- Associated Press - Monday, May 8, 2017

KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) - Susan Zody knows that even if a kid doesn’t trust an adult, there’s a chance they’ll trust a horse.

For the last few years, Zody has been working with students in the community who are dealing with emotional and behavioral issues. Many have trouble trusting other people, especially adults. But Zody’s secret weapon is therapeutic horse riding.

It started when Zody served as a volunteer at the Kokomo Urban Outreach. She watched as students would come for evening meals there and leave immediately afterward without staying for the bible-focused classes.

Zody said she worked with the staff to provide a class for older students, and it worked for a while, but as the students grew older and transitioned into fifth and sixth grades, they once again stopped coming.

“I thought ‘What can I do?’” she said.

She remembered hearing about a horse ranch in Oregon that worked with youth facing difficult home lives, and she knew it was something she wanted to bring to Kokomo.

For the past few years, she’s been taking a group of students from around Howard County to horse ranches in other cities, including Equiventure in Russiaville, which focuses primarily on children with disabilities. The students Zody was working with didn’t necessarily have disabilities, she said, but they did benefit from therapeutic riding.

It had a visible effect on the kids Zody was working with, she said. She watched as angry children, some who had faced abuse or lived in homes with drug use, unwound around the horses.

During sessions, they first would have the students watch the horses, figuring out which horse seemed to be the leader and which horses seemed to be left out or picked on by the rest of the herd.

“It’s amazing to watch kids pick a horse that’s similar to them,” she said.

The students learned how to groom, lead and ride their horses. It was a way to teach the students to stay calm, learn responsibility and find something they were interested in.

The horses were a powerful tool when reaching children who don’t trust adults, Zody said.

“The horses don’t judge the kids,” Zody said. “They can be real with the horses.”

Last year, as the group was continuing to travel to other therapeutic riding facilities, Zody received a $10,000 donation from a private donor to expand her work inside the county.

“When I got it, I thought, ‘Is this for more than just these kids?’” Zody said.

So she started reaching out to businesses and people who work with youth in the community, finding out whether it would support a new therapeutic riding organization specifically targeted toward at-risk youth. When she received positive feedback, she decided to go forward with it.

For the past few months, Zody and her crew have been training in Fort Wayne to become certified therapeutic riding trainers. Starting in June, the Narrow Gate Horse Ranch will begin operating out of an existing ranch on the west side of town. Zody said they will be able to use the space for free for the first two years while they raise money for operations after that.

There are a few things left to work out before everything is up and running smoothly, Zody said. For one, they’re working on figuring out a way to transport children from the inner-city area to the horse ranch on the west side of town. They’re also working to get donations to sponsor kids who want to participate.

Zody said she hopes the ranch will become a community effort, where groups like Bridges Outreach and the Kokomo Urban Outreach will be able to work with the organization to help connect troubled youth with the riding program.

Casey Cline with Bridges Outreach said some of the Bridges students have been involved with Zody’s work over the last few years, and he’s excited to see the ranch open up.

“It’s just another great resource for the community and a great way for our kids to have their needs met in different ways,” he said.

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Source: Kokomo Tribune, https://bit.ly/2oV6Lsk

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Information from: Kokomo Tribune, https://www.ktonline.com


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