TUSCARAWAS TWP. — Bill and Marcia Shearer both grew up with horses, but neither imagined they would be running Whispering Grace Horses following retirement.

Bill’s parents had racing horses, and Marcia’s parents had show horses.

The Shearers, who will celebrate 45 years of marriage in June, began their careers in education, with Marcia teaching in Jackson Local Schools for 30 years and Bill a basketball coach at Glenwood Intermediate School and an administrator in Canton City Schools.

"Horses kind of took a back seat for a while," Bill Shearer said.

The break from horses was only temporary though. In 2012, the couple decided to involve horses in their lives again. Bill had taken his granddaughter to Nickajack Farms where they saw many animals, including horses. He began talking with Nickajack owner Debbie Sebolt who told him about two racing horses the farm had acquired.

After two weeks with one of the horses, Sebolt offered to sell the animal to the Shearers. The couple purchased the horse, now named Cat. Bill Shearer said Cat showed them the path to follow and helped the couple start Whispering Grace Horses.

"This horse has changed our lives," Shearer said. "We started to think how Cat could change the lives of others."

The couple eventually purchased 10 acres in Tuscarawas Township, which they split in half — five acres for their home and five acres for Whispering Grace Horses. Marcia Shearer said she loves the community and their neighbors.

As the couple worked to develop their vision, they got help from Tori Belden, a senior at Walsh University majoring in counseling.

"We talked with Tori about our vision and our relationship with horses," Bill Shearer said. "She has been with us since the beginning."

Horses helping people

Once the facility was built, the Shearers began looking for more horses. They looked at 30 different horses and passed on all of them. Finally they came across a quarter horse and thoroughbred mix. When the couple approached the horse for the first time, Marcia knew it was the right one.

"We hadn’t even gotten up close yet and she had already said, 'This is the one,'" Bill Shearer recalled.

The horse, Lazy Lucy, has become very popular, much like Cat.

The goal of Whispering Grace is to use horses to help those struggling with something in life by "providing hearing of the heart while encouraging an atmosphere of hope through Christ-centered prayer and guidance in our community," according to the mission statement listed on the Whispering Grace website.

There is no charge, Shearer said, and sessions are offered on Mondays Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Each counseling or mentoring session consists of a person, horse and a session leader.

When Whispering Grace began, it was helping about 50 families. Now that number has grown to over 200. Bill Shearer said people come to them with big problems and they use a big and strong animal to help those struggling develop a relationship with Christ.

"Everyone has things in their life they are going through," Marcia Shearer said.

The Shearers work with Pathway Caring for Children in addition to volunteers and individual donors to provide the service.

'Unbelievable counselors'

There is a big emphasis on safety at the facility.

"You have to feel safe before you can feel comfortable," Bill Shearer said. "Our horses don’t care what you look like or what clothes you are wearing."

He also said he continues to do more research on the interaction between horses and humans. The couple has seen a lot of success stories over the years as the horses have helped a wide range of people.

"Our horses are great listeners," Shearer said. "They don’t tell any secrets and are unbelievable counselors."

Belden said one of the great rewards of being involved is watching children change from the time they arrive at Whispering Grace to the time they leave.

"By the end their comfort level has grown so much," Belden said. "People change as a result of what we are doing."

Whispering Grace Horses is planning to expand its faith-based programming with a new facility on five acres across the street from the current location. The new facility will be geared toward helping veterans and their families. Bill Shearer said there will be additional staff and horses added as a part of the project.

He expects to begin the expansion as soon as they have the funding needed and, and plan to call it Freedom Farm at Whispering Horses.

"Veterans or families of veterans are a segment of the population that has given us all of our freedom to say and do what we want each day," Shearer said. "It is time for Whispering Horses to give back to that population."

About Whispering Grace Horses

Where: 12882 Kimmens Road SW, Tuscarawas Twp.

Contact: 330-265-5119

Online: WhisperingGraceHorses.org