For the past 18 years, the Equine Therapy Program at Eagle Ranch has helped girls and boys develop self-control and self-confidence, traits that will serve them well as adults.
One of Georgia’s largest residential programs for children in crisis, Eagle Ranch serves families throughout Northeast Georgia and Metro-Atlanta. The 315-acre campus in Flowery Branch is home to 66 boys and girls ages 8-14. Typically, 42 boys reside in six houses while 24 girls live in four homes. A houseparent couple leads each home where nurture and structure are provided as well as individual, group and family counseling.
Eddie Staub founded Eagle Ranch in 1985 and eventually added an onsite school for residents in grades 6-9. The Equine Therapy Program began in 2001, the same year girls first came to live at Eagle Ranch.
“It’s been demonstrated that equine therapy helps children with anxiety and other issues,” says Kelly Brewer, director of development and outreach. “We teach the girls and boys how to ride and work with the horses. There is a lot of trust and communication involved as they build a relationship with a horse, and that is transferable to relationships with people.”
Led by Eagle Ranch’s equine program manager, comprehensive equine therapy sessions involve the horse, its young rider, and a licensed professional counselor.
“Working with horses in a therapeutic setting provides significant physical and emotional benefits for our children,” says Brewer. “Overcoming fears and developing self-control are common needs of the children we serve.”
In 2014, the program expanded when the Whitcomb Family Equine Center opened with a horse barn, classroom, tack storage, wash room and a lighted, covered riding arena. The boys and girls contribute to care of the horses by brushing them and helping clean stalls.
Various issues bring children to Eagle Ranch, anything from changes in family structure to academic problems. Their experience at the ranch helps children return home to better family relationships, improved academic success, and the ability to handle life’s challenges and thrive in various settings. The end goal, says Staub, is to restore families and keep them connected.
“We want to be good stewards of the time the children are with us,” says Staub. “We are here to build resilience in children’s lives—emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, and physically—and equine therapy is a big part of that. When you can handle a thousand-pound horse, it builds responsibility and confidence and helps kids overcome fear. When kids can do this, it emboldens them and they figure, ‘If I can overcome that, I can overcome anything.’”
Staub recognizes Jackson EMC and the Jackson EMC Foundation as loyal supporters of Eagle Ranch since its inception.
“Jackson EMC used power poles to build our first swing set and the first backstop when we opened in 1985, and Jackson EMC recently sponsored our Ranch Run 5K,” he says. “Jackson EMC and its Foundation have been very engaged, and we appreciate their support.”