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LARKSPUR, Colo. (CBS4) — It’s a tiny ring in a dark barn, but there’s a lot of control for girls who haven’t had much control in their lives.
“I’m learning how to trust myself and it’s a great feeling getting up on a horse and doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” 17-year-old Brittany said.
In the ring Terry Draper of the organization, Horseback Miracles, guides her through drills.
“Like they don’t judge you … they don’t talk,” Brittany said.
Brittany is one of the girls able to go to Perry Park Ranch in Larkspur for the equine therapy. The type of therapy shows unique abilities to help re-establish human connections through things like balance — that helps lead them to better decision making.
The girls are from Excelsior Youth Center in Aurora. Executive director Joan Gabrielson has seen improvements in girls who’ve been victims of everything from neglect to abuse to incest and sexual assault.
The equine therapy gets a thought process going for the girls.
“‘If I’m strong enough to ride that horse and strong enough to do that, maybe I can find the strength to overcome what’s happened,’ ” Gabrielson said.
The stories the girls at Excelsior tell are heartbreaking. One has been in 54 living situations, from foster homes to group homes. She was adopted and given back. Another’s troubles began early when her drug-addicted mother was arrested trying to put her into a plastic bag and dumpster. Then she bounced around from one place to another.
The girls who go there have been in an average of eight to 10 other facilities before they end up at Excelsior.
“A lot of times when horrific things have happened to kids, that part of them is angry at the person who did it to them, but a big part of them blames themselves,” Gabrielson said.
And so many engage in very destructive behavior like cutting themselves or turn to drugs and alcohol.
Changing that cycle takes intense therapy. The girls are educated at the Excelsior campus in Aurora. Some live off campus, but well over 100 live on campus.
“If a child is a victim of abuse or incest, it’s not their fault, but so many times our girls believe they did something wrong to cause this to happen to them,” Gabrielson said. “So a big part of what we’re trying to do is say, ‘You didn’t deserve this to happen to you.’ ”
That’s where the equine therapy has been helping.
“I think you can build trust; a little bit of trust with a horse,” said Nikili, a 15-year-old from Southern California.
But there’s a problem. Excelsior is so strapped these days something had to go. The equine therapy is off. The process of getting the girls down to Larkspur and into the program costs money.
“It is just absolutely phenomenal to see the change in them and the growth,” psychotherapist Tisha Jackson said.
Jackson is begging Excelsior administrators to find a way to keep it going. They simply can’t.
Excelsior is supported largely with donations. It costs thousands a month per girl and things are getting worse. Since the economy has changed, some intervention programs have simply shut down.
“We’re seeing that the kids that used to be in group homes are now in foster homes and foster homes are struggling to care for them,” Gabrielson said. “Group homes are getting the kind of kids that we used to have and … because kids haven’t gotten the services they needed for so long, we’re seeing even more damaged kids than we did four and five and ten years ago.”
Excelsior too has been hurt by declining donations. It’s been that kind of help over the years that allowed Excelsior to start using equine therapy, but now it’ll take giving to restart it.