Greer family finds hope at horse ranch
Eight-year-old Yamiyah Barksdale was diagnosed with cancer more than four years ago, and ever since, she has been fighting for her life.
“I found out she had cancer on a Sunday morning,” said Yamiyah’s mother Kenyatta Jackson. “We were getting ready for church, and she ran past me to go brush her teeth, and her stomach looked like she had a basket ball under her shirt.
“I called her over to have a look, and by all means, it scared the life out of me,” she said. “I took her to the emergency, and they told me she may have had an enlarged liver. By this time, I’m frantic and hysterical.”
Jackson followed up with her pediatrics the next day, arriving at 7:45 a.m. for computed tomography (CT) scans. Leaving around 9 p.m., Jackson took her daughter to Greenville Memorial, where she found out her daughter had wilms tumor, a rare kidney cancer.
“My daughter kept me encouraged the whole time,” Jackson said. “It’s like she never had a bad day. She always smiled and continued to be the best big sister ever.”
“That’s what kept me going and kept me strong,” she continued. “Prayer helped me through all of our hard times. I thank every day for sparing my child to live life and enjoy it because it’s so many we have met during her journey that is no longer here.”
Jackson moved to Greer on July 1, 2013, to be closer to her daughter’s doctors.
“My daughter was always talking about going camping,” Jackson said, “so I figured this would be a great experience for her. I hope to accomplish being the mother my kids will always be proud of.”
Yamiyah Barksdale, 8, and her younger sister Azariah Barksdale-Jackson, 7, traveled to the Hope Remains Ranch in Wellford this week as part of a three-day camp.
“I can’t remember all that I did, but my favorite part was horses,” Yamiyah Barksdale said of her camp experience.
Yamiyah Barksdale arrived around 9 a.m. on Tuesday to the ranch, where she met horse Red, who has one eye.
“I like the horse Red,” said Yamiyah Barksdale, who had her picture made with the horse. “Red licked a little girl because he was happy.”
Yamiyah Barksdale worked on a craft when she first arrived before joining her sister and buddy Sandra Stanley, who is a retired teacher.
“I was somebody else’s buddy yesterday, and I have the pleasure of having these two girls,” said Stanley, volunteer with The Children’s Security Blanket (CSB). “This keeps me younger.”
Stanley led the girls from the craft location in a big barn up a short hill to the rocky driveway where they met Loretta Jackson, who is the parent director at Hope Remains Ranch and works with the miniature horses.
“We do a little obstacle course with the kids and let them lead them through,” Jackson said.
Jackson taught special education for 18 years before retiring and working at the ranch.
“This way I get to go out and help the kids,” Jackson said. “That was our prayer this morning to provide some hope and encouragement…and fun.”
Jackson has two daughters, who also help at the ranch.
“My daughters came through the program nine years ago,” Jackson said. “My oldest particularly had to start some therapy at four.”
“My first husband was not a very nice man, and we’ll just leave it at that,” she continued. “There was emotional and verbal abuse.”
Around that time, Melanie Watt, Founder and CEO of Hope Remains, gave a presentation at Jackson’s church.
“Savannah’s always loved horses,” Jackson said. “The things that she learned, it wasn’t just for the time she was at camp. It sowed in more of those seeds that she was hearing at home and at church, but through divorce.”
At the camp, Savannah learned 2 Timothy 1:7 and Jeremiah 29:11, Jackson said. “She would write those down and say those when she was anxious at night.”
Jackson also credits the ranch with her daughters both forgiving their birth father.
“The Lord worked that for the next several years even after we left,” Jackson said. “They both forgave their birth dad. Since then, I have seen just tremendous changes in both of them.”
When Jackson asked her older daughter Savannah what the key was, Savannah told her, “I can tell the horse anything I want to.”
“There were things she could tell the horse,” Jackson said. “That horse would never tell anybody else.”
Today, Savannah, 18, is planning to pursue Equine Science at Asbury University, a Christian liberal arts university located in Wilmore, Kentucky.
“She says she’s coming back to work with Melanie,” Jackson said. “I was teaching and had always prayed that God would let me use our experience with the abuse to help other people.”
Jackson’s younger daughter MaKenna, 16, worked at the ranch on Tuesday.
“Now, I'm taking kids from point A to point B for pictures,” she told her mom, who asked when she walked passed.
Each of the horses has a name, and the miniature horses’ names are Zoe, Fanny, Zacchias, Lola, Beauty and Fancy, who is Lola’s mom.
“They’re the only two that we have that are actually related,” Jackson said.
“They will get to ride different ones,” Jackson said of the children arriving Tuesday. “We have more out in the arena.”
“Then, we have two that pull a wagon,” she continued. “They’re going to get to do lots of fun things today. They're going to go home very tired.”
For the past three years, Hope Remains Ranch has brought horses to Camp Victory, a three-day camp at Optimist Acres, located at 590 Foster Mill Rd. in Spartanburg. This year, Watt worked together with CSB to bring the children to the ranch.
“Camp Victory is CSB’s way to help ensure that the precious children we serve have the chance to just enjoy a fun summer camp experience and leave behind medical treatments, needle sticks and hospital visits for a time," said Laura Allen, CSB Executive Director. “While our primary focus is providing these children with access to treatment and care, Camp Victory and the other events and activities we offer help to significantly encourage families and provide a reprieve from the intensity of all they are dealing with.”
The CSB designed the summer camp specifically for children battling cancer. Camp Victory 2017 celebrated CSB’s 10th anniversary and included a special trip to Hope Remains Ranch, which is also celebrating 10 years.
“Hope Remains Ranch exists to offer hope and a second chance to others in our community,” Watt said. “The privilege to partner with CSB over the last three years and have the opportunity to extend hope to those facing cancer is just another way for Hope Remains to be Christ to others. Hope Remains believes in what CSB offers to the community and to those they serve and we consider it an honor to stand in the gap for these children and their families as hope is shared through our four legged angels, called horses.”
Hope Remains, which has seven different programs, uses 15 horses to provide a free after school program, free parenting sessions, two mobile units for miniature horses to travel to schools and other places, licensed professional therapists and team building exercises for churches and other groups.
“Horses will teach you social skills, problem solving,” Watt said. “They become a mirror to you.”