Eye on KELOLAND: Healing through horses


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – You can often form a special bond with a furry friend – someone to share time and emotions with. At McCrossan Boys Ranch, horses have played a key role in helping residents work through difficulties or obstacles they are facing.

McCrossan Boys Ranch has been around for 66 years. Over the years there’ve been many changes, but one thing has been part of the ranch since the beginning – horses.

The big, strong animals are used to help the boys overcome issues they may face in their lives.

“The horses don’t talk back to me so I can just do what I want and work with them without having to worry about what they are going to say or do back,” 15 year old, Vince said.

It’s part of the equine therapy that is done at the ranch.

McCrossan was one of the first places to have a certified Eagala equine therapist in the state.

“It’s a team approach, you have a mental health professional and an equine specialist, they make up the team, and it’s an experiential learning model and it’s modeled for the kids to find their own direction, their own problem solving,” director of admissions and equine services, Troy Geis said.

Equine therapy allows the kids to do group therapy using the horses as partners.

“It gives us a wider range of therapy because typically the kids are meeting one on one with a therapist in their office or we have groups in a conference room but they’re very traditional talk therapy, where as here we get to shift and kids get to do hands-on, experiential therapy,” mental health therapist, Lisa Hemmingson said.

This form of therapy can be a way for the boys to work through some of their difficulties or how they’re feeling without having to necessarily verbalize it.

“A lot of times you’ll see kids just walk over and be by themselves and they’re with their animal partner not talking, but he’s having a conversation with him, just not verbally,” Geis said. “It’s all body language, if you would sit and watch a group of horses, you can see them communicate, but it’s through body language.”

Some activities in a session can involve going through an obstacle course like this.

“The obstacles we have today, the boys came up with last night, they made their own obstacles, a lot of times what we will do is we will have the boys name what those obstacles are and then we will ask them how they overcome those obstacles,” Geis said. “It’s different for every kid, they all have their own obstacles and have their own solutions to overcoming those obstacles.”

“I’m not a country kid at all, so this is my first time with horses,” 15 year old, Connor said. “It consists of us working with the horses, moving them around.”

Another part can include painting on the horses.

“They can paint something that is meaningful to them, either something we have learned or going on with them, and the storytelling that comes out through that experience is really rewarding and you learn a lot about the kids,” Hemmingson said.

“Help express our emotions through more of a hands on experience, with horses it’s more to do hands on than verbally, for me I like doing that instead of just talking about it because I can express myself more,” Vince said.

Geis says one of the best parts is when he sees the boys make a connection and build relationships that will positively impact their lives.

“A lot of times I get a kid that comes and is pretty well guarded and not very trusting of adults, sometimes we might have our first break through with a kid, for the first time in his life he’s able to trust another being, and that’s not through me, the horse and him make a relationship,” Geis said. “He figures he can trust him and share things that he can’t always tell people or adults, so a lot of times that’s where that breakthrough happens.”

A breakthrough that can have a lifelong impact.

To learn more about McCrossan Boys Ranch, click here.

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