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Horses help children and moms heal - Animals bring extra benefit to Family Care

April 5, 2013

By J. Blake Ragsdale, C&C Managing Editor

Celina slowly strokes the brush across the back of Gee. As the 10-year-old Oak Ranch resident brushes the gentle horse, four of Celina’s siblings groom another horse while the children’s mother tends to her two babies. Just as Gee is the oldest of Oak Ranch’s five horses, Celina is the oldest of her six brothers and sisters.

“I like riding the horses, grooming them and just spending time with them all,” says Celina. “It calms down your nerves a little bit.”

The horses are a soothing presence for the children and mothers who live at Oak Ranch in Broadway. Last year, Family Care became available at the 755-acre residential ranch. The program provides a safe, comfortable home for children and their single mothers while moms work to rebuild their families’ lives. Staff members at the ranch provide support as mothers gain the skills and resources needed to move their families to successful, independent living situations. The property’s permanent residents, Oak Ranch’s horses, are a vital part of the support system.

“My children love the horses. It’s an experience I wouldn’t have been able to give them,” says Celina’s mother Sherri. “It’s very peaceful here. And working with the horses gives them all something they can do together.”

Oak Ranch barn manager Alicia Rosser says people can connect with horses. “It’s about healing. So many of the mothers have faced challenges that make our problems look small.”

When a family first comes to the ranch, she shows them the property’s barn where they first meet the two gentlest horses – Gee and Crystal.

“Once a family is acquainted with the barn, we want to have fun, but within that, we have to be mindful of safety and learn to always treat the horses with respect,” says Rosser.

During their equine sessions, families learn the proper way to care for the animals. They are taught grooming techniques and how to lead and ride the horses.

“The family works together with their horse so it helps them work as a team,” explains Rosser. “It’s an accomplishment for them when they learn how to control a 1,000-pound animal. You have to respect the horse, but you also have to establish dominance. That translates to life. It teaches you there are times when you have to stand up for yourself and that’s okay.”

Last year, two of Oak Ranch’s mothers, Erin (who was featured with her twin daughters in the January issue of C&C) and Widya and her four-year-old daughter Bella, competed in the Johnston County Horse Show in Smithfield. All three residents won ribbons in various classes of competition.

“These women worked so hard for three or four months. They rode two hours per day for three to four days a week,” explains Rosser.

In the months ahead, Rosser plans on working with some of the newer mothers and children in preparation for another competition. According to Rosser, the value Oak Ranch’s horses bring to Family Care goes beyond awards.

“For the moms, it’s about helping them realize they can face their challenges. There is so much reward in seeing how horses help people.”

CLICK TO LEARN MORE ABOUT OAK RANCH AND FAMILY CARE