CALDWELL — The Idaho Youth Ranch is expanding an innovative approach to improve the lives of the children they help with the ribbon cutting of a new equestrian center.
Among a number of ways they help youth who have experienced trauma, the Idaho Youth ranch uses the healing power of horses.
This new facility will now provide ways for the youth ranch to treat multiple children at a time, using some of their eleven horses for equine therapy sessions.
"Idaho ranks in the top third of all states for childhood trauma. We're also up there for youth suicide," said Scott Curtis, CEO of Idaho Youth Ranch.
So the ribbon cutting of the new IYR equine therapy arena was the mark of a big milestone, "The facility itself actually allows us to, the capacity to triple our therapeutic interventions," said Curtis.
They do it all using a mental health therapist, an equine specialist, and a horse. "They're a prey animal, so they know what it's like to have had trauma or prepare for trauma," said Amanda Smith, Program Manager of the Idaho Youth Ranch Anchor House.
So for decades now, the Idaho Youth Ranch has used horse instincts to complement a session with a therapist, as a way to help kids learn to master internal regulation.
"They very much mirror, like there's going to be a group leader, there's gonna be followers, there's gonna be instigators and people who are class clowns. It's the same thing in groups of horses as you find in groups of teenagers," said Smith.
But the youth don't saddle up and go riding, the IYR’s equine therapy takes place on the dirt.
"We might say create a obstacle course that represents all your challenges to becoming sober," said Smith.
Then the youth puts on their thinking cap, coming up with things that might distract them from keeping that sobriety, like distractions and negative peers or difficult living environment. Then, using props like hula hoops, cones, stuffed animals, etc., along with the horse, they overcome those obstacles.
"We've had clients who've had a lot of grief and loss, who've been the victims of sexual assault, who've come from families with domestic violence, military families after a parents been deployed," said Smith, and those are among a long list of other real-life obstacles children face.
"We don't want them to act, they don't have specialized training, their job is to be who they are and to bring that out in our clients," said Smith.
The new arena is just phase one of the Idaho Youth Ranch property in Caldwell. Phase two will be a new residential facility that will house youth temporarily.