Horses helping people — and vice versa — in Jupiter Farms

Dec 16, 2017
Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post
Rachel Ibarra, executive director of Nature Speaks, with rescue, 29-year-old, Shadow. Nature Speaks, a non-profit that takes in hurt horses and allows autistic children and others to ride them, is celebrating its first Christmas at it's new digs in Jupiter Farms, Florida on December 6, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Wearing blue boots and toting feed buckets to the four horses in the remodeled wooden barn at Nature Speaks, Inc., Rachel Ibarra is exactly where she wants to be.

Once the owner of a public relations company, Ibarra and her husband Tracy bring together recovering horses with children diagnosed with autism and other disorders. They are applying for grants to start a program to unite the horses with veterans and rehabilitation organizations. They hold summer camps for children to interact with the horses.

The horses come from tough situations.

Shadow raced and was being used for breeding. Ozzie was starving and gained 400 pounds since coming to Nature Speaks. Dallas pulled a wagon for an Okeechobee farmer. Windy is Shadow’s daughter.

“We are helping the horses that are helping the people,” said Ibarra, 54.

When Jupiter Middle School teacher Roisin Capparelli this past year brought her class of about a dozen autistic children and their parents to Nature Speaks, the students immediately bonded with the horses. They spent the day helping to feed and brush them. They took supervised rides.

“Horses are in tune with humans. Horses give back what we need. Relaxation. Security. Confidence,” said Capparelli.

For the first few years after opening Nature Speaks in 2013, the couple operated the 501(c)3 organization on rental property in Jupiter Farms. She and Tracy, a 54-year-old electrician, bought their current house in July on 2 1/2 acres of grazing land with oak and pines trees.

They replaced the burned barn with stalls for the four horses. They built a tack room and a feed room. They are updating their home next to the barn. The couple also have six rescue cats and a dog.

“We just planted new grass. We hope to turn the horses out there soon,” Ibarra said.

Ibarra says it costs about $4,000 a month to care for the four horses. That includes medical care, shavings, cleaning and care from the farrier, a person who provides hoof care.

Four times a day Ibarra feeds the horses.

Then there are the unexpected expenses.

Shadow recently had colic surgery. The cost? $10,000.

“We set up a GOFUNDME page for that one,” Ibarra said.

This Christmas will be the first holiday for Nature Speaks at their new location. Ibarra is celebrating by making pine tree wreaths in the shape of horses. She’s sells them to raise money.

Holding birthday parties and other events where children ride the horses is another money generator. Nature Speaks holds summer programs for children to ride. They help bathe and feed the horses. Children do arts and crafts. Local students earn community service hours by volunteering at Nature Speaks.

“Children blossom when we put them on the horses,” Ibarra said.

A native of Tarrytown, New York, Ibarra was riding a horse in the woods in Palm Beach Gardens in 2007 when the animal collapsed. Ibarra suffered severe injuries to her face. Her left pinkie broke in half.

The horse she was riding was struck by lightning three days later. The horse, named Jazz, died.

While she recovered, Ibarra decided to start a new career helping troubled people and horses.

Her previous public relations clients included non-profit agencies such as Temple Beth David and Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. She has been a disaster responder for the National Humane Society.

“It was always in my heart to do something like this,” Ibarra said.

For information, call 561-632-2394 or go to