For the benefit of youth: Horse Warriors™ strives to improve lives of youth
Jackson – Horse Warriors™ originated in 1998 after Priscilla Marden saw a demand for programs that allowed youth to interact with nature and engage in creativity.
“I’ve always been involved in teaching, and kids and horses are my two strengths,” says Marden, who serves as executive director of the organization. “At the time, I saw a lot of teenagers who didn’t fit inside a box.”
Simultaneously, Marden had a friend who had acquired 12 horses and also lost her job.
At the time, more juvenile programs were pairing troubled youth with horses as a therapy program.
“We started a discussion group where we did art, drew in journals and talked about their lives,” Marden explains. “Some of the kids from the group wanted to spend time with the horses.”
The young people started out brushing and petting the horses, but soon, they progressed to riding.
“We started as four middle school kids and two high school kids gathering to talk and be creative together,” she says. “It’s grown expansively.”
Since their start nearly 20 years ago, Horse Warriors™ has expanded to cater to a wider variety of clients.
“We are a leadership and empowerment program for youth and families,” Marden explains.
As a member of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH), Horse Warriors™ utilizes equine-assisted activities and therapy for mental health and education.
“Our primary focus is education and lifestyle,” Marden says. “We focus on teaching people to create and maintain healthy relationships.”
She explains that Horse Warriors™ involves families to improve communication skills and peer relationships.
Horse Warriors™ starts with the Power Ponies™ course – a sequential skill-building program where children attend with an accompanying parent or adult caregiver.
“We have kids ages 6 to 11 in those groups,” Marden says. “We start by teaching children, and then we bring their parents in and ask the kids to teach their parents.”
The strategy flips the family dynamic, allowing children to learn to communicate with their parents and vice versa.
“The kids teach their parents what they have learned about horsemanship,” she continues. “We teach them to work together to solve problems.”
After the first year, students advance to the Mighty Mustangs™ program, which allows them to continue the learning progress.
“After they’ve done Power Ponies™, they move up to Mighty Mustangs™,” Marden explains. “We had so many parents who wanted to continue that we created Mighty Mustangs™, so we could serve more families in the entry-level courses.”
At the same time, Marden notes they only accept four families per session, meaning that space is limited.
Power Ponies™ and Mighty Mustangs™ are eight-week programs, where participants meet two hours per week. Two sections of each are held during the summer months.
Finally, the Horse Warriors™ program is designed for youth ages 12 to 18.
“Horse Warriors™ is a year-round program,” Marden says. “They ride all summer, and the students stay involved with us throughout the winter.”
During the school year, students participate in monthly retreats at Diamondfly Ranch in Thayne to keep in touch with their riding group peers.
“We offer free tutoring for our Horse Warriors™ students, as long as they’re applying themselves in school,” Marden adds. “We keep the riding groups small, with only four or five kids per group, so no one is invisible. During the winter retreats, all groups meet together at the ranch.”
Additionally, the program includes a strong arts component, and each day, participants spend time drawing, writing and journaling. Then, they talk about the things that come up in their lives.
“We share after we spend time drawing or writing,” Marden explains. “No one is required to share, but we often find that they do. These kids may not be the very best of friends, but the groups are always fairly intimate. We have really good discussions that are kid-driven and adult supervised.”
“Often, our students are from difficult family situations, so lots of different things can come up,” Marden continues. “My background is in education, so I also have a professional therapist who is on staff.”
Marden is also a Certified Equine Interaction Professional, so she is able to observe interactions and help youth and families understand how and why horses interact with them.
“If things come up that are deep family issues and a therapist is needed, we do have one on staff to help,” she explains. “I can ask questions, however, to help young people and their families work through life skills development.”
For example, Marden explains horses can feel any disconnect or discord between people, and as a result, they will often disconnect by walking or turning away.
“The horse doesn’t need to know what the situation is, but they will pick up on discomfort,” she says. “I can ask why the child thinks that happens.”
She continues, “The therapist and I do a dance together. If it’s a horse issue, I will handle it, but if it’s a psychological issue, our therapist will handle it.”
In addition to their individual work, the Horse Warriors™ riders also team up with Power Ponies™ and Mighty Mustangs™ participants in a mentorship program.
“The younger students are mentored by older kids,” Marden says. “Our kids are such good teachers. Most of them have been through the parenting programs, and they are an essential part of our teaching staff.”
The Horse Warriors™ students meet for seven hours each week during their eight-week summer course, and Marden says they spend approximately 250 contact hours together throughout each year.
Each year, Horse Warriors™ sees between 75 and 100 children and adults through their programming.
“We don’t see as many people as some other programs,” Marden says, “but we don’t go an inch deep and a mile wide into issues, either. We invest a lot of time in our families, and often, they’re a part of our program for seven to 10 years.”
She notes that Horse Warriors™ focuses on quality opportunities for students and adults alike to grow and be empowered.
“These students love their horses,” Marden comments. “They talk to the horses and tell them secrets on the trail. For many students, Horse Warriors™ is the best thing they’ve ever done. It changes their lives.”
Learn more about Horse Warriors™ at horsewarriors.com.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.