Horses Help Kids at Sweetwater Youth Ranch
by Bev Hughes
Our program began as a spark in our hearts ten years ago and slowly grew into a flame. Finally one day my husband said, “We can’t wait until we have everything we think we need. We have to start with what we have and trust the Lord to provide what we don’t.” So, in March 2012, Sweetwater Youth Ranch was born on about four acres in West Asheville with a handful of horses and a pocket full of change.
Looking back, I realize my husband’s words were indeed wise. I’m certain now that our step of faith was the right one. We did not have what we needed for all the goals we wanted to accomplish, but we did have enough to begin.
One question we get asked a lot is, “Is our program just for troubled teens?” While this was a question we pondered for a long time ourselves, we chose not to define or target a certain group of children. We feel, instead, that living in a dysfunctional society, all children are a target and can benefit from the Ranch in one way or another. We use a natural method of horsemanship because it is based on communication, trust and respect, which is the very foundation of a good relationship, the very thing we need more of. Horses are very relational. That’s why we say we let the horse be the mentor. They are therapeutic on their own.
During a session, the child has the opportunity to learn about horses, how to be safe around them and how to meet the horse’s needs, as well as learning basic ground and riding skills. A session would typically start with grooming, then move onto a few ground skills, next saddle, mount and dismount, learn how to put the ground skills to a purpose and finally end with a chore.
At this point our immediate needs are basically simple. Granite Screenings for the riding area, fence repair, shed repair, saddles, and helmets but especially for the rainy spring season, wood chips to cover the two acres where the horses reside. The ideal situation would be to have one acre each for grass, but we can meet the horse’s needs on less. Good hay and the right diet will sustain them so gift certificates for feed or donations of good horse hay would be a blessing. All monetary donations are allotted for the general needs of the animals and grounds management unless otherwise designated for the relocation fund. Our main criterion for relocation is the accessibility for the children. Research has shown that similar ministries have far greater success when located within 15 to 20 minutes of a city or town.
The past year we served children from Leicester, West Asheville, Enka-Candler, Mills River and Hendersonville. So we are hoping to relocate somewhere in between in order to continue with these relationships as we make new ones.