There he was, that big horse standing there appearing intimidating and silent. He seemed to look at the boy standing several feet away as if he was sizing up the stranger who, in turn, was sizing him up, too.
It took a few moments for the boy to sum up the courage, but the horse was patient. It didn’t take long before an unspoken understanding appeared to occur. The boy moved closer. The horse didn’t flinch. All would be okay. With some encouragement from staff on the sidelines, the two discovered they could be friends and boy, what they could learn from each other!
A new partnership between The Genesis Project and Nexus Equine in El Reno, Oklahoma is bringing boys with behavioral issues and at-risk horses together for experiences that teach life skills and life lessons the boys have never experienced before.
“It gives them confidence they may not get somewhere else. It’s a safe place,” said Rita Hoch, executive director of Nexus Equine.
Founded in 2016, Nexus’ primary goal was to provide options for horses who were abandoned, malnourished, or just needed another home. The goal is to connect horses to the right people through education, outreach, and adoption. And now the community outreach has achieved another level of purpose. The boys and horses are finding they share a lot in common – they both need extra tender loving care.
“I think both the horses and the kids learn it’s going to be okay. I know the horses feel that way and I know the kids do, too,” Hoch said.
Recently, the boys were introduced to horses named Calamity, Roca, and Ginger, and even a donkey named Fajita on the nonprofit’s new, 160-acre property west of Oklahoma City in El Reno. The site includes a beautiful barn and home that allows for staff to be onsite all the time, and five and a half miles of pipe and cable fencing. On this day, nutrition was front and center as the boys made horse popsicles out of oatmeal, cinnamon apples, and coconut oil.
“There are many learning opportunities,” said Kalia Briggs, The Genesis Project’s recreation coordinator. “This provides another first-time experience. Many of the boys have never played at the YMCA, never ridden a bike, not even been to a park. This opens the horse world to them and the opportunities it offers.”
The partnership began through Genesis Board Member, Nicole Thomas’ association with the Oklahoma City Police Athletic League, whose young clients attended a camp at Nexus Equine. She saw how their youth benefitted and knew she needed to bring The Genesis Project and Nexus Equine together.
During the initial visit by Genesis boys, similarities between horse and child became even more apparent. Hoch said many of the horses have experienced trauma, have fears and trust issues and behavioral triggers just like the boys. She said the horses provide a therapeutic influence, unlike a human’s ability.
“There’s no judgment. Nothing’s being said. People constantly ask questions that require a response. The horses seem to just know. They have a sense that I believe others don’t have. They meet the kids where they are and at the moment,” Hoch said.
The Genesis Project’s therapist, Andrew Hart said horse and human interaction teaches a child to be caring and nurturing, and how to recognize the needs of others.
“This teaches our boys to connect appropriately with another living thing and learn what a healthy attachment and emotions for other living things look like,” he said.
Hart and Genesis’ recreation coordinator recognized how equine therapy helps the child to de-synthesize a fear which helps them progressively do the same with other fears.
“One boy said he wanted to overcome his fear of big animals and pleasantly found out that horses are actually friendly despite their size,” Briggs said.
Hoch wants the boys to work with the same horses each time they visit to build a relationship that can continue. Relationships are a key part of building a trauma-informed environment at Genesis – another similarity benefitting both the boys and their bigger friends.
Genesis is eager to continue the friendship.
“The staff are amazing, they are patient, trauma-informed. They allowed our boys to explore. They understood their fears,” Briggs said.
Hoch’s passion is community outreach. She hopes others can benefit from the program and encourages volunteers and others who are interested to contact Nexus Equine to schedule a tour. For more information contact Nexus Equine at firstname.lastname@example.org.