Summer Horse Therapy Program Gallops Forward!

 
Mia Yellen, equestrian instructor with a camp participant.

Mia Yellen, equestrian instructor with a camp participant.

Youth Homes’ fifth summer horse program was the most transforming experience yet for the nine teens who participated. So often foster youth are isolated and lack opportunities to socialize with other teens and caring members of our local community. This amazing group of urban kids are striving to connect and engage new experiences in their lives. Working with horses is known to be a powerful way to connect young people with animals in a way that eases stress, creates community, and fosters a sense of achievement and responsibility.

The horse program brings together teens from multiple Youth Homes programs and allows them to form connections to each other, Youth Homes staff, barn staff, horse owners, and of course, the horses. The Double GG Ranch hosts the program and is home to our equine partners: TJ, Buddy, High Call, and Meha, just to name a few. Their owners donate the use of these cherished creatures to Youth Homes at no cost. 

Youth Homes Residential Program staff Jonathan Palarca and David Jones with High Call.

Youth Homes Residential Program staff Jonathan Palarca and David Jones with High Call.

The focus of the first session was getting to know one other and the horses. Participants engaged in lively conversation as they met the horses and learned how to groom them. The young people created almost immediate rapport. Corey*, who had previously attended horse camp was happy to renew acquaintances with TJ. Instructor Mia offered Corey opportunities to use his past experiences by allowing him to retrieve TJ from his stall to bring him to the grooming area. Another participant, Missy*, who had attended twice before, was given leadership responsibilities to help beginners who felt a little nervous. She was particularly supportive of another camper, who had overcome significant emotional barriers just to attend.

The second session deepened relationships and horse handling skills. Participants encouraged one another and created an atmosphere of positivity and acceptance. Two youth reported that although they enjoyed the horses, the reason they returned to camp was to hang out with the rest to enjoy the social aspects of the barn with their fellow new equestrians. Those who were more comfortable with the horses  proudly led them around the arena. One of the most nervous youth, Kirsten*, thought she might not even come back for the second session, but she was able to lead TJ, the biggest horse in the program. 

During the third session, amazing things began to happen. The youth were given the opportunity to be in a round pen with the horse loose in the pen with them. They were challenged to get the horse to move faster, slower, stop, change direction, and follow the youth, all without any equipment. Using only their own projected energy, every youth that attempted the challenge was successful! Their young faces were aglow with amazement and pride at the end of the session.

When questioned about what to do for the fourth and final session, the youth all agreed that they just wanted to hang out and brush the horses. Their final day included a cake and T-shirts for everyone, which were then signed by all the members of the group. 

This incredible enrichment program gives youth the chance to have fun and feel safe as they increase leadership skills, independent thinking, and decision-making. With the end of summer sessions, one young person advanced to individual riding and horsemanship lessons, and two more youth are interested. We are incredibly grateful Double GG for helping to provide our youth with these priceless experience, and thankful for our wonderful donors who help support this 100% philanthropy funded enrichment program.

*Youth names have been changed to protect privacy.