If you’d see fourteen-year-old Jackson* in a lighter moment, you’d see he loves a good joke and is quick to laugh. But he came to Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch recently because he had great difficulty managing his behavior, and especially, his anger. He also had significant problems staying focused and functioning well in school. Much of this was because he often refused to take his ADHD medication.
His personal struggles were so overwhelming; he fought thoughts of suicide. His parents simply weren’t equipped to deal with Jackson’s challenges.
In the company of horses
Each child at the Ranch is given the opportunity to spend time at the stable with the horses. Horses are highly sensitive and have a unique ability to read human emotions. Sometimes they provide comfort to a child who is anxious or depressed. Other times they mirror the child’s emotions by backing away or becoming skittish if the child is feeling anxious or angry. This cues the child to identify their emotions, and to discover what they might be doing to make the horse feel unsafe.
Regulating and controlling their emotions is difficult for most Ranch kids. Once they discover ways to be calm around their horses, they can use those skills in other parts of their lives.
Jackson found that working with these intuitive animals helped him relax and manage his anxiety.
“When I first got here,” he says, “I tried to intimidate the horses. They’d get hyper and didn’t want to be near me. Now I know to be calm around them and treat them with gentleness.”
Jackson has really bonded with a horse named Weaver. He’s so excited to go to the stable and spend time with his special friend. They’ve really bonded. Their relationship is helping him deal with the challenges that brought him to the Ranch.
“When I go to the stable, it changes my mood completely,” Jackson said. “It makes me feel good about myself and helps me cope with my troubles. My horse gives me the opportunity to be the best I can be.”
Healing trauma through movement
The abuse and/or neglect experienced by most Ranch children stunts the development of gross motor skills that allow them to sit upright, stand, walk, run, lift, throw, and kick. Horseback riding helps build core strength, balance, coordination, and leg strength, which all aid in the development of those gross motor skills. It also helps to release the trauma that is stored in the body.
The activities kids do with the horses depends on the needs of each child and may include riding groups, behavioral health therapy, and occupational therapy.
Bless a boy or girl at the Ranch with your gift now
We want to continue this long and wonderful heritage of pairing gentle horses with at-risk kids. But horse therapy must be completely funded by partners who recognize that horse therapy can be so good for a child.
Won’t you give today — as generously as you can — to make horse therapy a reality for a child? Give online at DakotaRanch.org.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch at 701-237-3123.
*Name changed to protect confidentiality