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Horse therapy guides at-risk kids to chose productive path

To get to 2BU Youth Ranch follow East Foothills Road and when you think you’ve passed it, just keep going. And suddenly, there on the right up a little driveway you’ll see the ranch – not quite at the end of the road, but close.

Same can be said about some of the youth 2BU Youth Ranch founder Nancy Wolf is trying to reach with her therapeutic horse program.

“I want to get to the kids that are at the border, before they get into real trouble, before they get into the system,” Wolf said, while getting some students ready to ride on Friday afternoon.

Her program is modeled after Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch in Oregon, a place that’s been highlighted in the book “Hope Rising” by Crystal Peaks founder Kim Meeder. At Crystal Peaks, rescued horses help heal kids who are survivors of physical or emotional trauma and abuse – and the kids help the horses heal, too.

“I believe that all youth is at risk today,” said Wolf. “They are at risk for bullying, intimidation, drugs and abuse within their homes.”

So instead of waiting for someone else to take the initiative, Wolf started her program last year. The ranch celebrated its one year anniversary with an open house Saturday.

“I’d been looking to do something with kids,” said Wolf, adding that when she read Meeder’s book she knew she’d found the program she was looking for.

Together with her husband she expanded the barn to make room for an office, a tack room and, of course, the horses.

She now has 12 youths sharing four horses.

“It was just the right thing to do,” Wolf said.

But the ranch is not just about riding. Students sign up for a six-week introductory series of once-a-week 90-minute sessions. First they learn how to catch the horse in the field and how to lead it safely. Then they learn how to groom it and brush it, before finally getting to saddle it.

“We don’t let the students bridle the horses, we always do that,” Wolf said.

Once the bridle is on the students get to go for a ride in a small arena while they learn basic horseback riding skills.

“They have chores to do when they get here,” said Wolf. “They help us out, too.”

Her program is free. Youths between 8 and 17 may apply for the program, and Wolf said it is best if a parent can come with them.

“But a family member or friend can take them, too,” she said. “We found that with single-parent families it’s often difficult for a working parent to come out here at the same time as the kids. And the single-parent families need all the help they can get.”

Wolf, like many others who use horses in therapeutic programs, believes there’s something about the connection between horse and rider that not only builds self-esteem but can be healing to children who’ve been abused or neglected.

Horses mirror the feelings of the people around them and they can’t lie – if the rider is apprehensive, the horse is apprehensive – so as the rider grows more confident, the horse grows more confident and a deep bond is established.

“The kids get so much more self-esteem as they learn to handle the horse,” said Wolf.