Students Saddle Up to Learn Life Skills
Scholl Community Impact Group has a singular mission: to impact the lives of individuals with physical, cognitive or emotional disabilities through meaningful interactions with horses. Led by Scholl’s patient equine team – Roanie, Norm, Wrangler, Flip and Marshall – children and adults across northern Wisconsin are building muscle strength, improving eye-hand coordination, refining social skills and gaining self-confidence, all while learning to ride and care for these gentle giants.
The Winchester, Wisconsin-based program is a labor of love for Lenelle Scholl, who started the non-profit in 2009. In the ensuing years, she’s partnered with area schools, working side-by-side with teachers, caseworkers and families to incorporate equine-assisted therapy into students’ Individual Education Programs.
At Scholl, it’s the horses who are the true teachers, each with its own unique skill set. For example, Roanie, who Lenelle describes as the head school master of the group, has a special connection with children on the autism spectrum. “It’s amazing how these kids, because of the bond they have with Roanie, will do things for him way outside their normal behavior,” Lenelle says, explaining that she’s witnessed non-verbal children learn to say his name and give commands.
Some students are reluctant at first, but Lenelle insists the horses always win them over. She remembers one especially averse high school student. “She didn’t like dirt, and she didn’t want to be touched,” Lenelle explains, remembering how difficult it was to coax the girl onto a horse. But after a few sessions, the student had a completely different attitude. “She would jump out of the van, run to the barn, grab her saddle and bridle, and be ready to rock and roll,” Lenelle recalls.
Infusing each lesson with a healthy dose of fun is part of Scholl’s secret to success, but the program’s benefits go much deeper. By learning to control their 1,600-pound horses, program participants gain self-confidence and self-esteem; at the same time, they practice critical life skills like decision-making and responsibility. Equally important, the students transfer their newly honed skills into their lives outside the barn, with both schools and families reporting noticeable behavioral differences.
Lenelle acknowledges that most of the program’s participants face considerable challenges, but says at Scholl, the focus is on possibilities, not disabilities. For nine years, the organization has been living that promise, using an amazing group of horses to transform the lives of families throughout Wisconsin’s Northwoods region.