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Rock Piles

“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pike the moment a single man contemplates it, becoming within him the image of a cathedral.” Antoine de Saint -Exupery. The Little Prince.

Our rock pile in the midst of a close to abandoned Yezidi village, a village that had been pushed deep underground creating cavernous holes from former homes, thanks to the continued bombing by Saddam Hussein and his Baath regime, has become a cathedral. Eighteen months ago it was just that, a field with piles of rocks. One year ago having shifted the rocks, and built our cathedral, we opened our wooden gates to Horses for Hope. Less than one month ago we opened the upper floor to the Hope Academy for Performing Arts. All from a rock pile, and much contemplation whilst walking through the muddy field and sitting on its rocks, trying to hear the voice of the rock pile, asking it what it was destined to become.

This week we look back at our one year journey with Horses for Hope. We have “winged it” more often than not. A lot of winging it if truth be told. And as the famous master of natural horsemanship, Pat Parelli said, we “Put our hand on the horse with our heart in our hand.” The horses taught us and then our kids taught us.

As you will recall we received our first two horses, a majestic elusive stallion called Alpha (and oh what an alpha) whom we renamed Taj (crown) and Semsemah (Sesame) who became Newroz as she arrived at that time, then unbeknown to us pregnant with Almas (Diamond).

The Arrival of Taj and Newroz

A couple of months later, having assured everyone we knew in the equine world, that we would work with these two Arabians for at least a year before contemplating expansion, we rescued two local Kurdish horses who belonged to the self proclaimed farrier in the next village, the mare became Destiny, the gelding who we were told was four to five years, Emir (Prince) turned out to be over 20 and pretty set in his ways, i.e. life was made for grazing. Our cathedral was full with five. One year later we are slowly building a second wing, as two babies will be here, maybe by the time that you read this. Our speaking rocks tell us that we need disabled facilities and a covered teaching space.

“Grown ups like figures. When you tell them you’ve made a new friend, they never ask you questions about essential matters. They never say to you, “What does his voice sound like? What game does he love best? Does he catch butterflies? Instead they ask, “How old is he? How much does he weigh? How much does his father make?” Only from figures do they think they have learned anything about him.”

Antoine de Saint - Exupery. The Little Prince.

From Newroz 2022 until Newroz 2023, Horses for Hope has become a home, a safe place, and a place of healing and acceptance for 1717 students, some of whom have benefited from equine assisted therapy, learning, psychotherapy and from simply finding their happy place, hanging out and learning to breathe fresh air outside the camp. Kiddies from 5 years old, to young men in their thirties. Some of our guests are dwarves, some thought that being restricted to their wheelchair, their lives and value had ended, until they found the horses and got out of their wheelchairs. Our family has orphans, widows and a darling Down Syndrome boy. We have never turned anyone away, that which we didn't know (pretty well everything) we learned overnight and let the horses and children lead us, and show us the pace. We learned to quieten our voices and become heart- listeners.

“Only the children know what they are looking for.”

Antoine de Saint - Exupery. The Little Prince.

“I love this place. I love the horses and the ducks. Most of all I love Oscar, he is my only friend. Oscar doesn't talk much. I am trying to teach him to talk. He is a little slow in learning. He is still my best friend.”

Rahat, age 12. Down's Syndrome.

“All the horses are beautiful. We love them and they give us love but we particularly love Newroz as she is so calm and patient. She teaches us to be calm and patient despite the hardships of our life.

The beauty of this place gives me deep comfort. I see that my brothers and sisters are relaxed here, they smile and laugh. We would love to live here.”

Hanin, Orphan.

Hanin and her sister

“The only things you learn are the things you tame. What does tamed mean? It is something that is too often neglected. It means to create ties.”

Antoine de Saint - Exupery. The Little Prince.

“Horses have always been my dream. When in captivity I dreamed about horses every day and prayed that one day I would be free and would have a horse. I love living with the horses, I love getting to know them, to know how they think and what they need. Yes, we have received much training from our American friends, and we still need more, but that training gave me the confidence to begin. I spend hours searching and learning from YouTube.

We have come a long way in a year. A year ago we knew nothing, today I know my horses and I hope that they know me. Taj came to us, strong, a true alpha who demanded respect, dignity, everything on his terms. He was magnificent and well trained but had basically never developed any human relationship. He is still Taj, having totally Taj days but he has learned to be led, he has learned to trust. He needs his humans, and often cries when others get attention he thinks he should have. Oscar, our dog rides alongside him, and he even allows my squirrel to sit on his nose.

10 months ago we awoke at four in the morning to find his son, Almas had been born. Our Little Prince. And now I am back on midwife duty, staying awake during the night to check on Newroz who is ready to give birth any day, and Destiny we think within two weeks. I am bonded with these animals, I have to be there for them, to take care of them.

This is the kind of experience we want to teach all who come here, if they give respect and love, they will find healing. This is one of the many life lessons that we can share, do not be afraid or ashamed to start from zero, with no understanding or knowledge. Commit to the journey and it will lead you, and you will learn and become skilled.”

Daoud. Director of Horses for Hope. Former Soldier in IS.

“What makes the desert beautiful” said the Little Prince, “is that somewhere it hides a well.”

Antoine de Saint - Exupery. The Little Prince.

“Hidden inside the old village is this beautiful place, a sanctuary full of love, peace and joy. It is the most amazing place ever. I adore the horses. They understand me. I understand them. It is the world where I can talk and I can hear. I want to be there forever.”

Akhlas, Survivor of ISIS. Deaf and dumb (to humans).


“I live in a room alone, I have my bed and my wheelchair for company. Being a part of Horses for Hope has changed my life. It is the most beautiful place in this world. It is so different from the camp. The atmosphere is one of tranquility and the joy of life. It is so full of hope, and it gives me hope. Miss Lisa is sure that one day we will bury my wheelchair there. I hope so.”

Hassan. Differently Abled.


“In this year I have found hope again and I have learned that despite being in a wheelchair I can do things that others would dream of but never have the opportunity. My self respect and dignity have been restored. I have discovered the joy of laughter. I have learned to believe in myself. I saw that I was full of fear and negativity, the horses, the trainers and having a nurse present all the time has shown me that I am able, to get into the minibus, to go up the mounting ramp and to get on the back of a horse. I have received great comfort this year, and I have been given my cure. My leg and arm do not work but I know that I am being healed day by day.”

Nawaf: Survivor of ISIS. Differently Abled


“It's a place so full of life. How could we not come back to life when we see this field surrounded by destroyed houses, come to life. As new life appears here, so do we too come to life.

We have horses, ducks, doves, Oscar of course, and now Daoud brought a squirrel which sits on his hat most of the day. We watch the changing seasons close up. I come even in the rain and cold because I learn from everything. This is my true home. This is the beautiful place where healing becomes possible.”

Yasser. Differently Abled

“Nothing beats kindness,” said the horse, “It sits quietly behind all things.”

Charlie Mackesy: The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse.

“One year ago I knew how to survive, how to do something by the use of physical strength. In this year I have learned how to be kind, how to work with the horses and then with the people from a place of kindness.

Kindness, respect, patience and dignity rule here. It has been a year of learning, a year of unlearning, a year of watching, listening. It has been a year of meeting new people, particularly the cowboys from the USA who have put us on the right road.

It has been a year where I learned to meet myself. The horses have taught me both who I was one year ago, and who I am now.

It's the same with our students, I see through their facial expressions that they are different people from one year ago. Slowly, slowly they are becoming whole again.

The stables is not just a home for horses. It is our home and has become home for everyone who comes here. It is like going to a different world, one which embraces you and you never want to leave.

I wish to thank everyone who helped us to build the stables and everyone who helps us to keep this miraculous work alive.”

Barzan. Equine Trainer. Former ISIS soldier.


“This year has taught me kindness. Kindness and patience. I can say much about the horses but the greatest life lesson has been for me. I have changed. I am still changing. I am learning to be patient, and not to respond in anger to anyone. In any given situation I need to put my anger aside and to take hold of kindness. Only when I am wearing kindness like a coat can I respond or act.”

Shex Vagar. Equine Trainer.

“A few months ago they were all for washing up the plates and knives before dinner, they said it saved them time afterwards. I’ve caught them planting boiled potatoes to save cooking them when they were dug up. One day the cat got into the dairy and twenty of them were at work moving all the milk out, no one thought of moving the cat.”

C.S. Lewis. The Chronicles of Narnia.

That is kind of how we began. That is how our rock pile looked one year ago. Today, one year later, that rock pile is grounded in a kingdom that will not pass away or be uprooted. A kingdom where the grass is greener, the skies are bluer. A kingdom which to the one passing by lightly, may appear the same, but to the one whose home it is knows that everything has a meaning, everything is significant, everything is richer, everything is deeper, everything is more wonderful, everything is miraculous.

One year later our rock pile lies there to remind us that from humble beginnings, a cathedral of sanctuary and healing has built itself.



With your partnership a dream has become reality. Will you help us continue to build places of sanctuary and healing?

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