13 JANUARY 2003

While some simply saw a dilapidated cattle barn standing on the campus of Holston Home for Children, counselor Lorrie Wright could visualize a facility to house a therapeutic equestrian program for the troubled children she serves.

Therapeutic Riding Program Dedicated At Holston Home

Robert, one of the youth at Holston Home, holds tight to Penny, one of the five horses that are now being housed at the George R. Johnson Equestrian Barn at Holston United Methodist Home for Children.
Since the spring of 2000, Wright had been taking Holston Home youth to a riding stable located in the county. And while the kids were extremely excited about getting the chance to go horseback riding, Wright said that the off-campus location meant that only a limited number of youths could be taken there at one time.

“We just weren’t able to get as many kids on horseback as we wanted to,” she said. Wright decided to propose to Holston Home officials that the stately old barn on the Home’s main campus be refurbished and an equestrian program started there.

The idea was approved by Art Masker, Holston Home’s president and CEO, and by the Home’s board of directors. Next, a grant was secured from the George R. Johnson Charitable Trust to completely restore the Home’s former cattle barn, converting it into a barn for horses. On Thursday afternoon, Holston Home formerly dedicated the George R. Johnson Equestrian Barn. It occupies the stately old building that was constructed in 1928 as a dairy barn.

In the early days of Holston Home, children living at the home milked several cows and the milk was sold to Pet Dairy, which was located near the Home. In the 1950s the dairy cows were sold and some beef cattle were kept in the fields surrounding the barn. Eventually those cattle were also sold, and the barn simply became a place to store unneeded items.

“We’re most pleased to have farm animals back in the barn, and for our children to have the opportunity to learn valuable life skills by learning to ride them and by caring for them,” Masker said. “Holston Home’s children will benefit from interacting with these beautiful animals,”

Five horses, saddles and riding equipment have been donated by friends of Holston Home for the equestrian program. Each horse has its own stall, which is kept immaculate by the youngsters who participate in the program. The interior of the barn is lined with about 2,300 feet of handsome knotty-pine boards, which came from trees right on the Holston Home campus.

Homer Marcum, director of communications for the children’s agency, said that the wood was salvaged from fallen pine trees that had succumbed to pine beetles. “Several children at Holston Home helped harvest the trees that were then cut into pine boards for use in the barn-restoration project,” he said.

Labor for the six-month restoration project came from a group of Methodist Church volunteers with the Holston Conference Volunteer Labor Program. Most of the volunteers, who were on hand for the dedication ceremony, are from Kingsport and Southwest Virginia. Wright, who will serve as director of the equestrian program, said the interaction with the horses will be a positive experience for the children. “The care and grooming, I believe, will be as meaningful for our youngsters as the actual time they will spend riding the horses,” Wright said. “Horses are good for our young people because they can learn a lot about respect for others, and will be able to bolster their own self-esteem and confidence by interacting with the horses, call it pet therapy on a large scale." she said.

“This is not traditional therapy where you sit down and talk to a therapist,” she said. “There’s a learning tool involved where the youth get a lot from it just from being around the horses. “With the kind of kids that we are working with in adventure-based counseling, experience and learning works for them,” Wright said. “They’re in a non-traditional setting where they can relate more to what is happening.” Some of the young people who are working with the horses have already become quite protective of the animals — and have already picked out their favorites. Robert, a 16-year-old youth, was leading Penny, a gentle brown mare, during the facility’s dedication. “She’s a little bit skittish of the other horses,” Robert said as he held tightly to the horse’s bridle and lovingly stroked her mane. It was evident by the horse’s reaction to the young man that she has become fond of him as well.

Robert said being around horses is nothing new to him, but he said he welcomes the opportunity to continue working with horses at Holston Home. “It’s a privilege for us to come out here,” he said. “If you mess up here (at the barn,) then you don’t get to come back.”

Eighteen-year old Melanie, a young woman who has been under the care of Holston Home for two years now, said she, too, enjoys working with the horses. She didn’t seem to mind at all that her snow-white sneakers were covered with mud from the horse barn’s lot as she spoke about her love for the animals. “I enjoy it,” she said. “There are a lot of others here as well who want to participate.”

Holston Home’s horse program has become so popular among the youth at the home that a waiting list has had to be created for those wanting to participate.
By Lisa Warren

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