Life on the Ranch: A Place to Call Home
It’s a place where Saturday afternoon’s are spent down by the lake with a fishing pole and a tire swing. A place where dinner’s on the table shortly before sundown, and feeding the horses is soon to follow. Every day here offers a reason to give thanks.
More than 1,000 Arkansas youth have come to know this as “Life on the Ranch,” and for many, it’s the place they call home. For more than 35 years, the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches (the Ranch) have given abandoned, neglected and abused children a second chance at childhood to help them realize their true potential – one with proper healthcare, emotional and spiritual health, educational opportunities and safety.
Life on the Ranch teaches behavioral accountability, positive work ethic and how to find faith in both yourself and others. Ranchers (those living on the Ranch) live with house parents and other children and are given daily chores, and responsibilities, many involving care for animals.
Each child is also guaranteed a quality public school education, and the Ranch provides all the necessities – school supplies, technological infrastructure and tutoring – to help them reach their goals of a post-secondary education.
The Ranch began as two mobile homes on several acres in Independence County. Through the support of Arkansans, the program has expanded to include three campuses in Independence, Clark, and Crawford counties, and a multitude of outreach programs. What began as a safe haven for two boys has become current home for 80 boys and girls. It costs approximately $30,000 to care for a child on an annual basis, and 95% of that money comes from private donations.
Horses and Healing Go Hand and Hoof
Horses are an important part of life at the Ranch. We offer several programs that help Ranchers adjust to their new home settings. Residents are encouraged to take part in our riding program, especially in the summer months. Early morning and sunset rides over the 528-acre Ranch campus in Batesville feature fields of knee high Bermuda grass and the banks of the White River where the air is cooler.
Equestrian therapy also helps Ranchers regain the ability to trust, the unfortunate result of a broken home life. Residents will strike up friendships with a particular horse and build memories that last a lifetime – memories of a friend who gave them confidence and a sense of responsibility during a time of low self-esteem and loneliness.
“It’s interesting to see which kid is drawn to which animal,” Philip Ives, superintendent at the Ranch, says. “Those who have been lied to and abandoned, they tend to seek out the trust of a horse who comes from a similar background. When the two interact during therapy sessions, that’s when the healing begins, on both ends.”
Through guided sessions on general horse grooming, one-on-one sessions with the horses and a series of tasks relating to non-verbal communication, Ranchers develop nourishing relationships that help cope with stress find meaning in fulfilling responsibilities. Teaching their equine counterpart obedience also helps them to become more self-disciplined. According Ives, the Ranchers are taught to analyze different signs and reactions made by the horse in order to translate to human behavior.
“It’s all about positive reinforcement, Ives explains. “They learn about the balance between giving and taking, and ultimately, they begin to develop a growing sense of prudence, empathy, and trust. A child who grows up around these animals realizes a horse can be a gentle and forgiving friend who at the same time requires respect and understanding of its fragile spirit and great strength.”
Most Ranchers participate in the equestrian therapy program, and as Ives notes, results are beneficial from the onset through adulthood.
“At the end of the day, they [Ranchers] can lie to me and to their house parents, but they can’t fake their feelings with a horse. The horse’s attitude is very reflective of the rancher’s progress, and since the animals don’t judge them, the kids can let down their guard. During these sessions, ranchers are relieved of all social pressures.”