Struggling Teen Girls Thrive in Ranch Setting
When parents and consultants think of sending a troubled teen to Discovery Ranch, they often see it as a better fit for boys.
Not so, says Jerry Christensen, Experiential Director at Discovery Ranch. Girls aren’t as soft in this environment as people may think, he says. They’re willing to get dirty and sweaty and work hard to do the things you need to get done on a ranch.
Jerry admits he was surprised himself at how willing the female students were to get down to the nitty gritty and get ‘er done. He says, They’re willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work. They really enjoy it and want to do it. In fact, he adds, the girls often seem intent on proving they’re every bit as capable at running a ranch as the boys are. According to Jerry, in many ways they’re better.
It’s not that the girls are better leaders, but organizationally the girls are stronger, Jerry explains.Even when we’re just stacking hay, the girls are more conscientious. Jerry adds Discovery Ranch girls also seem to take more pride in their work. The mixing rooms where we make the formula for the calves are cleaner and better organized, he says. Female students also tend to take better care of tools and equipment, returning them to proper storage areas. They do better in most leadership positions because of how much more they seem to care about the animals.
Leadership isn’t the only area where Ranch girls shine. From a care giving standpoint, they’re much better care givers, Jerry says. We have boys that are compassionate but the don’t seem to have the same nurturing instinct when it comes to the animals’ health. The girls seem to instinctively have the ability to do what needs to be done and they put the time and effort into it.
Every Discovery Ranch student is given a calf to raise as soon as they arrive at the Ranch. Students are responsible for feeding and watering in the animal, as well as cleaning its pen and monitoring any health concerns.
Equine activities are also mandatory for both sexes. Students are required to do ground work, or experiential activities that do not involve riding. As students progress through their therapy they have opportunities to participate in advanced horsemanship, or riding activities, if they choose. Our horsemanship program very much dominated by girls, Jerry notes. Some have ridden before the ranch, some haven’t ridden at all. They’re more passionate about it.
One of Jerry’s favorite experiences is watching girls who may be timid or shy overcome their fear and set boundaries in the corral for a thousand-pound horse. It’s really empowering when a girl can set boundaries for a big horse. She’s learned she can set boundaries for a boy or anyone else in her life.
Caring for the calves and working with horses gives girls a visual representation of some of their own struggles. Girls dealing with trust issues see those struggles played out in the corral as they try to win the trust of the horses they work with.
Girls gain a lot of self esteem and benefit from taking care of animals and learning how to set limits, Jerry says. Just because it’s a ranch and work can be tough and challenging doesn’t mean it isn’t a great therapy venue for girls.