Saturday, October 18, Heartland Horse Heroes held their second Inner City Slickers (ICS) day. ICS, founded by Michael McMeel, former drummer for Three Dog Night, is a program where at-risk youth spend a day on a ranch, farm or equestrian center learning through ranch and equestrian chores, activities and fun, by the "Cowboy Code," they indeed are important, they have purpose, can build self esteem, trust and feel honor. There is a real magic in the day and you can read more about Michael and ICS HERE.
Heartland Horse Heroes had invited girls from the Discovery School, and beforehand we had asked for each girl to write a short note about themselves, their fears, worries and why they were at the Discovery School. Michael and I reviewed the stories Friday evening, and they were so sad, tough to read. These 11 girls ranged in age between 12 and 17 and each had already in their young lives endured so much. No wonder self esteem, trust and honor were foreign to them. Let me mention here, we could not hold this program without our fantastic volunteers, some of whom drove 3 and 6 hours to be there.
|LaRue Sprouse talking about holding onto your dreams no matter the obstacles|
The day started with the participants' arrival, LaRue Sprouse, owner of Sprouses' Corner Ranch and host of Heartland Horse Heroes led them on a short farm tour. She paused at the big show ring and spoke about her own dreams, and the hurdles she needed to overcome to realize them. I took the moment to build on that and encouraged them to look around at the beauty, the horses, the world that LaRue had created. We talked about holding fast to your dream, expect people to tell you, "you can't do it," and forging ahead anyway - The only negativity that can touch you is what you allow, so you have it in your power to brush it aside, to grab your dream.
|Michael explains the power of self confidence.|
Michael began to talk and engage them, he asked real questions about being let down, about trust, respect. I watched closely their faces, saw some ready to trust him, others roll their eyes as if to say, "Heard all this before, no-one cares." He painted pictures they could see with his words, promised he would always be there for them, promised they could trust him, and themselves, and told them today would be a journey of building trust, confidence and self respect. He asked on a scale of 1 to 10 how much they trusted him – it varied from 5 to minus 8. He was cool with that and said it was a lot better than minus 10, we all had a nice chuckle and a bit of an engaging chat. But half the faces remained hard.
We then handed out journals, and asked them to write their first thoughts of how they felt that moment. On the first page is pasted the commitment they must sign "I believe in myself – If I fall I will get up – If I'm beaten I will return – I will never stop getting better – I will NEVER give up – EVER!" Each time they open their journal they will see their commitment. We encouraged them to write in it daily happy, sad, mad – it doesn't matter, write it.
We created teams or "posses" who would work and play and take the challenges together. Some of the activities were competition, each posse member would help, support and encourage the team. And we set out about the glorious day. First we worked, real ranches have real work, we mucked paddocks and cleaned tack. Of course at first there was a bit of confusion, hesitation but as minutes wore on teamwork and cooperation began to lighten the load, and faces. Always Michael was there to encourage and inspire, as he promised he would be. All the volunteers were, too.
|The "Fall Of Faith"|
The first challenge was the "Fall Of Faith." A 10 foot step ladder the girls were to step up as high as they could bear, cross their arms and fall back, trusting that the adults, and a few team members would catch them. Great fear and doubt kept anyone from being willing, but Michael reminded them, he, and all of us were there to catch them, they would never fall alone. Eventually one girl went first to great cheers! Then another and another, the cheers and encouragement got louder, funnier and soon even the most timid girl took the fall ... Several insisted on going again as they wanted to step higher up the ladder. I studied their faces, by the end of this first challenge not a single face lacked a smile, all hard faces had melted a little already. And Michael's lowest score was now minus 5.
|Relaxing in the sun for lunch|
Then lunch, which proved to be a circus of laughter and giggles as each girl relived their "not very scary" fall of faith. Michael drifted among them, as we sat in the sun warmed grass, and told stories about everything from his recording and TV and acting days to his first horse. Then he started roping the "straw steers" and some of the girls had short but successful lariat tossing lessons.It was time to ride now, and LaRue's fine and devoted lesson horses, Donny, Sandman and Penny entered the ring. A few girls were extremely eager, a few timid, a few refused, at first. Now riding time at a "Slicker" is about much more than riding, which is done bareback. It's about discovering the spirit of the horse, learning to hear the horse and facing fears, if there are any, with the help of the horse. I gave a little talk on the connection between horses and humans while volunteers readied the girls with helmets. First they mingled with the horses, some touched, others hugged, and finally a few rode. And with Michael's promised support and encouragement, eventually everyone rode. I noticed even the most isolated girls began to join in the fun, the posses mingled together, all helped one another. Michael's score moved up to an even zero.
|Teamwork, high spirits and reaching high for a goal, the Cowboy Toothpick|
For the next hour we played confidence and team and trust building games, the "Cowboy Toothpick," a 12 foot high pole and each posse collaborates to drop 3 rings over the top – it takes real teamwork to get a posse member up that high! But with effort, teamwork and plenty of cheering and laughter they got it done, together!
|Ridin' high with new found confidence on the wild Barrel Bull (I wish I could paste here the thundering cheers of encouragement!)|
|Ending the day with thoughts about living and loving life with self respect, courage, faith, dreams and purpose.|
We ended the day back in the barn where we all talked at once, laughed about the silliness of the day and congratulated everyone on their success and spirit of going for it. I looked carefully at tired, dirty, happy faces ... not a single uninterested or hard face could be found. I got the feeling for some of them it may well have been the most fun day they could remember, perhaps ever had. Michael assured them he, and we, would always be there for them, they were never alone again, they could contact him, or us, anytime. for any reason. Michael asked them to write another entry in their journals, that they might have today to turn to, always. Michael's "trust" score had skyrocketed to 15!
Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry
Photos by Connie Bloss and Cynthia Drew -