Horse Therapy Program Helps Teens Deal With Trauma - KFYRTV.COM - Bismarck, ND - News, Weather, Sports

Horse Therapy Program Helps Teens Deal With Trauma

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When children and teens suffer physical, emotional or mental abuse, they may develop poor coping skills to deal with their feelings. Who could have imagined a ranch in western North Dakota could help teens deal with those issues.

Home on the Range sits on a picturesque piece of land in extreme western North Dakota near Sentinel Butte, but the stories of the teens who live there are far from pretty.

The 42 boys and girls have come to the ranch through state's Division of Judicial Services or County Social Service departments, and the ranch helps them turn their lives around. Every teenager at Home on the Range has a different story, but the staff says they're hoping to change the ending to all those stories.

"They learn to think of others, they just learn how to go out in the world and hopefully make a better life for themselves," says Bettye Knight, Home on the Range. 

Teens come to the ranch with a variety of problems.

"We have a lot of kids that have lost people close to them, so some grief and loss, sexual trauma, physical or emotional abuse," says clinical social worker Jessica Maness.

The social workers and therapists use a combination of individual and group therapy to help the residents overcome those problems.

"We've had kids come in and watch miracles happen really, kids grow and learn about themselves and connect with something other than themselves," says therapist Laura Feldmann.

And in many cases, that something is a horse.

"The miracles happen with the horses and the kids, and we get to watch. The kids learn about commitment, and boundaries, and limits, and relationships, and the whole gamut if they're willing to do so," says Feldmann.

And Home on the Range really focuses on teaching kids to be independent so they can think for themselves once they leave.

"It's not just us sitting up here, reading step one to grief and loss, step two to anger management. It's from them, it's theirs. It's their work, they own it. Hopefully that sticks with him," says Feldmann.

"I've seen lots of benefits with the kids here that I've worked with, one child in particular is learning a lot about relationships and what is a healthy relationship," says therapist Jessica Stevenson.

Most of the therapists can easily recall a child that has truly changed.

One describes a girl who was told to write four problems she was working on, on pieces of paper and put them on the horse's hooves. She then had to attempt to clean the horses hooves, and when she got to the last one the horse kept walking in circles.

"She stands up and she's got these tears in her eyes and she said, 'He is just like me.' And I said what do you mean? It was grief and loss and the kid said, "I've lost five people close to me, and I have never ever dealt with it," says Feldmann.

It's situations like that that motivate the social workers to continue their work.

"No two days are alike ever," says Maness

And as the teens leave, the staff says they hope they experience happy trails the rest of their lives.

Funding for the ranch comes mostly from the state, but also through donations. To learn more about Home on the Range visit hotrnd.com.


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