This past year, I decided to sponsor one of the horses at Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch. His name is Teddy and he is well loved by our kids. I grew up on an airport, so although we had dogs and cats, horses were never an option. It feels good to know "my horse" is helping kids heal.
Heading up our Equine program is Amber Benham, or her more formal title is Therapeutic Riding Instructor/Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning Equine Program Coordinator. She is so amazing with the kids and the horses. Recently she was asked how she helps children at the Ranch succeed and here is her response.
"I used to volunteer at the barn in the summers when I was younger with hippotherapy and fell in love. I have been with the Ranch for over 3 and a half years and did my internship at the barn in 2014. I worked in Cornelsen Cottage for about 5 months before fully transitioning to the barn. It's not a "job" when you love coming to work every day!
I love seeing all the smiling faces when you walk through the hallways, or when kids come up to the barn to see their horse and tell you about the awesome day they had, and some days, we stand in the arena in silence with the horse and we are grooming. Therapy sessions at the barn do not require the youth to speak and be verbal about how they are feeling and what they are thinking, it allows them to try out new behaviors and get feedback from the horse, an unbiased source. This interaction is one of the most amazing things I have seen, and I encourage everyone to witness this.
These kids and their families have the time to work on their confidence, responsibility, togetherness, trust, and the list goes on and on. A lot of the kids we see come in trusting nobody, having broken relationships with friends and families are struggling. We bring them up to the barn and they get to choose the horse they want to work with, and 9 times out of 10, the horse chooses the child as well. It's an unspoken agreement between the horse and their rider. To watch this process take place has given me goosebumps.
From there on, the bond between the two gets stronger every day. The horse knows the child needs them and I like to think the kids have an idea that the horse needs them as well. Our horses have different personalities, as our kids do, and it is fun to watch them choose a horse who has a similar personality, whether it be goofy, serious, timid, etc. and it is amazing to watch the two work together to fight through some of the battles together.
When we do family sessions, the kids are SO happy to show their four-hoofed partner to their families. It is a relationship they feel safe in and want to share it with everyone. If we are being honest, the best relationship is with a horse, they do not judge, tell you wrong, give you negative feedback; they listen, they give you praise, and they come in with open hearts. I have learned so much from a horse, and I know our kids have too."
God bless you always.
Senior Development Officer
Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch
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Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch is a Christian residential treatment and educational center for children and their families. We help the most troubled, complicated, and amazing kids by providing best-in-class psychiatric therapy and trauma-informed care, where we look kids in the eye, walk with them, and help them become their best selves.