The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

October 19, 2013

Home on the ranch

Rachael Van Zorn
Woodward News/CNHI News Service

MOORELAND, Okla. — When Kyla Dolph was 16 years old, she wanted to die.

Suicidal with a fractured relationship with her father and mother, the young teen resorted to drugs and cutting to dull or erase her painful existence, she said.

Now, two years later, if you ask Dolph, she will not skirt the truth.

She will tell you, she most likely would not be alive today were it not for her nearly 10-month stay at a place of healing near Mooreland called White Horse Ranch.

“When I got here I was really depressed and had no relationship with my mother. I was at the point where I had been in and out of so many places that when I came here, I just thought I would fake my treatment and go home,” Dolph said. “But the longer I stayed here, the more I realized that I had some responsibility in all of this and that I had to open up and talk about my past even though I thought my past wasn’t bothering me. My therapist Jessica showed me that I needed to open up and talk about it.”

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A new life

White Horse Ranch opened its healing, residential treatment ranch for girls Nov. 15, 2007.

The 6,500-square-foot ranch house situated on 33 acres south of Mooreland previously was owned by Baptist Children’s Home, White Horse founder and director Tammie Smith said.

The property came up for sale at the time in Smith’s life when she felt a tugging from God to answer a call.

“I was in the hospital with thyroid cancer and I got to this place where I said, ‘OK, I see how it is God, bring me back to what I was supposed to be doing, to what I am supposed to leave as a legacy,’” Smith said.

That answer for the licensed professional counselor was the birth of White Horse Ranch.

Now, the large, comfortable ranch house is home to girls whose parents, case workers, probation officers, counselors and, in some cases, the courts have helped them find their way there, Smith said.

White Horse Ranch is a certified equine-assisted psychotherapy program.

It is a 16-bed facility for girls 12 to 18 years old and requires a minimum of 90 days in treatment.

It has a non-recidivism rate of 87 percent, Smith said. That means, 87 percent of the young women graduating from the program have successful outcomes, she said.

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White Horse programs

The girls who live at White Horse Ranch are supervised 24 hours a day by licensed and certified staff, Smith said.

Young women in the program receive 45 hours a week of therapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, rational-emotive behavioral therapy, and reality therapy among other therapeutic models. The ranch is certified by the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association.

The ranch employs nearly 20 full- and part-time employees, including licensed professional counselors, licensed alcohol and drug counselors, an equine specialist, life coaches and chemical dependency technicians, she said.

Cases range from mild problems with behavior and experimentation with drugs and alcohol to deeply disturbing events in their lives, such as young women who have been traumatized by rape, incest and have even been forced to witness murders, Smith said.

Since 2007, more than 250 adolescent girls have been treated at the facility, where one of their primary partners in their personal recovery is a horse, said Hope Smith, outreach coordinator.

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And a horse led them

Early in their stay at the ranch, girls are encouraged to pick a horse who will be their partner throughout their stay, Smith said.

With help from equine specialist Brandi Miller, the girls learn basic horse care and handling skills.

“The thing is, usually, the girls will choose a horse with a personality that is a lot like themselves and that is where the bond begins,” Smith said.

Working with therapeutic horses provides individuals and families with honest, non-judgemental insight when working through life problems, Hope Smith said.

“Therapeutic horses quickly become non-verbal mirrors, revealing deeper root issues more quickly than other forms of therapy,” she said.

Life on a ranch, away from home and their friends, is hard for anyone, Smith said.

“Our goal is to let them begin to feel safe and secure,” Smith said. “It’s so interesting to watch them as the days go by and they begin to feel more safe and things just start coming out.”

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The colors of success

The program is set up on a system that graduates girls from a series of levels designated by a color code.

“A girl will not be graduated from one level to another until she is therapeutically ready,” Smith said.

The first level, called “Grey Level,” is a decompression level where some basic needs such as food, shelter, warmth and safety are met, in some cases for the first time. Privileges are limited in this level.

The second level is called “Brown Level.” This level is symbolized by the color because it suggests digging below the surface emotions and feelings, Smith said. Privileges still are limited but grow to include more space in their hygiene box and more time in the bathroom.

The third level is called “Green Level” and symbolizes new success in growth and coping skills. It shows a real transformation in behavior underscored by her new beliefs about her own life seen by her new “emotional eyes,” Smith said.

The fourth and final level is called “Blue Level” and symbolizes blue skies. It means a girl has developed coping skills based on her new belief system that regularly appear in her behavior. The Blue Level is a continuation of the new growth and maturity.

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Trials

Smith is a solid, pragmatic woman when she talks to anyone, including her clients. While she has celebrated 268 girls who have come through her facility, like anything in life, it hasn’t been all sunshine, she said.

Of those 268, 11 have run away from the facility, she said.

The facility is a long way from where most of these girls have been reared. A large portion come from more urban settings and a ranch way out in Mooreland can be a difficult change, she said.

Add to that, many of the girls are brought to the facility in an intervention process by their parents.

One girl, June Johnson, had no idea she was coming to White Horse Ranch two years ago. Her grandmother, who had guardianship of her, made the plans without her knowledge.

“My grandma told me we were going to the zoo,” Johnson says now with a laugh.

Johnson, suicidal at the time, did not run away.

Instead, after spending some time spent getting used to a house full of 15 other girls, she chose to learn a new way to live.

Now, the plucky 17-year-old is planning her 18th birthday and is attending Bethany Beauty College with big plans for her future.

“I would never have made it here without the people at White Horse Ranch,” she said.   

Of the 11 girls that ran away though, nine of them called and wanted to come back, Smith said.  

“We did allow some of them to come back,” she said. “In fact, one of them ran away, attempted suicide and when she was sitting there in the hospital after attempting suicide, she told them, ‘I want to go home to the ranch.’”

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A new life

If you can manage to slow down White Horse graduate Kyla Dolph long enough, she will say much the same thing Johnson does.

Like anyone, she still has a bad day now and again, but employs many of the coping skills she learned while at the ranch. Indeed, she not only benefits from those skills but she is helping other teens who have struggles, she said.

She celebrates a new and close knit relationship with her mother, who she says is her confidant and the person she tells everything to now.

Her hope is to pass on her hard-won peace and success to others who might need some help.

“I got to speak at my old school recently, and I plan to work in equine physical therapy or work n some way with horses and children,” she said.

With the residential program up and running smoothly, Smith has spent the last year preparing licensing requirements to extend her counseling services to adults on an outpatient basis.

Van Horn writes for the Woodward News.