no logical sense whatsoever at all.

It was just something that
I could not let go of.

I just did not have any peace within my
soul unless I was planning to do this.

And I'm so grateful to my wonderful
husband, who had the resources to

help me make that dream come true.

Because in doing that, I feel like it
healed a lot of the things inside of

me to be able to, to make that happen.

Rupert Isaacson: Well, let's,
let's talk about how that

side of the work has evolved.

You, you've become, one of the places that
people look to in the American Southeast

when it comes to autism for sure.

How you also have this other really
interesting, side to the work at Red Barn.

And, you know, through your partnerships
with JC Dugard and now, Rebecca at

the, poly Equine Polyvagal Institute.

I wonder if you could
talk to us about that.

Not every, not every, listener here
is gonna know who JC Dugard is.

So could you start with her
story and then how you got into

doing the work you do with her?


Joy ONeil: So, gosh, I was
trying to remember the year.

It might have been like 2013 or 14.

We had a very freak snowstorm in Alabama,
we don't get a whole lot of snow, so

there was snow and ice and everybody
at the barn, like the roads went from

perfectly fine to being undrivable
within just a matter of two hours.

Kids were unable to get outta school.

School teachers had to spend the night
with children in their classrooms.

It was like a once a century
freak thing that happened where

the roads were impassable.

Everybody just had to kind of
hunker down where they were.

So there were about 12 of us at
the barn that day, and we had to

end up all spending the night here
and for a couple of days becau like

that's how long that it lasted.

Although I, I joke sometimes that, I
think it was more like a month, but

it was really just an, a few nights.

But, and so like, all these people
are here and what are we gonna do?

So I began to just research things,
try to find some videos or movies that

we could watch, to make the best use
of that time because everybody was

getting really anxious and worried.

And I felt like if I could do something
that would keep everybody busy, they would

be able to, to cope a little bit better.

So I came across a story of JC
Dugard because, she was being

interviewed by Oprah Winfrey.

And so I watched, watched that
video and one day I hope you'll

interview her and she can tell
you much more about her own story.

But just the highlights would be that she
was, or I guess maybe the low lights, she

was kidnapped when she was 11 years old
and held for 18 years in a guy's backyard.

And endured it just unthinkable
traumatic experiences during that time.

And when she was reunited
with her family, she met Dr.

Rebecca Bailey and they did, econ
assisted therapy together as a way

to help JC and her family reunite.

And that really resonated with me
because I felt like working with

horses had helped my own blended
family to come together and unite.

And so I really kind of understood that.

And so in the interview, JC mentioned
that she was gonna start a foundation

to provide a curriculum to help
people that wanted to do that.

And so during the middle of the
night of this snow freak snowstorm, I

just have hours and hours to Google.

And so I just Google track down the
foundation, it has a contact page.

I sent in information and
said, I'd like to learn more.

And a little bit later I received
a message from them saying, we're

looking for an agency to work with.

You're down in the middle of nowhere.

Nobody would ever think of us being
there, so we'll be glad to come.

And that's, that's how we met.

And it was just, I think, an
instant connection, of just

being really like-minded.

And, and the more that I have worked with
them and, gotten to know them, I really

realized that a lot of the things that
were just good old common sense, you

know, being, being sent outside to play,
not having a lot of electronics, always

being surrounded by people who love you
and care for you, and, just, just all

of those things that they kind of helped
me understand why those things worked.

Like bilateral repetitive motion, which
is also a big tenant in natural lifeman.

You know, like all of those things
kind of work together and it's like,

Rupert Isaacson: talk us through that.

That's why Bilateral, just
repeat that again, bilateral.

Joy ONeil: Oh.

It's based on the work of Dr.

Bruce Perry and it's
bilateral repetitive motion.


Talk to us about that.

Which is, I'm certainly not an expert.

I don't wanna, I, I encourage people to
go to go look up, look up those, the works

of Bruce Perry and Natural Life Manship
and the Polyvagal Equine Institute, but

they are, it's when it's like, why you
feel better when you go take a walk or

when you ride a horse, it's the left
and the right side of your brain moving.

Like, think of it like mdr, you know, as
the, the tapping left and right sides.

Rupert Isaacson: Just not everyone's
gonna know these acronyms.

Joy, what is emdr?

Joy ONeil: It's just, it is just movement
on the left and the right side that helps.

I, this is how I think of it.

This may be totally wrong, but it just
helps your brain to organize what you're

thinking and to come up with a way to work
through it, through difficult situations.

It's that bilateral motion of the horse.

And I think, you know, you put,
you, you put all of the, all that

language that you have behind it.

I'm sure everybody's familiar with all
the things that you, that you advocate.

The, the rocking of the hips,
the moving back and forth, the

up and down, the concentrating,
the, the repetitiveness of it.

it's almost like, like even
a chant or a meditation.

It, even though

like horses provide it, you can find it
in walking, biking, swimming, anything

that you can just do that helps your,
helps your brain develop neuroplasticity,

it helps your brain relax.

It can maybe even distract your brain
a little bit so that you're focused on

something else and you're not always
telling yourself that same story over and

over and over, and like digging yourself
deeper and deeper and deeper into a hole.

And so, I just, just, the more that
I've learned, the more that I realized.

Even just breathing, I was in the
band, all throughout high school.

So thinking about how you were taught
to breathe in deeply and to exhale,

I was like, oh, that may have helped
if I came into band really upset or,

anxious or had lots of things going on.

Even just doing that to be
able to play my instrument.

Was helping me to overcome
some difficult experiences.

Rupert Isaacson: So, so tell us about how
does this work now happen at Red Barn?

So specifically the work that
you're doing, with JC Dugard and

the Equine Polyvagal Institute.

Describe to us how a session might
go and who the client might be.

Joy ONeil: our average student is
someone who has a physical or a

cognitive or an emotional disability.

a Google or Ransom reports.

And, the average age is about 10 years
old, but if, chronologically, but a

lot of those students have a cognitive
impairment, so they may be operating

on more of a six or seven year old.

Or, you know, like whatever their
chronological age is, they're

usually several years, below that.

And, we take those, we take what
we've learned about the importance of

being outside, about the importance
of hard work and heavy lifting.

We have two occupational therapists
who work here that really influence the

programs and, and the things that we do.

And we hold them to a high standard.

We don't expect less from them just
because they have a disability we

expect the most that they can do.

And I would say that that's one of the
things that our parents tell us that they

love the most, is that we do not have
lowered expectations for their child.

We have high expectations, and we
give them the, the support that

they need to be able to meet that.

Because as, as high as the expectations
can be, that gives them a greater

chance of being able to live
independently or as independently as

possible and to not be taken advantage
of and to have a fulfilling life.

And so, we just incorporate all of
that into everything we do, whether

that's riding a horse, participating in
our job skills program, doing some of

our equine assisted learning classes.

We have one called, pencils and
Ponies where they do things around the

property that help them with their fine
motor skills so that they can hold a

pencil and improve their handwriting.

We do one, that encourages
children to read through the

Horse-powered reading program.

We do a class called Brain
Builders, which takes a book once

a that meets three days a week.

We take a book for the entire week.

The children read the book.

It's like usually a storybook,
a children's storybook.

They'll read the storybook and
then do different activities around

the property that, Reinforce some
of the concepts in the b book.

Some of the words like sight words,
some of the activities, if it's a

hungry caterpillar, we might talk
about what, what are good foods

to eat and what are foods that
give you a tummy ache at the end?

And, you know, how do you, how
do you plan all those things out?

We might talk about, just
the different animals.

They might learn their colors,
their letters, their numbers.

It just, whatever it takes,
it's just a really integrated

Rupert Isaacson: So you're combining,
you're combining education with,

with academics, with your, yeah.

With your sessions.

With the horses.

Joy ONeil: Yeah.

There's, well, the horseback riding
lessons are horseback riding lessons,

and then there are unmounted lessons
that can incorporate horses, but they can

also just incorporate the environment.

They can go down to the creek and, Look
at, listen to the water and listen to the

birds and, dig up worms and talk about
the kind of worms that are in the dirt.

Like, it's just, I mean, it sounds
silly, but it's really just play.

Like, I, like, I mean, the, the difference
is we just now know how good play is.


But it's not like we're doing, top
level play or, you know, a plus play.

It's just play.

It's just letting them be kids,
you know, making, taking pieces of,

clover and making little clover chains
and putting it around their head.

And, it's fi you know, that's
improving fine motor skills.

They're learning to take turns.

They're learning their
colors and their numbers.

They're learning how to get
along and resolve conflict.

It, they're, I,

Rupert Isaacson: my case walking.

You're, you're doing
education and academics.

Tell us about the horse-powered learning.

What's the horse-powered learning program?

It sounds

Joy ONeil: interesting.

So it is meant to
encourage children to read.

So it can be anything from,
children read books to the horses.


See, so that they can
practice their fluency.

So they'll bring their favorite
book and read it to the horse.

What a great idea if, yeah.

You know, we can read books about horses.

We can read to the children,
they can read to the horses,

they can read to each other.

They can just go sit in
a peaceful spot and read.

They can.

If we're talking about how
do you make different words?

They can lead a horse from, like
one letter to another letter to

make a compound word or one word to
another word to make a compound word.

They can lead.

Like we might have the word, we might have
the letters up on an index card somewhere.

And then maybe there's the letter
C and the letter P and you know,

other letters on index cards
on the other side of the arena.

And they can walk over, get the
first letter, take it to the up

on the other side, and they can,
say, well, does this make a word

or does it make a nonsense word?

And if it's a nonsense word, like what
do you think that word might mean?

You know, like they're just
all kinds of different ways.

It's, ex experiential learning.

But the main point is
just to encourage them to

Rupert Isaacson: read, yeah.

To make friends with
the concept of reading.

Make friends with a concept rather
than, oh yeah, this is a stressful

thing that you have to do, but
this is a playful thing you can do.


I, I love it.


Joy ONeil: and, and if you can
read, you can learn anything.

Yeah, that's true.

Rupert Isaacson: You know, do you,
do you have, as well as the, the.

Kids with autism, and related
conditions, do you have also a

particular population with the types
of trauma that JC went through?

Or is it more that you are using, J C's,
insights to serve, an autistic population?

Or is it both?

Joy ONeil: It's both.

You know, there are, we have
some children who do not have a

physical or a cognitive disability.

But they have been through adoption
and foster care or foster care and

adoption and they have endured some
horrendous experiences in their young

life, lived in four or five different
foster care homes, you know, are finally

in a loving home permanent adoption.

But there's always kind of
that, is this really gonna last?

Can I really let my guard down?

Can I be myself?

Is, is this gonna happen?

We have a great.

Partnership with an, an organization
called apac, which is the Alabama

Pre and Post Adoption Coalition.

And they have counselors who come out to,
to the barn and work with the parents.

And then we are able to do different
activities with the children,

and then sometimes the parents
and the children work together.

a lot of children who have disabilities
can be easy targets for someone to

molest, because maybe they can't
tell or they don't know that it's

wrong or, or they can't run away.

Like they, yeah, they don't know.


They can't run away.

Like there's, there's a lot,
unfortunately, a lot of, children

who have all of those experiences.

So I think we just kind of
take, a lot of what we learn.

From several different places and
are able to sort of synthesize that

like it's a recipe or ingredients
to, to cook something up that's

specifically what that child needs.

Rupert Isaacson: One of the
other, names you just brought

up in the course of conversation,
you talked about natural lifeman.

Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Joy ONeil: Sure.

That was started by Tim and Betina Joe and
, I think one, the very first time that we

ever came out to Austin, we went out for
a beer with Tim and Betina and, so it

is there, it's just natural lifeman the.

I think they're kind of like the
quote, I, it's been a while since

I've been in their website, but it
was, you know, a good theory is a good

theory regardless of how it's applied.

So whether that's with how you treat
your horse or how you treat a a

person, just being a good, decent
human being is, is really important.

And it, there's a lot about
pressure and release in that.

And so I think like we just kind of
take all of those things and just

internalize 'em and then synthesize
'em and come up with whatever is

the best way to help that child.

And it's often very slow paced.


And very

Rupert Isaacson: complicated.

When you talk about the pressure
and release, are you talking about

that, from human to human as well
as obviously from human to horse?

And if so, how, how might that play out?

The way in which that could
be addressed or looked at?

Joy ONeil: So just like a recent
example of that has been with an adopted

family where, you know, a lot of times
parents don't always get good advice

from people, or sometimes maybe the
way that you're raised, you think,

oh, that's how I have to discipline a
child or to be able to do something.

And so, we had an adoptive family out
and the instructor was working with

them, and the, the parent never gave
the child a chance to do what was asked.

And the child that they had, had
a pretty slow processing time.

And so the, the parent didn't, like,
just thought I told you to do it.

Why didn't you do it?

Like, they just kept,
kept, kept, kept, kept.

And then the child would melt down.

Rather than giving them a little bit
of a moment to process, catch their

breath, figure out what they were gonna
do, and then go, and then take action.

Like there was not, they
weren't waiting long enough.

And so the parent was
interpreting that as defiance.

And so what the instructor did
is have the parent then work

with the horse and watch them.

If you just keep asking the horse, like
you just keep, like whatever you're

doing, whether you're kicking your
legs or you're, you're just nudging

it along, or you're trying to lead it
and get it to walk, if you just keep

on, even the horses trying to do it,
they're gonna just, it's just gonna be

too much and they're gonna melt down.

And so the instructor was able, and then
what, like to take that further, what Dr.

Bailey would, would say with the
Polyvagal Equine Institute would

be, you know, thinking about how
that goes from your amygdala.

Like where you're just sort of in this
panic all the way up to the executive

function of, can you think this through?

Like, you know, from your brainstem all
the way up to this prefrontal cortex.

Like you've got to give people time,
especially when they have a cognitive

disability, to be able to figure that out.

And so once the parent realized what
that felt like and saw it in the horse,

they were then able to realize, oh,
I've got to just step back and wait a

second and see do I see forward movement.

And I, the other day I listened,
to your, podcast with Joelle.

And when she talked about how she was
telling the kid, just your left hand,

just your left hand, you know, and.

And little girl goes, I'm trying,
like, I'm doing the best I can.

Like, oh, I just burst into tears.



Just like so many times people
are doing the best that they can.



And can you just wait it out and
let them, you know, support them

through it and give them what they
need and, like in considering all

the other things that are going on.



That fascinating.

I hope I answered your question.

Yeah, you

Rupert Isaacson: did
really good answers it.


So, I think, you know, obviously we've
all made that mistake with pressurizing

our children, our horses, and so on,
largely because we were raised that way.

And you, it's, it is very difficult for
somebody to, any of us, to, rethink and

readjust and slow down unless we're put
in a position where we're forced to,

It's fascinating to me listening that
yes, that makes perfect sense to then

pair the parent up in a, in a safe way
where they're not gonna end up feeling

shame, but still to pair them up with
feedback where that isn't going to work.

And then to see how a different
approach it will work, could

really breed good results.

And, I think that's one of
the great strengths of Red

Barn is one often sees places.

So we do this one thing, we do, we do
this thing and this is how we do it.

You are having gone out to all
these, methodologies and then drawing

from all of them means that, you
know, perhaps if you hadn't say,

gone to the natural life manship or
something, you wouldn't have the.

Particular resources or methodology to
seamlessly incorporate something like

that into a session where you maybe
are actually working on something else

with a kid, you know, to, to be able
to say, oh, okay, so in, in this moment

we need a bit of natural license in
this, we need to go more over here.

Are we doing the reading,
the horsepower reading?

But actually right now we need to use
this more neuroscience approach in

this one here, we need to go more play.

And I think it's a real strength to
be able to learn and incorporate so

many meth methodologies and see how
they actually connect rather than

falling into the trap of saying, no,
no, these are all separate worlds.

And I'm either a, if it's in the sport
horse world, I'm either hunter jumper,

I'm a rider, or you know, I'm either
doing, you know, assisted adaptive

riding or I'm, you know, working for the.

Paralympics or I'm doing this one kind
of, you know, trauma therapy or something

like, I think it's, it can be hard.

We horse people are often a little
bit, in the box thinkers rather

than out the box think thinkers.

, Joy ONeil: but that was one of the
things that I loved about meeting

you is I felt like movement method
incorporates like all of that.

It's like the umbrella for all of
it in some ways because you have the

brain and then the neuro piece, and
you have the horse and the horse's

movement and how important that is.

You know, a lot of times in
our programs we focus on it for

strengthening a child who can't.

Her body because she can't walk because
she's in a wheelchair or to, to help

her move and regain as much, motion as
she can because she's using, she's in

a walker or she has an assisted device
or because they can't talk, you know,

like we're, we are using the horse a
lot of times to strengthen their bodies.

But, but you talk about that and that's
why it's so important that the horses be

fit, because I would not give someone a
wheelchair that was uneven or, or rickety.


Like, you know, we want the
horses to have that good movement.

So movement method and the things
that you, in all of the things that

you promote are about fit horses.

And we want to treat the horses the same
way that we would want to treat a person.

We want them to be happy and healthy
and well taken care of as well.

And, it like movement to me, movement
method and all of your programs.

Encompass all of that in together.

Well, you are, you are kind.

So if I had to pick one, that
would be, that would be the one

I encourage people to start with
because it, it includes everything.

Rupert Isaacson: Well,
that is high praise indeed.

Coming from someone who does work
that's as effective as yours.

There's another area of your work
which I'd like to ask you about, which

is your work with Rebecca, and the
Polyvagal, equine Polyvagal Institute.

Can you talk us through, it's still
to, to a large degree in unknown world,

I think for quite a lot of people.

So can you give us the skinny,
like give us a little seminar 1

0 1 on what is polyvagal theory?

It's what you hear this a lot
these days, but it's can be hard

to get people to actually explain
what it is and, then how your.

You've, you've started working with the
Equine Polyvagal Institute and again,

how, how it affects and informs the work
that you've got going on at Red Bar.

-----check if this makes sense-------

What is polyvagal theory?

Why the vagal nerve?

What's the importance of the vagal?

How, how, well rather, how does the vagal
nerve help us in this safe feeling that

we can then be in the learning brain?

Joy ONeil: It goes from your brain
to your gut, and it conducts the

oxytocin that gets you in the
spot where you're able to learn.

Go ahead.

And so, and you cannot
learn until you feel safe.

And so it is all about creating an
environment where you feel safe and

where you feel relaxed and you are
just able to pull everything together

in your brain, in your body, feel the
oxy to all the hormones and everything

that you talk about, you're able to
get that and make your life better,

Rupert Isaacson: right?

So yeah.

Oxytocin, we know is a feelgood hormone.

We know it's a communication hormone.

it's why polyvagal and
not just simply vagal.

Why not just vagal nerve theory?

What's the poly in there?

Joy ONeil: Okay, so I know just
enough to be dangerous in this.

And you have to keep in mind that my
primary, role in the organization

is on the administrative side.

Like I love the organizational theory.

I do not necessarily anymore do any
of the direct programming because we

have great employees who have been
through much more training than I have.

But from what I understand, and I know
just enough to be dangerous, is that

poly means several or more than one.

So there's the sympathetic
nervous system and then that

parasympathetic nervous system.

And so that you're constantly, the,
the metaphor that they use in the

Polyvagal equine Institute is that of
a carousel in that we are all sort of

riding up and down, up and down in that.

And so you're going between your
sympathetic and your parasympathetic

nervous system in that you're
learning, Like, suppose that you

think that, suppose that a snake
jumps out at you and that makes you

scared, you immediately get to that.

But then you go like, oh
wait, it's just a snake.

Like it's fine.

It wasn't really a snake, it was
just a rubber hose left on the road.

So the, the faster that you can kind
of travel up and down between those

two states or those two sy, those
two, systems, the better that you are.

And that when you can reframe how
you feel in those situations, if it's

something where you have an intentional
decision to do, like if, say that

you're about to go, I don't know, like
on a podcast or something, and you're

really nervous, instead of thinking,
I'm so nervous, I'm so nervous.

You can reframe that and think,
I'm so excited I get to do this.

I get to share something.

I, you know, like when you can reframe
those experiences and look back and see,

just see them in a more positive light.

That, that is also good for you.

Rupert Isaacson: Oh, it might to even
look back at past events in that way.

Joy ONeil: Yeah.

Like to look back and say, well,
like interesting man, that was a

really rough time, but I can see
that I've learned this and so I'll be

better in the future because of it.

It's not, it's not always looking back
and living in those difficult moments,

but if you can find even one, like silver
lining or one good thing out of that, you

can clinging onto that and change the way
that your brain is thinking about those

experiences and that that's not meaning
that what happened to you was okay.

It's not saying that what somebody else
did to you wasn't wrong to me, it's just

saying I now have a tool that in spite
of those things, I'm gonna come out.



Rupert Isaacson: And to, to
thrive rather than just survive.


Joy ONeil: Yeah.

And I think that is like
really, really important.

And you know, you mentioned earlier that,
in 2016 I was diagnosed with advanced

heart failure, and that was a really
difficult thing for me to go through.

I was, for several years before the
diagnosis, I had been, telling my

doctor that I didn't feel well, that
like all these things were going on

and I had just been totally ignored.

And then by the time I found out
it was an advanced stage and I was

so mad, like angry, angry, angry,
mad, like that all that this had

happened and I just felt cheated.

And, you know, the more I learned about
what the, future could look like for

somebody with my diagnosis, it was
really, it was really a tough time.

But, Now I look back at that, you know,
2016 to now, and I think, man, what

that did to change my outlook on life
and the things that I thought were

maybe important back then, you know,
now I realize, oh, I'm gonna enjoy

every single moment, every single day.

I had, just a chance to like,
almost like a second chance at

life to go back and say, okay,
well what's really important to me?

What do I really wanna do?

So even just in something like
that, being able to, to look back

and, and count the blessings in it.

No, it really matters.

Rupert Isaacson: You are, I'm,
the listeners can't see you,

but I can cause we're on Zoom.

You are a vibrant and
healthy looking person.

You are not somebody who one would
look at and say, oh yes, they look

like they had advanced heart failure.

So how come, how come you look so vital?

How, what, what's the process
and how bad did it get?

Like were you actually, did you
collapse and they carted you off

in, in, in the, ambulance or,
where was the point of crisis and

how have you come back from that?

Joy ONeil: Gosh.

You know what it, I think
it's interesting that you were

actually with me during that time.

You were here in Birmingham and, you had,
you came down for a clinic and we were

at the clinic and I just remember being
absolutely exhausted and I had gained

so much weight and I was just so tired.

And, I really felt like
maybe I was burned out.

Like I just, it was just so hard.

Every day was an effort to
get up and to go do something.

And I had been going to the doctor and
each time he would tell me, you just

start, aren't as young as you used to be.

You're working with these younger girls,
you need to, you know, walk more, eat,

drink more Gatorade, you're dehydrated.

Just like all of these things.

I was so upset.

Oh, that's, that's

Rupert Isaacson: gonna make you healthy.

Drinking Gatorade.

Joy ONeil: Yeah, right.

Like, you're just dehydrated working
outside, you know, just, it was

very demeaning, very like, oh,
we're not as young as we used to be.

Like very dismissive.

And, I was just cranky and, it
was just a really rough time.

And I had been driving to the barn
and a truck pulled out in front

of me and it was like one of those
near accident kind of things.


And I thought, oh my
gosh, I could have died.

And for a split moment, I had the
thought, well, if at least if I

had, I wouldn't be so tired anymore.

Like I was that tired,
I was just exhausted.

I just didn't feel like myself.

I felt like it was just exhausting.

And so the next week we had a
meeting at the barn and I, you

know, I talked about how maybe I
felt like I should, should leave.

And part of our advisory council, one
of the members said, like, if that's

what you wanna do, that's fine, but
because you work without pay thinking

of if you had died, like how would we
come up with the money to have paid

you to pay somebody to replace you?

And so that's an perspective.

His suggestion was, get
a life insurance exam.

So that if something like that would've
happened, you know, while we don't have

time to, to plan ahead for how we would
pay for this, get a life insurance

exam, and get a life insurance policy
that would be payable to the barn.

What a very be a couple hundred dollars.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

He's like, it'd just be a couple of
hundred dollars, you know, but like, wow.

Thinking about how you could have
died, like, like that was, which tells

you, I guess how cranky I had been, if
that's what people were thinking of.

It's like, oh wait, we get
the money to replace you.

So we, so I went and got a life
insurance exam, and it was during

that exam that they did an E K G.


And now I had been going to the
doctor for years complaining of

gaining weight, hot, sweaty, unable
to breathe, just all kinds of things.

Gain unex, unexplainably, gaining weight.

And they did an ekg and then

I got a letter and the letter said that
they were gonna have to increase the rate

because my EKG had come back abnormal and
I had not disclosed my heart condition.

And I was like, what
are you talking about?


Heart condition?

A heart condition.


I've been going to the doctor for two
years, there's nothing wrong with me.

Everything is fine.

So I called the insurance company and
they said, if you'll go get a, go, go

to a cardiologist and get them to say
that maybe the technician the insurance

company had used had made a mistake,
like one of the little electrodes wasn't

on right, or something like that, that
they would honor the original rate.

So you were in town and I had to
leave the clinic early, and you're

like, oh, I'm sure it's fine.

I'm sure it's fine.

Everything will be fine.

And so I go to this and I
find out that it's not fine.

I have something called the complete
left bundle branch block, which meant

that the right side of my heart's
electrical system did not work.

I mean, the left side of my heart's
electrical system didn't work.

So the right side was having to do all
of that, and so it was just wearing down.

And I was just stunned.

And you, and you had brought a couple
of friends with you to do this clinic.

We just all sat there and y'all were
so supportive and, and you weren't like

giving me falses support, like, oh,
everything is fine, everything is fine.

Like, you just sat with me in that
disbelief and helped me come up with

how am I gonna go home and tell this
to my husband and what am I gonna

tell my children and what are the
next steps and what's gonna happen?

And so, just all of these, all
of these emotions that were

going on and, and I was so angry.

Like I just was so mad.

So one thing kind of led to another
and I got involved in with a great

doctor at uab and she really has
helped me to know how to take care of

myself and, and so I'm doing great.


Rupert Isaacson: has, has that
electrical blockage exercise.


Is your heart now working
equally on both sides?

Joy ONeil: No, I will have
that complete left bundle ranch

block for the rest of my life.

Like it will, it will always be there.

And it may have actually back in the
early times, like before, as I mentioned

earlier, starting the barn when I just
didn't feel right and they kept thinking

that maybe it was Lou Gehrigs, they, it
was some sort of autoimmune, something

going on like that could have been

Rupert Isaacson: the early symptoms.

Joy ONeil: So something, and
it attacked my heart there.

Also, because of this, I kind
of reconnected with a half

sister and discovered that she
has something very similar.

So it could be a genetic component to it.

I have a full biological system sister
who does not have exactly what I

have, but she also has a heart defect.

That kind of came out of some of this.

So it was really a strange, a strange
experience, and it affected not

just me, but then also my children.


Because knowing that this is
something that I have that could

be genetic affects them as well.

Right, right, right.

So the main thing if, if your visitor
viewers or listeners don't get anything

else out of it, is that women's heart
disease is so often misdiagnosed.

People think that we are just like
these frail little wilting flowers.

Like, oh, you're just worried, or
it's anxiety, or, it's just menopause.

It's just, you know, it's
very often dismissed.

And if my doctor had just done a simple
blood test, the enzymes would've shown

up to show that I was in heart failure.


So, So my ejection fraction was 25
to 30 when I was first diagnosed.

Normal is like 55 to 70.

I'm right at that 50 to 55 mark now
with medication and eating a low sodium

diet and doing the, the proper kind of
exercise for, for what my heart needs.

But women should always insist that
their doctors check their hearts

because it is, or at least in the
United States, I guess I can't speak.

Rupert Isaacson: It's a blood test.

All they have to do is ask for
a particular type of blood test.

What is that blood test?

Does it have a name

Joy ONeil: b P?

In my situation, in my situation,
it would've been a blood test.

Could have shown it an E.

An e kg could have shown it.

And now remember, I went to
get a life insurance exam.

And a technician gave me this EKG
in the middle of a life insurance

company's conference room.

So it's not even something that has
to be ordered specialty like that.

Only a doctor

Rupert Isaacson: specialty
or anything like,

Joy ONeil: no.


It's just a simple E k G or a simple
blood test would've shown this.

So, and what I have discovered is that
unfortunately my story is not unique.

That there are women all, all the time,
every single day across the world whose

doctors are dismissing things, that
if a man went to an emergency room or

went to the doctor and said, my heart
is racing, I'm out of breath every

time I bend over, like I get dizzy.

I wake up at night with my heart
pounding, I've gained weight.

You know, sometimes I have a
pain in my chest, you know,

you would be immediately taken.

To have your heart looked at.

But in women, and there have been
research studies that have shown

this, women pr women and men both
go into a hospital er with exactly

the same script of what's going on.

And the women are usually told that
they're just being, overly emotional

or anxiety or having a panic attack.

And the men are taken back immediately
to be tested for a heart attack.

Rupert Isaacson: And what
proportion of those women die?

Do we know what proportion
of those women die?

Joy ONeil: It, heart disease is
the number one killer of women.


And, you know, if you could ask me
before my own diagnosis, I probably

would've guessed that it was cancer,
but, that it's heart disease.

Rupert Isaacson: So you are
now, an advocate for women with

heart disease and, and just.

Women to be represented in this.

You're very, very, very,
very busy running red barn.

You've got a massive clientele.

I, when, when I've, I've come down to
be like, how do you guys manage it?

How do you see all these people?

I said, how do you do it?

But you do.

Where do you get time to
go and advocate as well?

It's not easy.

And I also know you're a, a
grandmother, although you, I dunno

how you can be a grandmother at 25,
but you seem to have achieved it.

Joy ONeil: Oh, aren't you sweet?

But the, I think you and I are the same

Rupert Isaacson: age Indeed.

And I'm looking, I'm looking at us on the
zoom screens and I, I, I see a difference.

Joy ONeil: whatever.

I have grandchildren.

The age of your children.


Rupert Isaacson: Ok.

Rub it in.


But yeah.

So how do you find the time?

You're, you're, you are, you're
rushed off your feet, you're busy.

And I presume, do, do you
still feel sometimes, even,

even now, with your self-care.

Regime and so on.

Do you still sometimes feel close
to burnout or has that gone away?

There's really two separate questions.

One is, how do you find the
time for this advocacy work?

And B, what do you do about burnout?

Joy ONeil: I guess I find the time because
I tend to generally be pretty organized.

So, and I think you, you just
have to prioritize things

and try to, to make the time.

I would say one of the things that I
starting to have our grandchildren, you

know, I really began to think about how
lucky I was and how grateful I was to, to

still be alive, to be able to see them,
and so to be able to spend time with them.

Is my first priority.

And I think that is also good for the
organization because without them, I

think I could have been in danger of
becoming a founder who stayed around

and in control for a little bit too
long, you know, could have stayed in.

And so one of the good things about
intentionally stepping back is that

other people in the organization
have stepped up to lead it more.

I don't do anything.

I, and I haven't done anything
in direct programs in probably

at least six or seven years.

Like it's, I

Rupert Isaacson: just
have all that unstressful

fundraising to do, for example.

Joy ONeil: Yeah.


I do the fundraising and the, the
human resources and the administrative

things, but we have a great team and
that's really very important to me.

So I don't know, and I think it
just kind of comes naturally.

It's very integrated into
everything that I do.

What do you know, whether it's
talking about the barn or talking

about heart disease, it just

Rupert Isaacson: right naturally comes up.

You're, you're now, you've gone from
being a, a technician to being a, an

advocate really for the programs and
what you do while still, you know,

providing all these programming.

Do you still sometimes feel close to
burnout and do you have tips for people?

I know an awful lot of listeners,
are constantly dealing with this.

They're either been running programs for
years, you know, and are exhausted by it.

Or they're, you know, trying to get
programs up and feeling that pressure.


And, you know, juggling
their lives with it.

What's your tip?

How do you manage burnout?

Joy ONeil: I would say anybody who says
that they aren't on the verge at times,

Of burnout is probably just unaware
that they're on the verge of that.

And I think for me, I
received my diagnosis in 2016.

Most people with my diagnosis,
if you search it, have like

a five year life expectancy.

So I spent those first, you know,
couple of years, like 16, 17, 18, really

thinking about my life, who I was, what
I wanted to be, my legacy, my children,

just all of those kind of things.

I felt like I had just kind of
gotten back in a groove in 2019

with everything kind of going.

And then of course 2020 hit
the pandemic and that was like

being knocked back down again.

Feel like we've just, you know,
are kind of getting, getting

back on our feet after that.

I mean, not just us personally,
but us as the world at least, or

at least the world in Alabama.

But what I find is when I, when I get
close to burnout is, and this was one

of the things that I kept trying to tell
my doctor, is I've always been able to,

when I get close to burnout, I have sort
of like a little system that I can do.

And none of that was working
back before my diagnosis.

And that was, I just take some time.

And I have, I'm so blessed to have
amazing friends and family and I just

ask them honestly, and they are always
great to give me honest feedback about

myself and my ideas and my thoughts.

And if I'm being cranky and, you
know, need to take a break, I

would go do things with my friends.

I would spend time with my family.

I would really spend time, In prayer
and just being alone, being quiet.


Just spend a whole day in bed, you know,
just, just quiet thinking, praying.

Give yourself permission

Rupert Isaacson: to do that.


Joy ONeil: Yeah.

Just like reconnecting with God.

Cuz I do feel like when I, when I
don't have that strong relationship is

when I can start to feel burned out.

But when I feel that I am living
my life the way that, he built and

designed and equipped me to be able
to do that, I have extra energy and

extra time to be able to, to go do
and take care of all those things.

And so, Like being able to do that.

I love to crochet and watch Star
Trek, so, you know, I can at the same

time, crochet or watch Star Trek.



And then, you know, just finding ways
to reconnect with, with watching, the

kid, if I'm, if I feel like it's burned
out at work, I could go watch a lesson.


Read, read an email from a parent, you
know, look at our program evaluations.

I know most organizations do
program evaluations, to be able

to show the work that they do.

I feel like we do program
evaluations because it helps to

prevent burnout among our staff.

That's good.

To be able, able to see, you know,
like the things, like, you may think,

oh, this child isn't getting anywhere.

You know, like they're, they
barely speak three words.

They only held their head up for
five seconds while they were riding.

You know, all, all these things that
seem incredibly slow to you, but

then you read it in writing from the
parent who says, When they see me turn

down Bailey Road, they start smiling.

When they recognize where
they're going, they wake up and

say, oh, today is Wednesday.

I get to go to the barn.

You know, like all of those things, when
you get to see it and read it and you

realize that your work is meaningful
and it's changing lives, even if it's

at a snails pace sometimes, the, the
breakthroughs are great, but they're not

as often as the snail pace kind of things.

Or a, a former student comes back
and tells you, you know, oh, remember

that time all those years ago that
you did so and so, and you're like,

no, I don't even remember that.

And they say, that meant so much to me.

That was just so amazing.

That was a turning point in my life.

Like mm-hmm.

Like that is really, Like, those are the
things, at least for me, that that help.

But, but I also think just
having a reasonable expectation

and being willing to say no.

Or, or even if it's not no,
it's like I can't do it yet.

Like, you know, I've got to fix myself.

That's a good answer.

I can't do it right now.

But it's not that I'm not interested,
it's not that this won't work out, it's

just I can't do everything all at once.

And that's

Rupert Isaacson: okay.

Let me put it on the list to be done.


Joy ONeil: Like, it, it can happen.

You know, some, some other things have
got to align and some other things

have got to work out, but just keep
in mind what's really important.


So how do you do it?

Rupert Isaacson: Oh, I
gotta ride my ponies.

And I do actually increasingly, yeah,
I meditate and, prayer, meditation.

You know, my, my earliest, all my earliest
memories are conversations with God.

And it's true that, you know, someone's
listening and they think, oh, Ru but

I didn't know you were Christian.

It's like, well, I'm actually not really.

but it doesn't mean that
I don't believe in God.

and it doesn't mean that I don't
have a sense of the divine.

but you can call it by different names.

It doesn't matter.

I don't think God minds
particularly, doesn't wake up

going, well, you call me wrong.

I somehow don't think that's
how divine thought process goes.

But, but that, that feeling of being gra a
lot of it for me is often about gratitude.

Yeah, to turn my mind.

And, and so if I meditate,
it's easier for me to do that.

And I've, I can use a ride,
a trail ride as a meditation.

I can use that as an
opportunity for gratitude.

Really just look around me, at nature.

And be so thankful that
I'm in it, you know?

So I think, I think like you say, it's,
you know, obviously one's children,

but it's, it's these simple things.

And of course we're also very lucky
cuz we get to work and live with horses

and, you know, that just going down to
the barn, out to the field, and even

just looking at them, you know, and
just thinking, gosh, you know, how, how

lucky am I to, to be able to do this?

But yeah, I, I think as you
say, reasonable expectations.

I, I think I've learned to
allow myself to burn out.

I've learned, I've learned to not
be freaked out and to know that

that is a cycle that everybody goes
through, like animals go through

winter sleep and that actually it's
cyclical in the course of a day.

You know, one, one tends to dip.

In the later afternoon, that might
be a good time to meditate, a good

time to take a nap if you can.

And, he's, I never nap.

I never do.

But then well, well why not?

Because then maybe I'll, I'll work better
when I come back and, and watching my dad.

My dad is 90 and, still going pretty
strong, but I see when he lets himself

not go strong, and I've been watching
him that way, for years and thinking,

you know, there's a lot to learn from,
from just the way you organize your day.

To let yourself go up and come
down and go up and come down

and not always push through.

You are a push through most of us,
I'm sure most listeners here are.

And it, so the burnout factor,
I think is, it's important just

for us to think about because.

Just given the demands
of this kind of work.

It's inevitable, I think.


Joy ONeil: then never ending.

Like, it, it never ends.


It's 365 days a year, seven days a week.

And if you don't carve out time
and pace yourself, you're, you're

not really doing right by anybody.

And even when I watch, of
course I'm not a horse person.

I, I wouldn't pretend to be, but
even watching your videos where

you're training with a horse, you
say, okay, I got to where I wanted.

That's enough.

We're gonna end right now and we'll come
back later and pick back up where this is.

So like, we have to treat ourselves in the
same way that we would treat our horses.

That's a very good point.

Like, like you wouldn't, you
wouldn't just keep pushing and

pushing and pushing a horse.

Because you know that if you give them
time, that time to rest, or at least

that's what you say in your videos, right?

Like if you give them
that time to rest Yeah.

That the next time you go
back, they're gonna get there

and they're gonna be better.


Rupert Isaacson: So yeah, less is more.


Joy ONeil: Yeah.



Like so treat yourself like
you would your own horse.

How's that?

For the best advice?

Rupert Isaacson: That's brilliant advice.

Well, listen how you would A good horse.


Oh, watch

Joy ONeil: if, if you're good at horses,
like if you're good at horses, treat

them how you would treat your horse.

If you're a jerk that's not
good with horses, don't treat

them how you would treat that,

Rupert Isaacson: but very good point.


I was once told by a stump man who got me
into writing in movies when I was in my

early twenties at college, and he said to,
he was an Irish guy called Bronco Mcla.

He said, You can't love your horse.

You must hate your horse.

You must hate yours.

I'm like thinking, God, Bronco,
I never want to hate my horse.

It's like, it's funny hearing you
say that and it will make a great

story, but that's not how I wanna go.

No, no.

and it's hilarious you saying
that you're not a horse person.

So for, for, for the listeners, you've
probably gathered, that, joy is modest.

The program that she runs also
with her daughter Alexis, who is

a very accomplished horsewoman and
of course all the, the employees,

it's, it's exemplary what they do.

The lunging programs, the in-hand
programs, the musing programs, the

mental wellbeing for the horse.

It's, it's, it's gold standard.

And I would recommend
people to go down there.

So with that, I think.

I'd like to let people know, or
have you let people know, how can

they get with you and learn more?

There's a lot going on down at Rev Barn.

There's, you've got, the polyvagal stuff.

You've got the lifeman ship stuff.

Obviously there's Horse Boy, but
there's, there's more than that too.

And the work that you do with, JC
Dugard and her foundation, and

there's, so there's a lot of, there's
a lot of education and information

available to people down there.

How can they get in touch with you, joy?

Joy ONeil: Our website is the best
way to, to, I guess, email me if you

just go to the red barn.org and if
you fill out pretty much any of those

forms on the, the website, there's,
at the bottom of each page, there's

a Join our database or learn more.

So it's Red

Rupert Isaacson: barn org.

Red Barn.


Joy ONeil: red barn,

Rupert Isaacson: t

Joy ONeil: h e, red Barn.

I know my southern accent comes out.

The red barn.org.

T h e r e d B A R

Rupert Isaacson: NT org.

Org Great.

And can they come down seminars,
learn stuff, be in touch

with you guys educationally?



Joy ONeil: Yeah, absolutely.

We, I would, I always love to help anybody
in any way that we can because so many

people have helped us and I just feel
like it's a great way to pay it forward.

And, you know, when we, when we first
started the barn, it was, I feel like just

something that helped our own children.

And I felt so fortunate and so
lucky to have that opportunity.

And I want to make my life goal or,
you know, and I've thought about this

a lot, especially after my diagnosis,
like, what do you want to be known for?

And I think.

I mean, there are lots of things,
but just professionally, I want to

be known as someone that helped make
it possible for children, especially

with physical, cognitive and emotional
disabilities, to have the chance to

work with horses to improve their lives.

And people are more than welcome to
come and, and see what we have learned.

But the first advice I always give
people is to go to your website and

to go through, and, and look at it
because I, I really do believe that

a, a good foundation or a knowledge in
movement method and how the horses are

treated and how people learn and their
brains like, sets the tone and for all

the other things that they can learn.

And, you know, they might have a.

A special interest and want
to learn, learn also some

other tools to have in that.

But, they're welcome to call me, but
I'm just gonna tell 'em to go back to

Rupert Isaacson: you so well, we'll
back, we'll them back and forth.

That is very kind.

For those who do wanna contact us, yes,
remember, it's if you Movement Method

Horse by Method, Athena, it's ntls.co,
not.com, the other one, co ntls.co.

And if people are interested in the
horse training and personal development

programs, that's long ride home.com.

However, do go to the red barn.org,
and do contact, joy and her team.

There's a ton to learn and there's
not many people, not many places that

bring it together so holistically.

While maintaining this level of
service, it's a lot of clients.

It's also very physically beautiful.

I think a lot of people don't realize
how beautiful Alabama is till they

get down there and those foothills
are the Appalachians that are up

there in that Birmingham area.

So it's a very special landscape.

And you mentioned that place down by the
water where, an cow would go and pray.

I've been to that place.

I know, I know exactly that
river crossing it is sublime.

So yeah.

I would recommend going there to learn.

They're very, very modest, but
they have an awful lot to teach.

So Joy, I can't wait till
the next time I'm down there.

Hopefully November.

Thank you.

I would love it.

And you know, thank you
so much for coming on.

Well thank,

Joy ONeil: we've learned a lot.

Thank you for giving the chance and
thank you for being such an important

part of everything that happens here at
the Barn and then also to me personally.

Thank you.

Rupert Isaacson: You are sweet.

Well, likewise.

And, good.

I will do a follow up.

So what Joy doesn't know is that this is
actually, she just gotta come on again.

So, everyone send in your questions
to her, your questions about polyvagal,

your questions about life, manship
your questions about the heart

stuff, your questions about how
all these things relate together.

And I will give them to joy, and
Joy will answer them and we'll pull

her back on kicking and screaming.

Put her back up here and she'll
answer your questions directly.


Joy ONeil: May I'll be better
for next time, cuz I'll

know what the questions are.

How's that happen?


Rupert Isaacson: exactly.

Maybe if we, if we're good to you.




Joy ONeil: The deer in the
headlights, like, oh my gosh.

Rupert Isaacson: Give you a paramount.


Thank you.

Thank you so much, joy.

I've, I've enjoyed it immensely as
always, and we'll see you again soon.

Joy ONeil: Y'all later.


Okay, bye.

Rupert Isaacson: thank you for joining us.

We hope you enjoyed today's podcast.

Join our website, new trails
learning.com, to check out our online

courses and live workshops in Horse Boy
Method, movement Method, and Athena.

These evidence-based programs have
helped children, veterans, and people

dealing with trauma around the world.

We also offer a horse training
program and self-care program

for riders on long ride home.com.

These include easy to do online
courses and tutorials that

bring you and your horse joy.

For an overview of all shows and
programs, go to rupert isaacson.com.

See you on the next show.

And please remember to
press, subscribe and share.

EP2: Joy O'Neal - The Red Barn - AL, USA
Broadcast by