‘Equine counselors’ used to connect with kids
Kim Meeder’s touching stories of redemption and renewal in her book, “Hope Rising,” inspired Nancy Wolf to transform her 10-acre ranch into a safe haven for at-risk children.
“Her book opened up a whole new world for me,” Wolf said about Meeder’s stories on how horses helped children work through emotional problems. “I was looking for a long time to do something for kids.”
The peaceful surroundings of Wolf’s 2BU Youth Ranch located in the foothills north of the Spokane Valley is an environment where she hopes children can come and know “they are loved and accepted.”
“It’s open to any child that walks up that driveway,” Wolf said about the free program serving children ages 8 to 17 struggling with emotional issues. “Where do you draw the line ‘at risk’?”
The 2BU Youth Ranch opened this fall after years of planning and will remain open until the beginning of November. She will be accepting applications for spring all winter, with sessions beginning in mid-March, weather permitting.
Fulfilling a lifelong dream of owning horses, Wolf and her husband Dan purchased the ranch in 1984, where they raised and trained quarter horses for more than 26 years.
Wolf and her two daughters, Trisha Thorson and Tyra Ervin, were involved in 4-H for more than 10 years. As her daughters’ group leader, Wolf witnessed the benefit horses give in children’s lives.
When her daughters graduated from high school, Wolf stopped volunteering. She knew she eventually wanted to work with children again but did not know in what capacity.
Four years ago, she felt a tug on her heart from God when Ervin gave her Meeder’s book. From that moment she felt led to transform her ranch into a sanctuary for children similar to Meeder’s Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch in Bend, Ore.
Wolf toured Crystal Peaks last fall and attended a special clinic this spring. The four-day clinic offered classes such as fundraising, basic horsemanship, child and horse safety and the daily infrastructure.
Founded in 1995 by Meeder and her husband Troy, the “ranch of rescued dreams” is a faith-based ministry that provides a sanctuary of healing for at-risk kids. Meeder’s writings recount stories of broken children who visit her ranch.
Laurie Sacher, Crystal Peaks’ family outreach team director, saw this firsthand while working with a fearful little girl. Sacher stood back and observed how the little girl saw fear in the horse and then recognized it in herself.
“It’s an amazing tool God uses to break down walls,” Sacher said of using horses as therapy. “It allows us to go places we couldn’t otherwise go.”
Wolf views her ranch as a ministry similar to Meeder’s.
“We won’t preach to the kids,” Wolf said about her faith-based approach. “We’re here to just love them.”
Wolf’s entire family is supportive in making her dream a reality.
Her daughters are taking an active role in the program. Ervin is equine director and instructor and Thorson is the program counselor.
“I strongly feel children will benefit by doing this program,” Ervin said. “It will change them and help them overcome what they’re dealing with.”
Dan Wolf is renovating the barn to accommodate more horses. He is also adding an office and tack room. The remodel doubles the size of the existing barn.
The 90-minute hands-on session is tailored to serve the unique needs of each child by individually matching one child with one horse and one leader. The intention is that the youth, equine friend and leader form a bond.
They will spend time observing, grooming or leading horses; rounded out with other ranch experiences such as cleaning stalls, water tanks or other chores.
If the leader decides the youth is ready, the program includes the opportunity to learn the basics of riding a horse. Riding games designed to learn balance and gain confidence will be incorporated into the instructional plans. The only requirement for riding is the child’s parent or guardian stay on the premises during the session.
Wolf has five horses assigned to the program, which she calls “equine counselors.” When it comes time to assign a horse to a child, Wolf claims the horses do the choosing.
“The horse will come up to the child,” Wolf said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
Through this approach, Wolf hopes the children learn the values of life, family, faith and trust.
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