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  • Vanessa Schmidt

Pilot, Pandemic, and Perseverance

Dear Friends, You’ve been in my thoughts almost daily over this past year. I cherish your support and I know I’ve not expressed that to you enough. With a desire for transparency, I’m writing to you now to share a little about what’s been happening.


Because of my own trauma history, the pandemic took its toll. I was thrown back into survival mode, along with the rest of the world. This put my nervous system on high alert which was an appropriate human response to all that was happening. But for those of us who’ve experienced developmental and complex trauma, our alert systems went into overdrive.

In February of 2021 I hit a wall and this time I couldn’t get myself back up again. As you remember, February was the month we had the horrible ice storm here in Texas. Five months earlier our mustang Jewel had a rough move to a new potential long-term property. She was anxious, losing weight and on the verge of colic. The ice storm was a breaking point for her. While working full time it was all I could do to muster enough energy to keep her safe and cared for. We were able to move her to an adjacent property where she felt safe again and thankfully, she improved dramatically. It was such a relief to see her back to her old self; I could finally rest!

But I’d long surpassed the need for rest; I crashed, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

I thought I’d been doing fairly well during the pandemic; I had been exercising, talking to friends on the phone, and not spending too many days watching the news. I live alone and was working from home like many of you, watching weeks turn into months of uncertainty and overwhelming sadness as the pandemic dragged on with no end in sight. I became severely depressed and barely able to get myself out of bed many days. Thankfully, in addition to spending time with my niece and nephews who were in my “covid bubble,” I did have a place I could go where everything felt ok; at the barn with Jewel.


I now believe God gifted what has become my heart horse to the organization knowing I would need her possibly more than anyone else during this season. When the world was in chaos and despair, I found a small sense of peace and safety simply being in her presence. I would spend hours sitting in her pasture. Often times she would hang her head and neck over me and take a nap. Awe, what safety and belonging I felt in those moments! She literally held me some days as I cried and walked away from me other days when all that was happening inside of me was too much, even for her.

Jewel was teaching me about healthy boundaries and protecting her own health and survival.

In those moments, while heartbroken that she chose to walk away from me, she was modeling a sort of self-care for me that I had yet to learn in my own life, especially being a caretaker by nature. She knew she couldn’t save me and demonstrated that to me in powerful ways. I would need to do my part for her to experience felt-safety with me like she’d allowed me to experience it with her.


When I realized I wasn’t bouncing back like I’d been able to do after many years of treatment, therapy, and hard work, I knew it was time to get help again. I started my own journey with an Equine Therapist. This need for help carried its own weight of shame, frustration, and even self-hatred. Why

couldn’t I manage better? I had done so much work to build a stable life for myself and it was disappearing right in front of me. Had I not healed as much as I thought? The entire world was suffering through a pandemic with devastating losses. I had everything I needed including food, a roof over my head, a job, and my health. It terrified me that I could find myself feeling as low as I had years prior in the depths of my hopelessness.

I was also experiencing deep shame and guilt around not having the bandwidth to spend more time developing The Wild Hope. We took a big risk in starting our Pilot Program in the middle of a pandemic. But THANKS TO MANY OF YOU, we had the resources and ability to safely launch free equine therapy for survivors of sex trafficking here in Austin! It was a beautiful time to realize the beginnings of the huge vision we carry for The Wild Hope. I was also surprised by the increasing amount of pressure I was feeling. This thing I’d started was ramping up and I was doing the opposite - shutting down. What was I going to do?

I continue to come to terms with my own humanity. No one was pressuring me about The Wild Hope but me, which drove me deeper and deeper into despair. Because of some of the messages I’d learned during my childhood I truly believed I was supposed to just know how to do this nonprofit thing. When I didn’t have any updates to send to you and those who have supported the vision behind The Wild Hope, I felt like I was letting down and disappointing everyone! Friends, Board Members, donors, clients, and those who’d cheered me on and supported me in starting the organization. And mostly, God.

Why would he give this enormous responsibility to me – the chronically depressed, uneducated, broken human that I was?

For those of you that know the story behind The Wild Hope, you’ll remember that on the day I agreed to start the organization I made a deal with God. I told Him I’d do it under one condition; HE had to do the work because I was simply incapable. I’ve struggled with understanding what that really meant. One minute I was in tears of gratitude and the next minute I was angry and asking Him why He wasn’t doing more! Why was he leaving me hanging? We had an agreement and, in my eyes, He wasn’t fulfilling his part. I felt embarrassed and ashamed that I’d even tried to start a nonprofit. There were many days that I’d decided that once the Pilot Program was finished, we’d close our doors; it was just too hard! Two things kept me from finalizing that decision: 1) God put such a deep love in my heart for Jewel that I couldn’t bare thinking about having to find her a new home. Jewel was graciously donated to The Wild Hope, not to me. I’ve just had the privilege of caring for her. If we closed our doors that would mean I’d also lose Jewel. 2) While I had no idea how, no energy to figure it out, and felt completely defeated, there never ceased to be this annoying spark that kept burning inside of me. It tormented me and wouldn’t let me quit. I was mad and felt trapped. BUT, how could I give up on something that could potentially help tens, hundreds, even thousands of people one day all because it was too hard for me? It occurred to me that maybe instead of being a hindrance to the success of The Wild Hope, God was continuing to heal and mold me into what I needed to be to play my part in realizing the seemingly impossible vision behind The Wild Hope. Maybe, just maybe The Wild Hope was another chapter in my own healing journey. Perhaps instead of trying to figure it all out God was asking me to simply step back and show up so He COULD do His part.


Our mission has always been to be a survivor (peer) led organization. Over the past couple of years, I’ve gained a great deal of insight into what that means, why it’s so powerful and how it can provide multi-directional healing in our community. Many of the things I’ve struggled with over the past couple of years are informing me about ways we can best serve others who’ve experienced complex trauma.

Could it be that all I was going through was God’s Pilot Program for me?!

I’m encouraged to share that I’ve continued healing and growing, and acknowledging my own humanity. I’ve found freedom in beginning to understand that my part of The Wild Hope as Founder is to start and keep the vision alive and continue to share about a hope that endures all. The gifts, skills, and experience we require to take the organization to the next phase will come from others in our community who are passionate about our vision. Neither our success nor our failure is on me alone. Figuring things out on my own was part of my childhood experience that enabled me to survive.

Isn’t it beautiful how God is using The Wild Hope to teach me I don’t have to do it alone, it’s ok to ask for help, and I’m acceptable even with all my flaws?

It’s a perfectly imperfect model of our mission - I am sitting smack dab in the middle of the very wild hope that the organization was founded on!

I’m also reminded that while hope can be soft, cozy, and shiny it can also be deeply painful. It takes faith and tears and relentlessness. Hope requires a willingness to fight through the terrifying trenches before leading others through them. That annoying burning inside of me that wouldn’t let me quit was wild hope doing its part – it was GOD doing His part and doing exactly what He’d agreed to when I (we) started the organization. As a product of this wild hope, I’m excited to share that we’ve had nine survivors of sex trafficking participate in our Pilot Program! Our final participant will finish in early 2023 at which time we’ll have more to share with you about lessons learned and impact. Until then, please celebrate with us by reading some of what participants have shared about their experience with The Wild Hope thus far.

“I wouldn’t have had access to equine therapy without this program.” “I still can’t believe my horse chose to be with me! Because they know if people are safe, it helped me trust myself more.” “Horses have taught me more about my relationships than most humans have.” “The horses and therapists are amazing! Still therapy is hard, painful work.” “I’ve always been afraid of horses. By getting more comfortable with them I’ve learned how to be less afraid in other things in my life.”


In closing, I want to acknowledge that it’s not lost on me how many of you also have your own stories of pain, loss, and survival as a result of the pandemic. Thank you for allowing me to share a part of mine with you! My prayer is that you too experience support, wild hope, and healing in this New Year!


My deepest gratitude to each of you for walking alongside us on this journey to create a safe place to heal and foster belonging through relationships with horses. Onward and upward! Still holding onto Wild Hope,



Vanessa Schmidt

Founder, The Wild Hope Austin


P.S. Our final participant is in need of continued care beyond the Pilot Program. $5k will give her access to an additional full year of Trauma-Focused Equine Therapy. If you'd like to help, just click on the button below. Thank you!








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