By Amanda Settle
Emily’s story is one riddled with brokenness—the kind that makes you feel sick inside.
She comes from a family that has experienced some of the worse types of trauma. For many kids who have a past similar to Emily’s, the journey toward healing and recovery is slow. Each child requires time to build trust and to share the pain that they‘d rather hide.
None of this was true for Emily. There was no hiding. The pain was right on the surface. She was raw, visceral and honest. Her actions seemed to plead that someone, really anyone, would listen. She needed to know that she was worth being heard. In the midst of the mess, her soul was desperate to be seen. She was convinced she was alone; the only person on the face of the earth who’d walked this horrific road.
But, she wasn’t alone.
From the first day I met Emily, she captured a special place in my heart. The connection that I felt with this broken girl was also felt by one of our small horses named Cassidy. This tiny mare’s fondness for Emily was different from what I’d ever seen her demonstrate before. Every time Cassidy—who was a loner in our herd— would spot Emily, her ears would perk up. Often as we ventured out into the paddock together, it was not uncommon for Cassidy to walk up the hill and meet us halfway with her silent, sweet greeting.
It didn’t take long before Emily’s time with Cassidy became a bright spot in her painful journey of walking through her past brokenness and into a new future of wholeness. I saw Cassidy’s presence minister peace when there was turmoil. The mare gave companionship when Emily was lonely, and she brought a steadiness to a hurting soul when it seemed that everything in life was being shaken. During Emily’s extra hard days, when talking seemed to only stir up the pain, I would quietly suggest that she trot Cassidy around the arena on her own. Without fail, I’d hear her sweet little voice, singing to Cassidy as she rode toward freedom. Within this simple place—for a moment—pain was overridden with peace.
Rarely is there a quick fix for years of trauma. However, step by perseverant step, I’ve seen change. Cassidy’s gentle and ever-so patient nature has helped to build Emily’s confidence and has empowered her in ways I can’t quite explain.
Emily recently expressed in her own words what Cassidy has meant to her:
* Name has been changed
By Emma Jansson
The very first time Bethany came out to the ranch, she told me that she has always dreamt of riding a Clydesdale. I informed her that she was in luck, we have a Clydesdale cross named Little Bear. I told her all about his story. After that, she couldn’t wait to ride him!
Once Little Bear was all groomed and tacked up, we started to work him from the ground in the round pen. She and Little Bear connected. He joined up with her, and followed her around the round pen, matching her step for step. She couldn’t help but break into a big smile and continued to wear it the whole time!
The look in her eyes said to me, “I’m special. I feel wanted.” She rode him bareback for the last part of our session, beaming from ear to ear. During this time, I stepped back and prayed for her. I felt God saying that He had saved Little Bear’s life just for her.
After we put Little Bear away and went to get a snack from the kitchen, I got eye level with her and said, “You know what I think? I think God saved Little Bear many years ago just for you. Just so you could ride him today and make your dream come true.” She looked close to tears and couldn’t say anything in response.
The next time she came to the ranch, she informed me that she told her brother that God had saved Little Bear just for her. Her brother had doubtfully replied, “And hundreds of other kids too.” Bethany looked at him and said, “Jesus would’ve died on the cross if it was just for me . . . so why wouldn’t He save Little Bear just for me?”
I was so proud that she knew of Jesus’ love in the pure way of a child. Later, in our time together, she was gazing thoughtfully around the ranch from the back of a Ranger. When I asked her what she was thinking, she smiled slightly and said, “I think this might be the happiest place on earth.”
By Sarah Robinett
“Sometimes I feel like I want to be brave.”
I stood in silence as I let the words sink in. The girl who sat across from me during our Harvest Day class was painting the word “Brave” in large, bold letters across the wooden board in front of her. I remembered how just the day before, I’d been looking at what seemed to be a completely different child.
This same shy 10 year-old, who we’ll call “Hannah,” stood off to the side as our Greeter paired kids with their session leaders. Her name was called and she came my way. I noticed that she was very tall for her age and walked nervously and somewhat awkwardly as she followed me to start our session.
When I asked her what she wanted to do, she wrung her hands and responded, “I guess maybe . . . we could . . . ride a horse.”
“You guess maybe we could?” I countered with a big smile.
“Oh… um… sorry. Let’s ride a horse.”
At that moment, I had an odd thought. It was more like a deep knowing than a thought. This girl needed to ride Phoenix, more commonly known here as, Phoebe.
Phoebe came as a three-year-old mare from the most extreme rescue the ranch has ever been a part of . . . a backyard breeding program of over 300 starving, emaciated and dead horses. Dogs roamed everywhere too, living and breeding in piles of junk. The dogs were also starved to the point of attacking and eating the carcasses of the horses who’d died. Amazingly, Phoebe survived the rescue and transportation to the ranch and the staff here at Crystal Peaks lovingly nourished Phoebe back to health. Still, however, she sometimes struggles with fear and trust. To be successful during a session, she needs a strong, confident leader.
And Hannah was anything but confident.
Unsure of the combination, but trusting the Lords urging, we set out to halter Phoebe. Hannah listened intently as I told her Phoebe’s horrific story of survival and her current need of a confident rider. I also explained to Hannah that once someone earns Phoebe’s trust, she becomes one of the most loyal horses I’ve ever met.
Once in the arena and atop Phoebe’s back, I was amazed at the transformation I saw in Hannah. She quietly and confidently directed Phoebe around cones and through obstacles. Each time Phoebe acted a bit nervous, Hannah calmly regained her focus. My new, young friend rode like a champion. While riding, she started to talk—and tell me stories—and laugh! She came to life! I stood amazed at the miracle unfolding before my eyes. . .a timid, little girl teaching out to a timid, rescued horse. . . and showing her how to be brave.
“Sometimes I want to be brave.”
I jolted back to the present. “Hannah, yesterday with Phoebe . . . you were brave. It was incredible to watch you work with her so well. It takes a pretty special person to be able to do what you did for such a broken and kind horse.”
She smiled up at me and quietly went back to work. At the end of the class, I looked again at her board. Behind the word “Brave,” was a painted horse silhouette running into the wild colors of a sunset. I couldn’t help but think that horse must have been Phoebe.
It’s always a privilege to spend time with the Vern Patrick Elementary and Cascade Middle School Life Skills classes. Each year these two incredible groups of kids visit Crystal Peaks. Our time together provides an opportunity for them to enjoy ranch life and ride a horse. Many of the kids face various challenges academically, physically and/or developmentally. After a few minutes at the ranch any visible challenges or limitations fade away into the background. From each child’s heart emerges a beautiful portrait of courage and perseverance. Their joy and enthusiasm for life is deeply felt. Their smiles are contagious and far-reaching. Being with these wonderful students always fills our hearts to the brim.
We hope this visual expression warms your heart as much as the time spent with these kids impacted ours.
By Amy Naegeli
Every so often, the ranch has the opportunity to provide school groups with tailor fit field trips to enhance a unique time of learning. On this particular crisp April day, we had the privilege of spending time with the Vern Patrick Elementary School Life Skills class. A bright new school bus maneuvered up the steep, narrow driveway. We as the staff assembled quickly, standing at attention. It felt as though we were waiting for dignitaries to file off the bus. Each of us held an unspoken but noticeable esteem for this small group of children. “So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. And anyone who welcomes this little child on my behalf is welcoming me.” Matthew 18:4-5 (NLT)
There was something so undeniably dear about this group and oh how they must touch the Lord’s heart. All were dressed like cowboys and cowgirls, with their plastic cowboy hats and colorful bandanas. There was excited chatter combined with a few anxious faces as the children turned their attention to the adults.
It was intriguing to see how each of us was paired up with a specific child. We didn’t know these children, nor their specific needs and challenges ahead of time, yet God orchestrated each pairing to His perfect design. I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with emotion. The child I was matched up with, James, chose to instantly trust me with no foreknowledge or guarantee needed. He just believed that I was going to keep him safe and so was our 1200-lb Tennessee Walker, Jed. This young man’s sweet nature was exceedingly charming. It was no wonder that even Jed couldn’t help but do everything that was asked of him. As we prepared Jed with grooming and tack, James encouraged him the whole time. “Come on Jenna. That’s good Jenna. You can do it Jenna”. Many times I shared with my young friend that the gentle giant next to him was indeed a boy, named Jed. There was a special connection with the name Jenna that seemed to resonate and stick with James. So Jed and I accepted his new nickname with joy and soldiered on.
We spent time in the arena with the horses and kids playing games with pool noodles, caution cones, and diving rings. Plentiful smiles mixed with bursts of laughter as enthusiastic voices filled the air. Our faithful horses seemed to know just how necessary their steadiness was on this day and were all wonderfully responsive companions for our new friends. Each of us engaged our session kids in carefree play while gently instructing them in very basic riding skills. After the riding time, we ushered the kids up to the area behind the greenhouse. Once there, Georgia taught the kids all about the process of planting seeds and the importance of the common earthworm. She displayed the concept of order through planting in rows and explained what elements are necessary for plant growth. The kids were eager to participate in digging for worms, as well as planting seeds that would soon produce tender lettuce leaves.
Our time with this group of children and adults was intentionally planned so that we could facilitate much in a limited time frame. Throughout the event specific activities had to be modified to meet the needs for a handful of the children involved. The leaders made these adjustments with grace, understanding and kindness. Their actions poignantly reflected the tenderness of God’s Heart toward us mirroring His consistent patience and forgiveness. Just as God never gives up on us, the leaders continued to work with each child in spite of their fears and self-stated limitations.
The Almighty King is the One that makes us brave. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” 2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV).
By Xandra Assur
Horses are an incredible gift from God. Their patience and gentleness have the natural ability to break down the barriers kids often put up. At the ranch we repeatedly find that when we tell a child one of the horses’ stories, they have a similar story of their own.
I work regularly with a girl who is 9 years old. Over the years Katelyn and I have built a strong friendship. Sometimes she opens up to me about things that go on at school or with her friends. Recently, she came out for a session and wanted to ride a horse she’d never worked with before. I suggested she try Alula, one of our sweet and quiet, reliable horses.
While we were grooming Alula, Katelyn noticed that the mare had a few scars and marks scattered over her body. She asked me where they came from. I told her that Alula is sometimes picked on within the herd because she doesn’t really stand up for herself; she is pushed around by the other horses.
Taking a closer look at her wounds, Katelyn stopped grooming Alula and began to pet her. She then told me that Alula was like a girl in her class who’s picked on because she’s also afraid to stand up for herself. Katelyn said she tried to befriend the girl who was bullied, but expressed it was difficult because then she also becomes a target for harassment.
Alula’s story sparked something in Katelyn. It provided an opportunity for her to talk about a difficult thing at school that may not have come up otherwise. As her mentor, it gave me the chance to listen and offer support.
We never know what a kid’s time with a horse will uncover. Katelyn’s time with Alula was one more example of how God can use a horse’s story to reach down into the life of a child in a unique and important way.
As I pull into the ranch driveway it is quiet. The sun is up—a reminder of God’s goodness—but the air still bears the chill from the night before. Frosty patches hide under the trees where the sunlight has not yet reached. I take a deep breath of the fresh air and begin my journey up to the office. On my way, I softly call the horses to the fence line along the drive. Their sleepy, lazy eyes stir and look in my direction. Shamis, one of our expectant mama horses, comes over and trolls for snuggles. My mind mulls over the significance of the day as I stroke her neck. It’s not just any day. Opening day has arrived—one of my favorite times of the year.
I start my morning chores with a spring in my step. There is a lot to do before the children arrive for sessions. I go over my check list. “Swings up, check. Toy boxes out, check. Wood shop ready, barn clean and warm, check.”
Our one o’clock opening time approaches and the first vehicles arrive. I wait, and then I hear it: car doors slam, and the scuffle of little feet on the gravel accompanied by laughing echoes up the driveway. Excited squeals from kids abound as they spot their favorite four-legged friends in the paddock.
“The children are coming, the children are coming!” I exclaim. I run down to the greeter station and arrive just in time to see members of our herd gathered at the fence in their own unique greeting of sorts. Children puffing from the long walk up the driveway meet their leaders for the day and sessions commence.
Of all of the activity that happens year-round on the ranch, there is nothing better than hearing children’s voices fill the grounds, brush buckets clanking, laughter rolling, the stirring of horses and birds singing. Each is the unmistakable sound of God at work.
Photos by Katie Jacobsen