MOORELAND, Okla. —
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.”
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.
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.’”
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.