Teens in need gain empathy, wellness from atop a saddle or down in the pen
Local rancher Honey Cowan believes in the healing power of nature, and she made it the basis of her new wellness program for teens.
Cowan, a retired therapist and owner of C-Horse Ranch in Auburn, is hard at work on starting a non-profit organization called “Healing Pastures” to foster confidence and psychological health in teens with individual needs through learning to ride horses and caring for animals. In addition to her animals – a lame sheep, a pig, a few goats, dogs, cats, chickens and several horses, among others – she said she has 10 acres, a budget and seven people behind her so far, with another 30 invitations in the mail to recruit community members for focus groups.
Cowan is no stranger to forming service organizations, having started a cancer survivors’ support group and hosted riding lessons, field trips, birthday parties, and other events at her ranch over the past several years. Her latest project, aimed at providing “equine, animal, and agricultural-related wellness programs for people with individual needs to help promote happiness, healthy living, and caring,” was motivated by the recent school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
“I’ve been doing equine facilitative psychotherapy since 1994, and what prompted (this) was the shootings in the schools, and that really got me thinking that we just need to get kids into the outdoors more and involved in wholesome outdoor activities. A lot of kids that have difficulty relating to people relate to animals really well,” she said. “Perfectly normal kids are so into electronics and computers and Xboxes that they’re losing their heart, so what I want to do is get them involved with animals, and get them in the outdoors, and work with the community to know that the heart part is just as important as the head part.”
She said interacting with animals can be emotionally and psychologically soothing for teens with or without anxiety, Asperger’s syndrome, or other conditions, and it can get them invested in the healthy practice of growing, nurturing, and caring for things.
“That’s the big thing – they can get some empathic feeling for these animals. Probably half of our animals are rescued,” she said.
She is also working with AIM, an organization that helps adults with special needs, to bring people to work in her garden and ranch; with the Regional Occupation Program to set up internships for animal studies students; and with Child Advocates of Placer County’s Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program to set up riding lessons.
Healing Pastures Executive Director Kim Laehle said she first came to the ranch last April, having enrolled her children in riding camp. She enrolled them in every subsequent riding camp for her daughter’s sake, but her son took to it with equal enthusiasm.
“I think it’s really helped them with their confidence,” said Laehle. “They’re both really secure about it. They’ve both fallen off, which all riders do, and it was just a lesson that they learned, and it wasn’t a big horrifying thing to fall off a horse. It was just like, ‘OK, next time I have to do this or try that.’ It’s really a confidence builder.”
Kimberly Tellman, a client who enrolled her teenage daughter in riding lessons, said her daughter’s time at the ranch made a noticeable difference.
“She has sky-high anxiety, and riding just calms her. It grounds her so immediately,” she said. “When she first got here, she was so scared. Just scared of making a mistake, scared of failing, scared just because she was scared, and she has learned so much in such a short amount of time about caring for horses, about riding the horses, and her confidence has just skyrocketed. She started a new school without any problem at all.”
Laehle expects Healing Pastures to acquire 501(c)3 status in the next month or so, and as the organization finishes recruiting board members and designing its website, it will hold focus groups in early February to spread the word about the project and receive input on how best to serve the community.