Troubled kids + rescued horses = healing
The Pony Express has been putting troubled kids and rescued horses together to bring peace and healing to both for 32 years. The program closes in the winter months, because it lost its barn two years ago in a storm. The nonprofit needs funds to build a new barn to protect the mostly older horses from the elements in the winter.
The pad for the barn was leveled, grated and graveled last fall by the Engineering Contractors Association with donations of materials and trucks from community businesses. The Pony Express rescues race horses and horses from owners who no longer want them. Most of the horses are older mares with physical and emotional limitations, Program Director Linda Aldrich said, adding that she lost an older horse in last year’s rains because there was no barn to shelter her.
The Pony Express currently has a full complement of 14 ponies, a number, according to Aldrich, that could increase with the addition of a barn.
Aldrich describes her Equine Assisted Skills for Youth Program (EASY) as a lifeskill/leadership internship program, where the youth learn skills that will transfer to the rest of their lives. “They learn about themselves as they learn about their equine partner.”
Many of the interns, who are mostly girls, suffer from anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and lack of confidence, Aldrich said. “Girlpower plus horsepower equals empower. The girls are in control of this 1,000 pound animal.”
Girls are more emotional and that is true of the horses, too, she said.”Horses mirror our emotions and energy. We project a part of ourselves that may not be who we really are,” she added.
“The focus is the relationship – trust, respect, communication and teamwork.” Continually referring to the horses as the real teachers, Aldrich said, the horses help the interns make decisions. In addition to bonding with their equine partners, the participants form lasting friendships with each other.
The 15 interns help with the care of the ponies, conduct the pony rides at Howarth Park, and learn to handle and ride horses, while the troubled horses, in turn get rehabilitated. The program, which is open to any youth between 12 and 18 who wants to participate, costs $100/year, which is paid for by the Active 20-30 Club of Santa Rosa #50 Youth Benevolent Fund. The rest of the money for running the program comes from the Howarth Park Pony Rides and birthday parties.
Aldrich admitted to stretching the age limits based on desire and need on an individual basis, adding that she was once an eight-year-old, at-risk youth who started helping with the ponies at Howarth Park when she was eight. Aldrich said she asked her father for a horse at that tender age. He said he would get her one when she turned twelve, thinking, she said, that she would forget about it by then. She didn’t. When she turned 12, she asked again, and her father used the money he had saved for a new stove for her horse. From then on, she has never been without one.
She received her masters in Education and taught Equine Riding Principles and Equine Business Management at SRJC for ten years. She founded The Pony Express in 1982. I 2009, she added the life skills youth program, along with gaining 501(c)3 status as an equine rescue and a provider of Animal Assisted Therapy. Gaining the nonprofit status allows The Pony Express, which just received a nomination for the Sonoma County Jefferson Award, to raise awareness and much-needed funds from fundraising and grants. Aldrich said, “That is a full-time job that I haven’t had the time to really pursue.”