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North Hills Monthly

Ready Yourselves Youth Ranch Provides Life-changing Experiences for Kids, Horses

Nov 29, 2019 11:43AM ● By Vanessa Orr

Children and horses heal together at Ready Yourselves Youth Ranch

The Ready Yourselves Youth Ranch (RYYR), located on a 50-acre farm in Beaver County, believes in the healing power that comes from children connecting with horses. They also believe in giving second chances—not just for at-risk youth, but for animals that have no place else to go.

“We work with kids in crisis; children dealing with trauma, PTSD, who have parents who are drug addicts or who have seen someone in their family die. More than 90 percent have been bullied,” explained ranch owner Micheline Barkley, who started the program with her husband, Matthew, in 2015. “So many of these children have faced adversity in their lives, and we prioritize to help those with the least resources.

“A lot of these kids have been told that they are worthless, or stupid, and some have gotten into trouble,” she added. “But when they are able to establish a relationship with a horse; to learn how to control a 1,000-pound animal, their self-esteem goes through the roof.”

Children who are accepted into the program are paired with a mentor who works with them for 90 minutes each week. Participants are expected to do 30 minutes of chores in order to understand what it is like to serve and give back, and then spend an hour working with the horses, learning everything from how they behave, to their body language, to how to communicate with the animals. Once they have learned these skills and can properly tack the horse, they are able to ride.

“We don’t just put a saddle on a horse and put a kid on it,” said Barkley. “We teach them skills from the ground up. An animal this size can hurt you, so you need to learn discipline and leadership first; once we’re comfortable that a child can handle the horse, they can ride.”

RYYR  offers three programs for youth:  a one-on-one, mentored 90-minute session; group mentoring, in which five or six children work with two lead mentors and helpers; and day camps, in which organizations like TRAILS Ministries and Tiger Pause Youth Ministry bring at-risk youth to the farm for lunch and to take part in an activity. 

“We may have five kids or 80 kids on those days,” said Barkley of the three hours the children spend on the farm learning how to groom and lead horses, take pony rides, do crafts and learn a Bible lesson. “Kids love it out here; it forces them to slow down. Technology enables them to go 100 m.p.h.; working with horses allows them to relax.”

In many cases, children are working with horses that needed recovery time of their own, as a number of the animals on the farm have been rescued from problematic situations. “Some of our horses have come to us from the Humane Society; we’ve heard about others from people who said that their neighbor’s horses were starving, and we’ve gotten permission to take them,” said Barkley. “People who haven’t been able to afford their horses have surrendered them, and some people have just donated them to us.”

Barkley gives the example of Tyler, a Dutch Warmblood gelding who needed a year of rest after a soft tissue injury. “He was scheduled to be euthanized, but we were called instead,” said Barkley. “He’s a very fancy show horse, but if he’d been kept in the circuit, he would have had injections to prevent him from feeling pain and would have ended up crippled. We let him rest for a year, and now he’s the best horse!”

While Barkley drove to Massachusetts to get that horse, perhaps her most unique rescue is of Reuben, a small donkey whom she brought home in an SUV.

All of the animals, including ten ranch horses and six mini horses, mules and donkeys, are either ridden by the children or pull a cart in which they can ride. “They all have a job here,” said Barkley.

The program is free for children 6-18, and runs from June-August. There is a waiting list, and those children are able to come to the farm in September and October. For the first time, RYYR has hired a paid staff member, in addition to its 58 volunteers, which Barkley says she hopes will enable them to run a program year-round, once they’ve found funds to heat their indoor arena.

Barkley understands how important it is to run a program to help children learn skills and build self-esteem, as she came from a troubled background herself. Born in Vietnam to a Vietnamese mother and an American GI father, the family of six children was abandoned by her father when she was 2. Her mother, who had a mental illness, supported the children through prostitution before they were taken in by a church that brought them to America.

“I was a kid who needed somebody to help me,” said Barkley, who had her own battles with alcoholism and drug abuse in her younger years, which she documents in her autobiography, A Song from the Ashes. “People came into my life and showed me that they cared. After I met my husband, I wondered why I’d been so blessed; and God revealed to me that I had had those experiences so that I could have compassion for other people.”

Barkley said that the faith-based program has been life-altering for many of the kids involved, and that it has given them hope when they had none.

“A lot of them feel that they don’t have anything to live for, and we’re not ashamed to tell them that God loves them,” she explained. “Our goal is to help redeem these broken lives and to turn them into something wonderful.”

For more information, to volunteer, or to donate funds or supplies, visit Ready Yourselves Youth Ranch at http://www.ryyr.org.