The girls who live at Heartland Girls Ranch (HGR) come with all kinds of emotional baggage. Many are struggling with mental, emotional and behavioral challenges; some have experienced significant trauma. But no matter their burden, the horses at HGR stand ready to help residents heal, learn and grow.
It’s all part of the Ranch’s unique therapy program, which matches each girl with a horse to care for during their stay. During their time at the Ranch, the girls learn the basics of horse care – and a lot more.
“Many of our residents arrive broken, lonely and hurt,” explains Ally Goff, the Ranch’s horse program director. “With the help of our horses, they learn positive traits, including confidence, patience, self-esteem and how to love and care for others.”
In a typical year, HGR will serve 60 to 70 girls, providing housing, supportive services, mental health care, and schooling – along with that daily dose of equine therapy. Since each resident has unique goals and needs, the equine-assisted learning programs can look vastly different from one resident to the next.
Ally recalls one resident’s transformative story. The teen was terrified of horses, but over a six-month period, she developed a healthy, strong relationship with a pony named Petey. “The pair did hours of equine-assisted learning, working on activities to manage fear and build trust,” Alley recalls. After months of groundwork, the girl further challenged herself to ride, which required switching to another horse.
With the help of a couple of horses, the troubled teen learned to face her fears, build relationships, establish trust and gained confidence in herself. “It’s amazing to see the change that these horses bring to each resident,” Ally concludes.