All Kinds of News for March 08, 2017
For decades, equine-assisted therapy has been used in dozens of ways by diverse populations of people. But not all forms of equine therapy are the same. For example, some programs for troubled teens spend the majority of time drawing metaphors between horse behavior and human behavior, using the horse’s responses to gain insights into the adolescent’s emotions.
Other equine therapy programs focus more heavily on getting on the horse and riding, allowing the natural experience of horseback riding – complete with its frustrations and joys – to form the adolescent’s therapeutic experience. This emphasis on horsemanship is a hallmark of Turn-About Ranch, a residential treatment center for adolescents on a real, working ranch in southern Utah.
Beyond Equine Therapy
The equine therapy experience at Turn-About Ranch is different from other therapeutic horseback riding programs. Rather than simply walking a horse across an arena or teaching commands and discussing the communication process, students at the ranch have the opportunity to experience authentic trail rides and cattle drives (after learning the basics of caring for their horse, such as saddling and bridling, mounting and dismounting and safety precautions).
Because it’s a real, functioning horse and cattle ranch, a student’s stay is replete with genuine ranch experiences that aren’t forced or fabricated. Students develop a relationship with their horse organically by doing real ranch work, with instruction from second- and third-generation cattle ranchers and horsemanship experts.
Through horsemanship classes and hands-on experience on horseback, students learn how to communicate with horses while contributing something to the ranch. At the end of the day, students don’t look back and see a day filled with therapy; they see the fruits of their labor, knowing they accomplished the day’s tasks by cooperating with their horse, the staff and their peers.
“Everything that happens here is therapy – from cleaning the bathroom to hauling wood to controlling a horse,” says Myron Carter, Program Director at Turn-About Ranch. “With all of the animals around, students develop strong connection to life – the life within themselves, outside, and around them. The students realize they’re not some separate entity – they affect things and things have an affect on them. When they see an animal born or maybe a sick animal die, they learn how vulnerable life is and how precious it can be.”
Bringing Out the Issues
Therapy at Turn-About Ranch isn’t forced; it comes about naturally as behaviors that caused problems at home begin to surface. Because working with horses requires patience, commitment and focus, underlying emotional issues are certain to come up. In addition, the horsemanship experts at the ranch strategically choose horses for each student that will likely stir their emotions.
While some therapy sessions are scheduled in an office setting, the other of individual and group sessions occur spontaneously out on the ranch. The therapists work with the students in the field doing ranch chores and processing demanding situations, which builds trust and rapport.
“The students realize they’re not some separate entity – they affect things and things have an affect on them. When they see an animal born or maybe a sick animal die, they learn how vulnerable life is and how precious it can be.”
“We take teenagers, who don’t necessarily know how to control themselves, and ask them to control a large animal that may not want to be controlled,” explains Carter. “Then we process through the frustrations and life lessons as a group. As the students build trusting relationships with the horses, that trust translates to staff, parents, and other authority figures.”
A Lasting Impression
The combination of real-life ranch experiences and time spent with a therapist sparks the process of change. Students learn communication skills, coping strategies, and traditional values through hands-on experiences that leave a lasting impression. In fact, because of the memories and bonds they create, many teens choose to return to Turn-About years later to visit the staff or work on the ranch.
One Turn-About student explained, “Working with the horses is my favorite part. I used to have my own horse but I had to give it up because of my bad behavior. Ranch life is hard work, but it’s fun. I’ve been really positive here, which is surprising because I was always so negative before.”
Hopes for a Brighter Future
The cattle drives give students a chance to apply what they’ve learned from arena work and therapy.
Carter and other horsemanship instructors at Turn-About truly live the cowboy lifestyle. Their primary goal isn’t necessarily to make the teens expert riders. Instead, their hope is that the teens develop valuable life skills such as dealing with problems as they arise, learning to respect and appreciate other people, and develop real values like honesty, accountability and responsibility.
When asked what it is about Turn-About Ranch that makes the program so effective, Carter said simply, “there’s something special teenagers connect to out here – being out with a horse in the country, you can’t help but feel something spiritual.”
Whatever form of equine therapy you choose for your struggling teen, the benefits of working with horses are undeniable. Young people learn patience, compassion, and responsibility, as well as communication, decision-making, and leadership skills, while realizing (often for the first time) the extent to which their actions affect others close to them. These life lessons apply not only in a riding arena or out on the trail, but also to a teen’s everyday existence at home and in school.
About Turn-About RanchTurn-About Ranch is a wilderness therapy and residential treatment program located in the heart of Southern Utah’s canyon country. Students experience life on a real working ranch while undergoing treatment to improve their life back home. Surrounded by multiple national parks and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Turn-About Ranch is the ideal location for youth of today to have the space they need to find healing and purpose.