When life is feeling a lot like a big pile of manure, some say a few barn chores may be exactly what you need.
That’s why a pair of therapists built a non-profit ranch south of Traverse City. They say working with animals can help children with multiple and serious problems. They say it also works with single moms and business leaders who need a little extra confidence.
The Peace Ranch, in Grawn’s Hoosier Valley looks pretty non-descript from the road. Nothing fancy, it’s the only home around here with horses, a pen of alpacas and a mini-horse named Coco.
“We’ll get the horse manure cleaned up and then what we’re going to do is we’ll groom Coco. Would you like to do that?” Volunteer Lilean Sedlacek asks six-year-old Trevor Kubert as a Friday afternoon “Hug and Groom” event gets underway.
Trevor came to help out with the animals with his mom and three brothers. They’re all together in the alpaca pen. Sedlacek introduces the animals.
“I’m going to have you move towards the alpaca, and you watch to see what they do, okay?” she says.
The pack of brothers, ages two to 12, advance on the animals. The alpacas back away.
“So if you were doing to describe the personality, or the alpaca-ality of these creatures what would you say? Are they bold or are they shy?”
“Pretty shy,” responds 12-year-old Aaron.
The alpacas aren’t the only ones in the pen today who are shy.
“One of the kids would not introduce himself to me,” Sedlacek says of nine-year-old Brendan. “But he introduced himself to the alpacas. And now he’s talking about the shyness of the animals and he’s recognizing those trails within himself.”
And that’s the idea, she says. The animals can teach us something about ourselves.
The vision for this ranch was born five years ago. Executive Director Jackie Kaschel and her husband are both therapists. She runs programs here. He has a counseling practice in town.
Kaschel says working with animals can give people a real confidence boost.
“You know, I mean you think about being a kid and going near an animal – any size animal – and just some of the insecure feelings it brings up,” she says. “And for kids and adults to be able to come out and handle these animals and then achieve a certain amount of skill, it’s something that you have to work at.
“You have, kind of, manage your own feelings, your own anxiety, whatever is going on inside of you. And you need to apply the skill. And at the end you have the immediate result and that feeling of, ‘Wow, I can really do it!’”
Kaschel says the ranch offers private therapy sessions. This summer it will also offer a couple summer camps for kids and workshops for breast cancer survivors.
A Family Story
In the beginning, the idea for the ranch was born after the Kaschel’s adopted four girls from state foster care. They had been abused and neglected and Jackie thought therapy with horses was exactly what the girls needed.
Two are now grown, but 16-year-old Nikki and 12-year-old Tori can often be spotted in the horse pen. Just now, Nikki stands by as Tori lifts a horse’s hove and brushes on a compound.
“It’s something that makes the horse’s hove not so dry, and so it sort of protects the hove,” Tori explains while she works.
Tori says she had a hard time with school last year, especially with reading. Now she says her homeschooling is going much better and she doesn’t know exactly why but she thinks the horses help.
“You know, when I’m really mad or get upset and just feel like yelling or something, I like to go outside hang out with the horses and everything just falls right off and I just feel nice and peaceful again,” she says.