Put a horse, a rider and a mentor together and you get – healing. At least that’s the formula at 51:10 Youth Ranch, whose origins reach back to 2015. In October, 51:10 Youth Ranch concluded its second full season of mentoring youth in the Arkansas River Valley that has helped more than 100 children through animal therapy. The completely free of charge program for children and their families is donation-based. It functions based on a simple premise: one child, one horse, and one mentor spending time together to help children work through unique problems in their lives.
Consisting of more than 30 volunteers, nine horses, two miniature donkeys, and serving 90 children per week, it completed its second season brimming with activity, growth, and vibrant energy. Currently, 51:10 is operating out of Rancho Caballo; a Young Life property located off County Road 340 at the Base of Red Deer Mountain. The location is temporary; 51:10 is in the process of building their own facilities on a 60-acre property in Nathrop.
The program structure encourages children to develop a sense of responsibility and respect for animals and people. Children come for one hour-and-a-half session per week.
“The first 15 minutes (of the session) is set aside for chores,” said co-founder Elsa Verrier. “We do this so the kids buy-in to the ranch and take ownership of the upkeep of the ranch.”
Chores consist of removing rocks from the horse arena, pulling weeds, or mucking stalls. Children are accompanied by a mentor for the duration of their session; including chores. The mentors are there to walk, talk, teach, and work with the children.
The Christian-oriented program’s mission is to “provide a place of refuge for children and animals allowing for families [and children] to be restored through the redeeming love of Jesus Christ.” After completing a chore, many of the children will spend their session learning to tack, ride, and untack a horse. Again, children are accompanied by a mentor during this process.
Horsemanship is not for everyone,” said Verrier. “So we have many other activities like crafts, games, or nerf guns.”
“Sometimes, the kids just want to walk or throw rocks” said Greg Verrier. Regardless of the activity, the purpose of a session is for children to spend time with their mentor. The entire program is based on the relationship bond formed between a mentor and a mentee.
“We want our mentors to be a part of these kids’ lives,” said Verrier. “Many of these kids have fathers that are not present in their lives. I have a relationship with my father, but its not the relationship I wish it was. I can empathize with these kids.”
The Origins of 51:10 Youth Ranch
It was the Spring of 2015 when the Verrier family came to the Buena Vista area to launch a youth mentor-ship ranch dedicated to the children of the Arkansas Valley. Greg Verrier’s background in finance, and Elsa Verrier’s human resources experience, were the foundations of the program. It’s a ranch where children are encouraged, inspired, and affirmed, but the program would not exist were it not for the Verrier’s daughter, Addison.
“We adopted (our children) Addison and Bella from Bulgaria,” Verrier recalled. “They came home just before they were four and there was a lot of baggage that came with them – some things that required we get therapy.”
“She loved animals,” explained Greg Verrier. “We had two chocolate labs that Addison loved dearly. She would watch animals on TV and had a collection of plastic animals. When we were talking with [the therapist] she said, ‘get her on a horse’.”
“We got her on a horse and saw an incredible change.” Elsa recounted. “I mean, here is a child who couldn’t even leave our house without having meltdowns; terrified of the world, terrified of anything new. Yet, she jumps on the back of a horse with confidence that we had never seen.”
“That was the catalyst to this whole thing,” said Verrier, who explained the idea to start 51:10 did not take long to develop after Addison’s first experience with horse therapy.
“It was immediate,” she emphasized. “I anticipated going into Addison’s first session trying to calm her down because I was getting ready to put her on a horse, but there wasn’t a need. She wasn’t scared at all.”
“Horses have this innate ability of bringing things to the surface really quickly, and we see that with kids,” explained Greg Verrier. “For whatever reason, kids just relax and that’s why they’re such a great conduit for mentor-ship.”
It could almost be considered a paradox explained Verrier; the mingling of a small child and a 1,000 pound mammal bringing the qualities of gentleness, care, companionship, and freedom to the forefront of a child’s psyche. After 2,500 sessions, 51:10 has remained accident free, while helping kids to heal and grow everyday primarily through horse-therapy and a relationship with a mentor.
“Horses can bring a lot of fear, and that’s why it is so amazing” said Verrier. “It wouldn’t take much for them to hurt someone because they are so big, and yet we have been in operation for two full seasons and don’t have any horse accidents. We have processes set in place so we make sure we are extremely safe.”
Aspiring To Do More
After its first two years, 51:10 says it is looking to the future and identifying opportunities for expansion to better serve the children, the families, and the communities in the Arkansas Valley. The foundations of a tutoring program are already in place; aiding children in completing homework assignments, learning new material, and working on areas of academic weakness.
The new location in Nathrop will back up to thousands of acres of National Forest and Bureau of Land Management property. This location offers even more opportunities for the expansion of the mentor-ship program, including Greg Verrier’s idea for a wilderness therapy program serving entire families. To continue toward the goal, the organization has to raise construction funds, and is encouraging more team volunteers.
“We have a strong need for young, male mentors in their twenties or thirties,” said Verrier. The group doesn’t ask for a time-period commitment, only that volunteers commit for as long as you are able to be a steady presence in a child’s life.
Many mentors don’t do weekly session with the children with whom they are matched, but do try to be a steady presence in the child’s life by attending sporting events, birthday parties, and helping their mentee through life’s obstacles. During the winter off-season many mentors choose to meet with their child over hot-chocolate or donuts.
The organization is also looking for volunteers to feed the horses, help with building projects on the Nathrop property, and used or donated materials for projects like fencing and plumbing. Any individuals or businesses interested in enrolling a child in the program, donating, or volunteering with 51:10 can contact Elsa Verrier via email: email@example.com.
The next season of sessions kicks off in April and runs through October. Its leaders liken the vibrant hub of safety and healing for children in the Arkansas Valley, to an old-fashioned barn-raising.
“We want the community to be the breath of this place,” said Greg Verrier.