At Alpine Ridge Farm, miracles happen every day. Horses, minis, and donkeys that have been abused are cared for, socialized, and learn to trust; kids and teens who are suffering from trauma are cared for and learn to trust themselves.
When hurting teens can reach out to and lead such magnificent animals, they learn confidence. “It’s building a partnership,” Sue Eulau, an instructor and board member says. “The kids push out of their comfort zone to communicate with the horses.”
I watched it happen.
Sam, a slight teenage girl with a long ponytail, speaks so quietly that her words are indistinguishable from the whinnies that echo throughout the arena. Her head is mostly down and eye contact is brief and hesitant. The plan today is that she will guide Scarlett, a big chestnut with a white blaze, first with a lead rope, and then with the trust she will build between them.
When Scarlett comes into the arena, the horse’s head is up and her ears forward and alert.
“Look in the direction she’s looking,” Sue says to Sam softly. “Talk to her. She’s looking to you for safety. That’s number one with horses.”
Sam nods and walks up to the mare, hands open, her own body language gentle and welcoming.
“Good…good. It’s a whole body thing. You’re going to keep her safe.”
Sue shows the teen how to approach the mare from the side, not the front, so the horse can see her clearly. With unhurried motions, Sam touches the horse’s shoulder. Scarlett swings her head toward Sam.
“Want to take her for a walk?” Sue asks. “It’s okay if she is anxious. Just say, ‘I’ve got you,’ and focus on your breath.”
The teen takes the rope. The big horse’s head stretches a little forward and then she follows the girl in a slow walk around the arena.
Sam’s shoulders straighten and a smile touches her face.
And then the hard part of the lesson. The lead rope is removed. From a few yards away, Sam faces the horse then gestures and clucks for Scarlett to follow her.
“She doesn’t know those gestures,” Sue says. “But whatever connection you make is the right one. She’ll learn from you.”
Sam repeats the gestures, leaning forward as though connected by an invisible thread. And Scarlett does learn. After a few seconds, the mare steps towards the girl, clearly willing to trust, to follow her lead. The two walk around the arena, the big horse staying close, ambling in apparent contentment to be with this girl whose voice is gentle and whose hands are careful.
Sam’s voice is stronger and more confident as she asks Sue questions; the smile doesn’t leave her face and her eyes are bright with the pleasure of the connection she has made.
Trust and confidence.
She’s got this.
Contributing Author: Susan Brown