It’s no secret that I’m a little horse crazy. I have a deep love for those beautiful, four-legged creatures and have spent most of my life around them. I’ve gone over what I’ve learned from them personally in a blog before (see http://www.brightsideranch.com/blog/2014/1/6/why-use-horses), but that’s just my experience and perspective. The truth is that horses are remarkable animals, and it is because they are naturally empathetic that they make such great mentoring partners.
Horses are herd animals and depend on being able to feel what is going on with other herd members to survive in the wild, and so horses are incredibly sensitive to their environment and have the ability to mirror our emotions. When we are afraid, angry, timid, bold, hesitant, or aggressive, horses easily pick up on those vibes and respond immediately. Interacting with horses provides countless opportunities for teachable moments. Bright Side Youth Ranch’s mentoring sessions create opportunities for a dynamic connection between a horse, a child, and a mentor; and it’s through working with horses and using them as a launch pad for discussion, learning, and reflection that mentors can help children set goals, solve problems, and make good choices. On an even deeper level, mentors can help youth discover the wonder of God and how to live passionately for Jesus through being immersed in a ranch environment. These individualized sessions provide opportunities for the kids and the horses benefit from each other and those benefits can create positive ripple effects in their lives that extend beyond the boundaries of Bright Side.
What is really interesting is the scientific research results when it comes to the connection between a child and a horse. Recently, a study from Washington State University revealed that children who work with horses are able to dramatically reduce their levels of cortisol (the stress hormone). The 130 kids in this program were in 5th-8th grade and were given 90 minutes a week for 12 weeks to work in and around horses. At the end of the 12 weeks, the children who had participated in the program had “significantly lower stress hormone levels throughout the day and in the afternoon” (which is amazing since higher levels of stress hormones in the afternoon can be a risk factor for kids dealing with anxiety and depression). See the brief results of the study here: http://www.medicaldaily.com/horses-reduce-stress-hormone-levels-children-could-cut-mental-illness-risk-278786
Horses are uniquely and beautifully designed to capture our hearts and imaginations. They have a powerful way of drawing up beside us a lending us comfort when times are difficult. They also teach us to laugh, smile, cry, find empathy, and shoulder responsibility. They can connect with us in ways that defy logic or reason. They can even push us outside our comfort zones at times. It is through this deep connection forged between a child and a horse where we truly believe God creates opportunities for personal growth and healing.
I find that I am immensely blessed to help kids discover how big God is and how much He cares for them through a relationship with an amazing animal like a horse.