Despite having a reputation as an intense competitor during a 14-year big league career, former MLB all-star Paul Byrd was also known by many as the “nicest guy” in the game.
But since retiring after the 2009 season, Byrd, who was once chosen by the Writers Association for the Steve Olin Tim Crews Good Guy Award, has taken on a few new endeavors in his life.
Not only has he gone on to become an Emmy winner for his on-camera work for Fox Sports South broadcasts of Atlanta Braves games, but he and his wife, Kym, have responded to a calling God placed in their lives.
The Byrds are now providing a space that allows people in the Atlanta area with any number of emotional, mental or relationship struggles to overcome them by spending time with horses.
“I had a reputation for being an intense competitor on the field because I wasn't that good.
"And then when I would come off the field, I just felt like I needed to take every interview and I had to treat people with kindness,” the 48-year-old right-hander told The Christian Post in a recent interview.
“I wasn't better than anybody else because I threw a ball past the guy that held the stick. And at times, I didn't even do that. I just always tried to be kind [to people]. And I think that was part of when I became a Christian it's what changed inside of me.”
Being married for 25 years, the Byrds responded to their call from God to help others by launching Byrdhouse Ministries out of their farm in Milton, Georgia. On the property, a team of therapists help people through Equine Assisted Psychotherapy to deal with trauma, anxiety, fear and other issues that are be plaguing their lives.
Equine Assisted Psychotherapy is a unique counseling experience based on experiential work that uses horses in conjunction with licensed mental health professionals to help increase awareness of people’s thoughts and actions. EAP can be an alternative for people with needs who don’t do well in typical counseling sessions.
“[T]he Lord just kept pressing on my heart that there was something that I was being called to do but I didn’t know what,” Kym Byrd told CP.
The couple purchased their farm in 2016, complete with a riding arena and barn. However, the couple did not purchase the farm for the intent of bringing in horses.
After reconnecting with a friend who is licensed for EAP and trained by an organization called Natural Lifemanship, the couple agreed to allow her to use their farm to board her thoroughbred and Chincoteague pony and conduct therapy sessions.
“The horses were such a different road to not only get in touch with nature and beauty but also they're just so calming,” Kym Byrd said. “We would just see people come and go. I was just blessed to know that people who were in trauma who couldn't be in four walls to talk about their pain could be with a horse out in nature and just connect with God and deal with their pain.”
Paul Byrd told CP there was one client in particular who “hooked” him emotionally and showed him the true power of the therapy. He said she was a 12-year-old girl who was cutting herself, wouldn’t leave her house, wouldn’t go to school, and wouldn’t be around family.
Byrd said the girl wouldn’t see other counselors but when they asked her if she would go to see a horse, she agreed.
“After one session, she stopped cutting herself. After two sessions, she would go back to school. After three sessions, she would hang around family again, she would go anywhere and she started smiling again,” the former Louisiana State University standout explained. “She told her parents that she was going to be OK. On spring break, her parents told her they would take her anywhere. But, she only wanted to go spend time with her horse.”
The Byrds said that even they found solitude in spending time with horses, which enabled them to understand what it means to have a deeper relationship and connection with their Creator.
As the Byrds have developed their own relationships with horses and have seen the benefits therapy has had on those who visit the property, they agreed that “this just needs to happen more.”
Shortly after Kym Byrd stopped serving at a nonprofit, the couple were presented with an opportunity to buy their neighbor’s cabin, which came with a pasture. They purchased the property in October 2018.
It was then that they officially launched Byrdhouse Ministries. On that property today are five horses that serve to calm people so they can process the issues going on in their lives.
“We don’t know why but when you get within 5 feet of a horse, your heart rate lowers. It enables you to process certain things that have happened to you, which is almost everybody in the world,” Paul Byrd said, noting how spending time with horses helps just about anybody.
“If you have been abused in some way, most of the time you are hurt from a person. And the horses are trustworthy. When a person has lost trust in another person, that is one thing. But the horses represent safety and they are good listeners.”
The Byrds partner with three licensed therapists.
“So with Natural Lifemanship, the horses get choices,” Kym Byrd explained. “So we're not allowed to just go grab a horse and dominate the horse. It's about connection. So that's what translates a lot for people with God. I think a lot of Christians are task-oriented. And they do things for God, but they're not feeling connected, or they feel like they don't have any choice with God. And so we teach relationship of horses.”
“That’s part of the therapeutic process. Clients come, they get to know the horses’ stories and meet them and then they choose which horse they feel connected to, to work with,” she added. “People pick or don't pick for so many personal reasons. And it usually has to do with why they're in therapy in the first place.”
Kym Byrd explained that they have seen people dealing with various struggles come through to the property, such as drug addicts and people with PTSD.
“They may be terrified of being trapped in a room but you can get them with a horse and there can be a lot of non-verbal communication that goes on through the horse’s ears, the way they chew, the sounds, the way they sigh. It gives us feedback and we can give a client feedback,” she said.
“When that horse knows that something is going on in your life, I have had a horse literally put their head in my chest. There is something about that acknowledgment that the horse knows you are in pain. I have also had a horse push me to tell me that it is time to stop whining.”
The ministry is not exclusively for Christians, they said, but if a client expresses an interest in talking about God, the therapists are happy to bring in the spiritual element.
EAP is just one branch of Byrdhouse ministries. Another arm of the ministry will be “spiritual direction and prayer.”
Kym Byrd said she'll be taking courses to learn how to lead the spiritual component.
Her goal, she said, is to be able to bring the horses into “Christian coaching” where the person being coached is not necessarily traumatized. She says the horses can still teach people how to be mindful and present to God and what He is doing in their lives. Byrd said the goal is to one day host spiritual retreats on the property.
“The connection to something that is 2,000 pounds coming to you and resting their head on you, has really given people such a sense of God,” she said. “I have had great conversations with people and been able to lead people to really see God using horses. Obviously, we don’t worship the horse. The horse is a creation but it represents something.
“There is nothing like something that has the power to run you over putting their head down and yielding to you because they want a kiss on the forehead,” she continued.
“That is where we come in and translate that for people: this is how God is with you. He is big enough to run you over but He chooses to put His head down to your level to connect with you.”
Paul Byrd said that he is leveraging his relationships at Fox Sports to help grow the ministry and plans to do a poker tournament this fall to benefit the organization.
“Instead of getting money back, you may get a Freddie Freeman jersey,” Byrd said.
"We will do some fundraisers and certain things like that to help clients that don’t have money to go, and to pay for some hay that horses can eat and all that kind of stuff. We really believe in what we do. That is the kind of profound impact that a horse can have in your life — whether it is me in the pasture at 1 a.m. or a young 12-year-old girl who has been through a major crisis.”
The focus verse for the ministry is Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Byrd won an Emmy in 2018 for sports reporter in the Southeast Region for his work during Braves broadcasts. Byrd can be seen during Braves broadcasts on Fox Sports South and Fox Sports Southeast.