Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Lessons at the Youth Ranch

Take one screwed-up kid. Add routine meals and a safe bed, adults that care, and animals to tend. Trust this kid and provide him or her the “opportunity to fail” and impressive things happen. 

The Idaho Youth Ranch, established in 1953, was my Mom’s favorite charity. Whenever someone died she wrote out a small check in their name to the Ranch, where “problem” kids get a second chance. I wish Mom could have tagged along when Mark and I attended the Ranch’s donor appreciation dinner this week. We had some great prime rib, toured the residence halls and the indoor riding arena, and heard from instructors and students about the services offered there.

The staff member in charge of the equine program described how kids are given the latitude, the freedom, to screw up, with the only consequence being a fall off a horse in the soft plowed dirt. Each child is assigned a horse to take care of. They learn lessons, most of which are acquired by failing the first time. They learn to catch and halter their horse, feed and water them, and groom their coat. Then they learn to ride - step by step.

Animals are very forgiving. They won’t abandon you. They won’t bully, judge, or chastise. They’ll be there the next day and give you a fair shot to start over. It is this acceptance that begins the healing process the kids go through while staying at the ranch.

The ranch also has its own 4-H program with steers and dairy calves for the kids to show at the county fair. The children learn quickly that this animal depends on them. Very scary stuff, according to one girl, but one that taught her courage, patience, and how to be responsible. Learning skills like these make it possible for most to return home after a year at the ranch.

At the end of the evening as we assembled for dinner, the students were nowhere to be seen. They were out gathering up the horses that had gotten out of their corral. “Just what might happen on a real ranch,” said our host. After the vagabonds were back in the gate, the kids joined us and were distributed among the tables to talk to the adults, a bit windblown, but proud of their efforts.

Of course, Mark and I already know the value of putting kids with animals. We had our own 4-H club when our kids were little. We're very glad the method is alive and well at the Youth Ranch (http://www.youthranch.org/). 

Anna and Dan

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