A place for horse-riding lessons, camps and birthday parties, Sierra Rose Farms is also a place for people to change their lives forever.
Sierra Rose Farms in Dewitt implemented a program in 2001 for kids to familiarize themselves with horses. Soon after, Lee Ann Hull, co-executive director and president, began hearing from parents, teachers, schools and others in the community about how their program was helping kids become better citizens and have more self-confidence.
“Someone mentioned to us,” Hull said, “‘if you’re doing all this good work, have you ever thought about becoming a nonprofit?’”
Feeling inspired, in May 2008 the farm became a nonprofit organization called Healing Hearts with Horses.
“We work with kids, families and women with self-esteem (issues),” Hull said. “We work with autistic kids, (those dealing with) ADHD, grief and (more) in activities involving our miniature horses.”
While the farm also has full-size horses available for programs, the emphasis is on their collection of miniature horses. Hull explained how horses are a great animal for people to work with.
“They’re constantly on the lookout for themselves and their surroundings,” she said. “If you have someone who has a lot of anxiety and goes in with the horses, the horse picks up on that. And so, instead of telling someone to calm down, the horse does it for them. It’s all experiential learning. When we do these programs, we do game-like activities. It’s educational and fun. The horses take over, and learning about self-confidence, responsibility and trust is the key factor of all the activities and programs. From there, individuals can pick and choose what they want to take from the farm and apply positively to their life outside the farm.”
The programs at Healing Hearts always emphasize the positive. Hull said it’s all about positive reinforcement, feeling good and taking a positive step forward in people’s lives. They teach at the individual’s own pace, so a person is able to decide what works best for them.
Another key importance is acceptance. No matter what label a person is given through their life, Hull said, everyone is accepted in their programs.
“When kids are given that positive affirmation to begin with, it’s limitless where their self-confidence can go.”
While Sierra Rose Farms used to be outdoors only, a generous donor built an indoor facility for them to use.
The farm has traveling programs, as well, taking up to ten miniature horses at a time to locations such as local schools.
Existing solely with volunteers and donations, Healing Hearts continues to welcome help. Right now they’re focusing on raising money for their programs for women.
“One hundred percent of grants that come in to our facility go to scholarships to help women, kids and families partake in our programs,” Hull said. “We take great pride in being able to say that [the] money [that] comes in … helps a person first before it goes anywhere else.”