KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) — Rochelle Swisher’s daughter, Montana Swisher, has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. She can be high-strung and intense, but she becomes a completely different child when she steps foot onto the Narrow Gate Horse Ranch.
Montana Swisher visits the Narrow Gate Horse Ranch every Friday. The ranch opened over the summer as a place for at-risk kids, and now, six months later, it’s serving dozens of children from around the community.
The ranch was an idea Susan Zody had while volunteering with children a few years ago. She was fed up with seeing negative news every day, knowing there were children in the community affected by drug overdoses or parents being arrested.
She wanted to provide a safe, Bible-focused environment she could use to reach vulnerable children in the community.
Zody remembered an Oregon horse ranch that worked with at-risk children, and she decided to bring something similar to Kokomo. The students she wanted to focus on don’t necessarily have disabilities, she said, but she knew they could benefit from horse therapy.
“We just want them to have a place where they know that people really do care about them,” Zody said.
Since the program started over the summer, several children have developed relationships, not just with each other but with the horses. Several parents have noticed a difference.
“It’s good motivation for (Montana),” Rochelle Swisher said. “It’s been a source of reward motivation for her. To be honest, she’s very high strung, and when she comes out here, she transitions into a different kid. It’s very positive.”
Nicole Seagrave said she believes the ranch has helped her own daughter, Angel Seagrave, as well as the other children who visit.
“It’s teaching them responsibility and to have respect for others, not only other people, but other animals, and it just makes them aware of others,” she said.
As for the kids, they love getting to work with the horses each week.
“It’s really fun,” Montana Swisher said. “It’s just a real opportunity to get to know the horses, and it helps with your people skills, too.”
Montana Swisher said she’s had to learn how to calm herself down and pay attention to her horse’s emotions. If her horse’s ears are pinned back, that means he’s angry. Sometimes he stamps his feet to show frustration, and she has to be able to respond to that.
“There are ways you can pick up on the horse’s emotions, and you can do the same with people,” she said.
Emily Pier, a volunteer with the ranch, said she’s watched over the last six months as the children have gone from unsure to confident when dealing with the horses.
“It’s an awesome way to engage the kids,” she said. “It creates a sense of responsibility and community, and gets them into an element they’re not used to.”
She said this lesson can be especially meaningful to children who have chaotic lives.
“If you have really high energy and you can’t control yourself, the horse responds to that,” Pier said. “And the kids want a relationship with the horse so bad. You just have to control yourself. It’s really very cool to watch kids who have a hard time come in here and take a deep breath and have to walk into this relationship with this horse.”
Zody received training from the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association, or EAGALA. The training is designed to provide therapy through working with horses. Though the Narrow Gate Horse Ranch is not a certified EAGALA facility, Zody is able to incorporate some of the techniques while working with the children.
They often focus on emotions, she said. Some children enter the ranch feeling angry, but they have to calm themselves down when working with the horses. And most of them enjoy spending time each week at the ranch.
“For some kids it’s getting them to just learn about the horses and seeing they can be really good at something,” Zody said. “That is enough to boost their confidence and help them to want to do better in all areas of their life.”
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