Rachael Van Horn
Woodward, Okla. —
When Kyla Dolph was 16 years old, she wanted to die.
Suicidal with a tragically fractured relationship with her father and mother, the young teen resorted to drugs and "cutting" to dull or erase her painful existence, she said.
Now, two years later, if you ask Dolph, she will not skirt the truth.
She will tell you, she most likely would not be alive today were it not for her nearly 10-month stay at a place of healing near Mooreland called White Horse Ranch.
"When I got here I was really depressed and had no relationship with my mother. I was at the point where I had been in and out of so many places that when I came here, I just thought I would fake my treatment and go home," Dolph said. "But the longer I stayed here, the more I realized that I had some responsibility in all of this and that I had to open up and talk about my past even though I thought my past wasn't bothering me. My therapist Jessica showed me that I needed to open up and talk about it."
OPENING THE GATE TO A NEW LIFE
White Horse Ranch opened its healing, residential treatment ranch for girls November 15, 2007.
The 6,500 square foot ranch house situated on 33 acres south of Mooreland was previously owned by the Baptist Children's Home, said White Horse Founder and Director, Tammie Smith.
The property came up for sale a little more than seen years ago, just about the time in Smith's life when she felt a tugging from God to answer a call.
"I was in the hospital with thyroid cancer and I got to this place where I said, 'Ok, I see how it is God, bring me back to what I was supposed to be doing, to what I am supposed to leave as a legacy', Smith said.
That answer, which came to the former policy aide for Congressman Frank Lucas - turned licensed professional counselor - was the birth of White Horse Ranch.
Now, the large, comfortable ranch house is home to girls whose parents, case workers, probation officers, counselors and in some cases, the courts have helped them find their way there, Smith said.
White Horse Ranch is a certified equine assisted psychotherapy program.
It is a 16-bed facility for girls from 12 to 18 years of age and requires a minimum of 90 days in treatment.
It has a non-recidivism rate of 87 percent, Smith said. That means, 87 percent of the young women graduating from the program have successful outcomes and remain sober, she said.
WHITE HORSE PROGRAMS
The girls who live at White Horse Ranch are supervised 24 hours a day by licensed and certified staff, Smith said.
Young women in the program receive 45 hours a week of therapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, rational-emotive behavioral therapy, and reality therapy among other therapeutic models. The ranch is certified by the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association.
The ranch employes nearly 20 full and part time employees, including licensed professional counselors, licensed alcohol and drug counselors an equine specialist, life coaches and chemical dependency technicians, she said.
WHO CAN COME TO THE RANCH
Cases range from mild problems with behavior and experimentation with drugs and alcohol to deeply disturbing events in their lives, such as young women who have been traumatized by rape, incest and have even been forced to witness murders in some cases, Smith said.
In many cases, young women who have gone on with life after the ranch, still call the ranch staff to update them on their progress and refer to it as home, said outreach coordinator Hope Smith.
Since 2007, more than 250 adolescent girls have been treated at the facility, where one of their primary partners in their personal recovery is a horse, Smith said.
Hope Smith and Tammie Smith met recently with the Woodward News at White Horse Ranch around evening feeding time.
Nearby, with halters and ropes in hand, each of the seven girls currently residing there led their individual horse partner to its own feed bucket.
AND A HORSE LED THEM
Early in their stay at the ranch, girls are encouraged to pick a horse who will be their partner throughout their stay, Smith said.
With help from Equine Specialist Brandi Miller the girls learn basic horse care and handling skills.
Horses assist in therapy in many different ways, Smith said.
"The thing is, usually, the girls will choose a horse with a personality that is a lot like themselves and that is where the bond begins," Smith said.
Working with therapeutic horses provides individuals and families with honest, non-judgemental insight when working through life problems, Hope Smith said.
"Therapeutic horses quickly become non-verbal, 'mirrors', revealing deeper root issues more quickly than other forms of therapy," she said.
On this particular day, new girl, "Sandy" (not her real name) sat in the grass quietly, seeming to contemplate her situation. Only there a day, "Sandy" has not yet picked out her horse and is still adjusting, Smith said.
Life on a ranch, away from home and their friends, is hard for anyone, Smith said.
"Our goal is to let them begin to feel safe and secure," Smith said. "It's so interesting to watch them as the days go by and they begin to feel more safe and things just start coming out."
As evening chores draw to a close, other girls seem to display just what Smith talks about.
Those who obviously have chosen their horse move about their evening chores and are more upbeat, active and clearly connected with their animals.
Another young woman who has only been at the facility for two weeks uses a shovel to "muck" the horse pen for more Opportunity To Learn-Positive (OTL-Positive) points.
The points help the young women earn simple privileges and erase negative points, she said.
The young woman walked briskly in her knee high boots within the horse pen, attacking horse manure piles with gusto. She tells the story of coming to White Horse Ranch just two weeks earlier.
"When I got here, I didn't know I was coming and it took me a while, but I know now, I need to be here and start working on things," she said.
Still, another young woman had little to say and just remained focused on her horse.
That is the point of this part of the program, said Hope Smith.
"When they are with their horses out her, they are not allowed to talk of other things," Hope Smith said. "This is a time when they can really be present because the horses require their full attention."
THE COLORS OF SUCCESS
The program is set up on a ranch level system that graduates girls from a series of levels designated by a color code.
"A girl will not be graduated from one level to another until she is therapeutically ready," Smith said.
The first level is called "Grey Level". This is a decompression level where some basic needs, such as food, shelter, warmth and safety are met, in some cases for the first time. Privileges are limited in this level.
Here, the girls are encouraged to begin to think like a child again - in a more black and white way - or to think of things as right and wrong instead of the way some adults have presented information to them in a "grey" or hazy way, Smith said.
"You know, in some cases, they need to be able to just know that something is not right, that it is black or white, not grey like some of them have been told," she said.
The second level is called "Brown Level". This level is symbolized by the color because it suggests digging below the surface emotions and feelings, Smith said. Each girl is encouraged to grow new "emotional eyes" and take a look at how she views all the events in her life, she said. Privileges are still limited but grow to include more space in their hygiene box and more time in the bathroom.
The third level is called "Green Level" and symbolizes new success in growth and coping skills. It shows a real transformation in behavior underscored by her new beliefs about her own life seen by her new "emotional eyes", Smith said.
The fourth and final level is called "Blue Level" and symbolizes blue skies. It means a girl has developed coping skills based on her new belief system that regularly appear in her behavior. The Blue Level is a continuation of the new growth and maturity.
EVERYONE HAS TRIALS SOMETIMES
Smith is a solid, pragmatic woman when she talks to anyone, including her clients. While she has celebrated 268 girls who have come through her facility, like anything in life, it hasn't been all sunshine and skittles, she said.
Of those 268, 11 have run away from the facility, she said.
The facility is a long way from where most of these girls have been reared. A large portion come from more urban settings and a ranch way out in Mooreland can be a difficult change, she said.
Add to that, many of the girls are brought to the facility in an intervention process by their parents and it explains why there are some who simply run away, she said.
In fact, one girl, June Johnson, had no idea she was coming to White Horse Ranch two years ago. Her grandmother, who had guardianship of her, made the plans without her knowledge.
"My grandma told me we were going to the zoo," Johnson says now with a laugh.
Johnson, who was suicidal at the time, did not run away.
Instead, after spending some time spent getting used to a house full, with 15 other girls, she chose to learn a new way to live.
Now, the plucky 17 year old is planning her 18th birthday and is attending Bethany Beauty College with big plans for her future.
"I would never have made it here without the people at White Horse Ranch," she said.
Of the 11 girls that ran away though, nine of them called and wanted to come back, Smith said.
"We did allow some of them to come back," she said. "In fact, one of them ran away, attempted suicide and when she was sitting there in the hospital after attempting suicide, she told them "I want to go home to the ranch."
A NEW LIFE
If you can manage to slow down White Horse graduate Kyla Dolph long enough, she will say much the same thing that Johnson does.
Like anyone, she still has a bad day now and again, but employs many of the coping skills she learned while at the ranch. Indeed, she not only benefits from those skills but she is helping other teens who have struggles, she said.
She celebrates a new and close knit relationship with her mother, who she says is her confidant and the person she tells everything to now.
Her hope is to pass on her hard won peace and success to others who might need some help.
"I got to speak at my old school recently and I plan to work in equine physical therapy or work n some way with horses and children," she said.
With the residential program up and running smoothly, Smith has spent the last year preparing licensing requirements to extend her counseling services to adults on an outpatient basis.
Opening soon will be outpatient services office where anyone, no matter they age, can go who is in a personal crisis, dealing with substance abuse issues or simply wants to work through old memories or complicated family issues, she said.