Helping Hurting Girls Heal and Transform with Rescued Horses
At a small horse farm on Kildaire Road in Cary, North Carolina, transformational changes are happening in the lives at-risk teen girls. With specially crafted programs, after school tutoring, and equine therapy, CORRAL Riding Academy’s belief is that “anyone who is broken can be made whole again.” And in their short organizational history, many would argue they’ve turned their belief into reality for over 100 girls.
CORRAL started in fall 2009, when former Teach for America educator and UNC Chapel Hill graduate Joy Currey opened the doors to a fledging riding academy for girls in the midst of emotional or behavioral crisis. Referred to CORRAL from schools, counselors, the courts, and law enforcement, the life obstacles these Triangle-area girls face are heartbreaking. CORRAL’s intake shows that at the start of the program, 51% of their girls have behavior problems in school, just over 90% suffer from anxiety and depression, 85% have experienced trauma, and nearly 60% have experienced some form of abuse. These kinds of obstacles can be daunting for young women, often leaving them feeling isolated and hopeless.
But armed with a passion for transformation, CORRAL welcomes the hurting girls with open arms. To get applicants and referrals acquainted with the program, CORRAL first requires all girls to participate in an Equine Assisted Psychotherapy program called ‘Join the Herd.’ In this nine-week program, girls work with certified mental health professionals and horses to help them work through issues they’re facing. In the process, they learn critical life skills they might be missing to improve emotional intelligence (healthy boundaries, effective communication, etc.) with the help of a therapist and the cues of the horses.
“[Join the Herd] isn’t necessarily about riding, but certainly includes riding,” said Janellen Cappo, development director at CORRAL. “[It’s] about building a healthy relationship with another being and learning trust, empathy, confidence, self-control and effective leadership.”
After participating in Join the Herd, CORRAL counsels girls on their next steps, with some girls continuing their relationship with CORRAL’S ‘Riding Academy’ program. This unique tier of programming allows CORRAL to offer a personalized path to healing, rather than a one-size fits all approach.
Girls in the Riding Academy program must commit to one year of participation. Riding Academy students attend sessions twice a week – once after school and once on the weekends.
In those 10+ hours a week, girls participate in therapy, academic tutoring, mentorships, and learn horsemanship skills. Each student has the opportunity for supplemental services if needed, and parents and guardians participate in monthly sessions designed to teach them critical support skills. Girls are eligible to continue with CORRAL until they are 18.
Cappo, who has extensive experience with equine therapy programs, knows firsthand the special ways the horses are helping improve the lives of the girls.
“Horses are teachers that insist that we humans are intentional, confident in ourselves and our abilities, and have a wholeness of body, mind, and spirit in order to illicit a response from them. By using horses, CORRAL offers a unique experiential psychotherapy session that regularly challenges girls to notice unhealthy habits of thinking and being – and make decisions to do something different,” said Cappo.
And it seems the end result has been that CORRAL girls are choosing radically different life courses. CORRAL’s 2013-2014 annual report notes 100% of girls saw a significant reduction in behavioral issues, better school attendance, and an average GPA of 3.0 (an increase for almost all girls). In January 2014, CORRAL watched their first student successfully graduate from high school and enroll at Wake Technical Community College.
Plans are underway to take the still youthful non-profit into future years by purchasing the land they currently rent and increasing their footprint in the community. To support those goals, they opened a fully renovated office building with meeting rooms and space for academic tutoring in December 2014.
“We think 2015 will be an exciting year. We hope to raise money to buy the farm we operate on, and make it a forever home for CORRAL and a flagship for future CORRAL sites across the county. We also intend to expand our out-patient EAP program, and we hope to expand our Join the Herd program,” said Cappo.
Update October 2016: CORRAL Riding Academy successfully secured the property where they were located and will remain serving teen girls in Cary.
Photo courtesy of Jebb Graff (www.graffcreative.com)