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Sky Ranch Foundation Taps HopeFoal Project for Grant

Posted on  | May 16, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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The Boulder, CO-based Medicine Horse Program’s HopeFoal Project has been selected as the most recent recipient of a $20,000 grant from the Sky Ranch Foundation under the charity’s new sustainable model.

The Sky Ranch Foundation has been coordinating support for at-risk kids since 1961, when it was founded by small business owners in the wine, beer and spirits industry. Originally, the foundation purchased land in South Dakota and built and ran a residential treatment center at the ranch. While the foundation recently made a decision to close the ranch, it is still a fully recognized charitable organization and continues to focus on youths with special needs, but through direct assistance and monetary grants.

The award-winning HopeFoal Project partners rescued foals with depressed and anxious teens. The teens work with trained therapists and horse handlers to help gentle the foals. In the process, both foal and teen are healed.

For more than 11 years, Medicine Horse Program, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, has been dedicated to enhancing the quality of life of adolescents, families, and adults through unique equine-assisted experiences. The organization provides group and individual therapy sessions that focus on healing. Vulnerable youth populations are an emphasis at Medicine Horse Program.

“We are thrilled to have the financial support from the Sky Ranch Foundation,” says Kathy Johnson, executive director of Medicine Horse Program. “We have more children in need than ever before. The cost of hay is soaring, expenses are up and donations are down due to the economy. We need these generous donations to provide the quality of services for which we are nationally renowned.”

Earlier this year, Sky Ranch Foundation announced that, due to government budget cuts, the Sky Ranch for Boys, which had been the Foundation’s exclusive beneficiary since 1961, was closing. In the wake of this unfortunate development, the leaders of Sky Ranch Foundation rededicated themselves to finding new ways to help programs helping kids.

Foundation President Ralph Aguera noted, “We want to do what we can to help make sure other outstanding programs don’t meet the same fate that befell Sky Ranch for Boys. These are tough times for everyone in this field. I believe there is enough care, concern and generosity among the people in the alcohol beverage industry that we will be able to continue making an important difference.”

This donation is in memory of Harry G. Wiles (1945-2010), by his friends and associates in the Sky Ranch Foundation, American Beverage Licensees and throughout the hospitality industry. A native of Boulder, Colorado, Harry knew how horses can help kids.

Below is a letter about one touching story about how equine therapy helped one particular child:

Dear Sara,
I just wanted to give you an update from the work we have done with the Sky Ranch Foundation Grant for the HopeFoal Project. We used over 40 HopeFoal scholarships so far this year so low income at risk kids can take part in our programs. We are well ahead of our goals.  With bad economic times, we’ve had a higher rate of really high risk-clients, many requiring individual therapy, so we’ve used scholarships for individual clients as well as those in groups.

In one mixed group of boys and girls, a 15 year old boy, R., arrived with Asperger’s  syndrome (high functioning autism), and obsessive/compulsive disorder as well as elective mutism. In short, R. was totally withdrawn from his classmates, would not touch anything and would only speak a few words to the few adults he trusted the most.  His teachers were shocked that he came to the farm at all and told me “he never went anywhere with them.”

But he chose to come to the Ranch for the 8 week session. He stood, apart from the others, so besieged by his anxiety disorders that he would never speak in the opening or closing circles and moved only at the periphery of the group. Until we got to the horses.
I noticed him watching the horses. I started out with one of our miniature horses, and arranged for Midnight to bump R. with his nose. R. smiled, the first I had seen. The next week, I chose a larger horse, Starlight, who was eye level with R. and who was pushier, frisking R’s pockets for treats. R. smiled again. And Starlight really seemed to like him, and began to follow him. Although R. would not touch the leadrope or the horse, and stood always with his hands by his throat, silently watching, Starlight pushed past his boundaries. I held the rope and she followed him. She stopped when he stopped and walked when he walked. For the first time, he was taking part in an activity with the other children.

I did some research on elective mutism and realized that pressure to talk often made the anxiety worse. R. and I spent a lot time together. I chattered and he seemed to listen. I didn’t care that he didn’t talk, any more than I care that the horses don’t talk.

At the end of the fourth session, R. looked at me and said, “When are we going to ride?” “Next week,” I promised. Hearing his voice for the first time stopped me in my tracks.

As the next session approached, I was worried. R. would not touch a rope or a horse or anything. He would not wear gloves. How would he wear a helmet? How would he get on? How would he hold the reins?
I decided to let nature take its course. I tacked up Starlight and stood at the base of the mounting block, just waiting.  R. appeared around the corner, helmet already on his head. Things were looking good. Three times I showed him, how to get on and get off. He stood at the base of the mounting block, twisted like a pretzel, hands at this throat, eyes shifting back and forth. I got on and got off, just to show him it was safe. All of a sudden, he ran up the  steps and jumped on the horse. He picked up the reins.

He walked with the other riders. He trotted a little. And he smiled a lot.

The next Friday, the phone rang. It was R’s mother. She said, “is this the Kathy who is helping R. learn to ride?”

I said, “Yes.”

She said, “It has changed our lives.” She told me that R. was talking again. That he had changed his own clothes for the first time in 18 months. And most importantly he picked up the violin again. She explained that as a child R. was a violin virtuoso and a Shakespearean scholar. But with hard family times, the anxiety disorder set in. He had OCD and washed his hand so much they bled when he played the violin. He stopped playing. He shut down about 2 years ago and this was his first real breakthrough. She had hope.

R.  told her that, “Kathy listens.” But I didn’t really listen. He didn’t talk, what could I listen to? The horses listened to him. They did what he asked when he spoke to them with his body.

I couldn’t believe it. R. came to the class. He pulled me to the side. He would not shut up! He told me about this violin and all 5 parts of Bach’s Partita. He told me about his new tennis shoes. He told me about Fibonnaci’s ratio and how it pertained to the Apple Computer Logo.  Without hesitation, he carried the saddle and bridle to the horse, helped me tack up Starlight, and got on and rode. He held the reins, he steered, he learned to post.  When he finished, I gave him a high five, a low five and knuckles. I figured he would be washing his hands for three weeks. But, he kept smiling.

The next week he came back for the final session. He tacked the horse up, he rode and he told me had a date! He talked about getting his learner’s permit. He talked about the horses and he talked about his music. He invited me to attend his violin recital a few weeks away.

I did. He plays like he is pouring his soul into the song. I approached him after the recital and gave him a high five, a low five and knuckles.

I said, “you make the violin sound like it is more than one instrument. You were the only one who could do that. How did you do that? It’s amazing.”

He said, “in 1640, Paganini lowered the bridge on the violin, allowing you to play two notes at once.”
Since then, I have been to hear him play with the Youth Symphony.  I met his new girlfriend.  He wants to come back for riding lessons. He has his learner’s permit.

In 35 years of teaching, this is the most profound affect I have ever had on a child. Sky Ranch helped make it happen. R’s school wants to bring the whole school back year around to continue in this program.  We are struggling financially just to make our mortgage.  We need your continued help.

Sincerely, Kathy


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