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The Healing Power of Horses: Francine's Journey

Brenda caring for horses

At CASA of Santa Cruz County, we witness incredible stories of resilience and healing, but few are as touching as Francine’s* journey. This story highlights the transformative power of a CASA volunteer and the unique healing connection between a child and horses. 

Francine's story began when she was just five years old. Removed from her home due to severe neglect, she faced an uncertain future. Brenda Guzman, a dedicated CASA volunteer, was matched with Francine and became a constant source of support and stability during these tumultuous times. 

Every Wednesday, Francine would visit the CASA house, where she and Brenda would bake, play games, and spend time at the park. These moments of joy and normalcy were crucial in helping Francine cope with the instability in her life. 

After 2.5 years, Francine reunified with her mother through a gradual process of overnight and extended visits. Francine was deeply attached to her mother, and reunification was in her best interest. Brenda stayed by her side until the case was dismissed when Francine turned eight. 

However, two years later, Brenda graciously answered the call back to service. Francine’s mother had been arrested, leaving her with no one to care for her. Francine, then 10, was placed in foster care very temporarily until she could go back to live with her mom. Francine’s first request upon reuniting with Brenda was to visit the CASA house, a place of comfort and familiarity. 

As Francine's life continued to evolve, so did her challenges. Her home life with her mother became unstable, and Francine was again removed from her mother’s care. At 12 years old, she found solace with a loving foster family. Despite the rollercoaster of emotions and changes, one constant in her life was Brenda.  

Starting when she was 13, Brenda began taking Francine on bi-weekly visits to the CASA horses and it became a cherished routine. Francine, who was hesitant to engage in traditional therapy, found a unique connection with the horses. Caring for them, brushing their coats, feeding them, and eventually riding them under adult supervision provided her with a sense of responsibility and peace. A stubborn yet affectionate pony became her spirit animal, reflecting her own resilient nature. 

In January 2023, Francine, moved to a new and nurturing and loving resource family home that has provided stability and support during her early teen years. Her passion for the performing arts shines brightly, revealing her incredible resilience and inner light. 

Brenda, an extraordinary volunteer, who was Francine’s advocate for a decade, stepped down recently. However she will always be there for Francine even though she is no longer her official CASA.  They keep in touch and visit occasionally. Recognizing the profound impact horses had on Francine, Brenda now volunteers at Horse Whispers, helping other children experience the same healing power. 

Francine's journey is a testament to the enduring impact of a dedicated CASA volunteer and the unique bond between humans and animals. As she continues to thrive, we remain inspired by her story of resilience, love, and the healing power of horses. 

*fictitious name