Building brighter tomorrows
for the boys of today.

As of March 1st, Cherry Gulch will be implementing an Employee Wellness program. Cherry Gulch has long felt that our most valuable resources are our employees and feels that self-care is extremely important. The hope of this program is to show our employees that we care about them and want to support them in being and staying healthy.

Everyday choices can help us live healthier and happier lives, both at work and at home. This program will help all Cherry Gulch Employees by increasing their knowledge about health matters and preventative measures, while  exploring fun ways to be healthier. The benefits of eating healthy, increasing physical activity, quitting tobacco, reducing stress, and getting regular medical care can make a real difference in any person’s life. The program is full of different activities that will hopefully inspire everyone to participate and become healthier. We will encourage each employee to begin working toward being healthier and will  encourage them in involve their families as well.

The Employee Wellness Program is divided into 12 different monthly themes. Each theme will concentrate on five different aspects of health. These aspects are: body/physical, mind/intellectual, spiritual, emotional and environmental. Service will also be added into the program through the emotional and environmental categories.  

Each month all employees will receive information on the theme and a list of ideas that they can use to help improve that part of their lives. Each item will have a point value and employees can also add in their own. Some items may repeat each month as they relate to nutrition and exercise, while others will be specific to the theme of the month.

An additional part to the wellness program will be implemented in April. This part will include our students as well! To follow along the lines of being healthy and having good self-care routines, Cherry Gulch will be adding a Walking club to the wellness program. Staff and Students will be encouraged to walk everyday. During these times, walking amounts will be recorded and tokens will be given as certain mile markers to staff and students. There will also be walk/run events scheduled a few times a year to help promote the walking club. For more information on the wellness program or walking club please contact Ms. Kim (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) or Mr. Jake Tucker (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

A new part of the Marshall 2 Lessons work is for each boy to complete a 100-hour service project of their choice. JJ was our first Trail Boss to take on this challenge. 
 For JJ’s project he gathered up a couple friends and created an RC car track behind the Bunkhouse.

The boys cleared the area and then smoothed it to ensure traction. They even included a jump ramp!
 Great job, JJ, on completing 100 hours of service.  You are awesome!

At Cherry Gulch, one of the main goals is to keep our boys interested in school.  Many of the boys that come to us struggle in school for various reasons, and find it difficult to enjoy school. The Cherry Gulch Academic Team works hard to overcome these obstacles. They create lasting bonds and relationships with the boys. Our teachers accomplish this by taking time to get to know each and every boy at Cherry Gulch. They are assigned advocate groups and work with the therapists to help our boys to succeed in school.  Most of all, they use fun and inspirational tactics and offer engaging electives. These electives take place on Fridays in two 90 minute blocks of time.

Students can choose two different electives each semester. During the summer session, students can earn the chance to take up to six different elective classes. These electives are carefully orchestrated and offer the teachers the chance to show off and share some of their own passions and hobbies. This allows our teachers to connect with our boys, even more. Below are some of the amazing electives that our teachers have offered throughout the school year.

Visual Arts: Students will explore various aspects of visual arts in this multi-faceted course. Focus will be placed upon the following topics: conceptual art theories; art history (derived from covered topics); themes in artwork; and the ability to analyze, interpret, and make knowledgeable judgments about works of art. Students will utilize a variety of media when creating their own works of art.
"This Class is a Mystery" (Problem-Solving Class)

The students in this class will be confronted with a series of complex mysteries which they will have to solve using their critical and creative problem solving skills. This is all they will know heading into the class, so please help me maintain secrecy and build anticipation!

We will be investigating several items from The Mysterious Package Company (mysteriouspackagecompany.com) which will introduce us to the mystery of the King in Yellow. Throughout the experience, we will receive numerous weathered and aged background materials, documentation, and rare discoveries, shedding some light on the King in Yellow, his acolytes, and one Robert W. Chambers, who in 1895 inked a collection of short stories surrounding the mysterious monarch. I can't wait to see the students' reactions when a large crate arrives ominously upon our doorstep!

This class will be heavy in academic skills development - including conducting research and direct instruction in creative and critical thinking skills such as sequencing, observation, and inferencing - but will be creatively packaged to engage their interest.

Bowling- For the bowling elective we will be going to Nampa Bowl. We will be bowling from 10am to 12pm and the students will learn proper techniques on how to roll a bowling ball with accuracy. We will start with basics such as where to position the fingers and then progress into learning how to curve a bowling ball with a fast pace roll.

T.A.R.C (Team America Rocketry Challenge). The boys will be breaking up in to groups and assembling large rocket kits. These rockets will have certain specifications (height, hang time, and no broken cargo) they need to make to have a qualifying run. We will launch 3 or 4 times at the Emmett Cycle park during the semester.

Computer Coding: Students will complete at least two 20 hour courses that teach them the ins and outs of computer coding. This class is self-paced and some will only get through the courses, while others will have opportunities to create actual programs with what they have learned. Sites used for this class will be Code.org, and Codeacademy.com. 

DC Underground: DC Underground is a trip prep class that will provide context for our upcoming June trip to Washington, D.C. We will focus on the historical and geographical importance of Washington D.C., and orient the boys to the cultural importance of our nation's capital. As the class progresses, we will focus on the "underground" portion of our trip, which exposes the boys to the lesser known but fascinating stories and sites in Washington, D.C.

Secrets of World War I and World War 2: The students in this class will see a more human side to the two most influential conflicts of the modern era. We will focus on unsung heroes, spies, mysteries, and hidden secrets of the war. Students will review the causes and effects of the wars to ensure their proper comprehension of the topic. We will play a game called Diplomacy, which exposes the boys to the delicate balance of alliances which led to the outbreak of World War 1. Students may also get the opportunity to construct a historical diorama that exhibits a significant moment in World War history.

Skiing/Snowboarding: This is the first year that CG has offered a ski class and I couldn't be more excited! We will get up to the mountain around 10:00, enjoy a two hour private group lesson, free ski for two hours and then head back to campus! I am a PSIA certified ski instructor and will be coaching the skiers during free ski time. Ms. Bonnie will be coaching the snowboarders and we will have therapists there on occasion to help out as well.

By Ms. Kylie

Over the last year, Cherry Gulch has been making some changes to the way we think about service and the way we are trying to motivate ourselves and inspire our students to take part.  As Cherry Gulch employees, we are striving to be ‘servant leaders,’ a term coined by Robert K. Greenleaf who said, “Caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is the rock upon which a good society is built.”  We believe that if we can model the importance of serving others through our example, we will become a worthy role models that the boys will strive to emulate. 
  
In order to recognize what all of our staff are doing to help out their community, I am tracking all of the service hours that each of our staff complete.  During FISH! meetings once a month, we recognize outstanding staff who are going above and   beyond to do something good for others.  This is also a time where we recognize the advocate team that put the most heart and soul into its service project that month.  Each advocate team, which includes a therapist and his/her caseload, a teacher, shift manager and a couple direct care staff, are challenged each month to plan and carry out a service project that benefits Cherry Gulch as a whole or our community.  At these FISH! meetings, a ‘Service Staff’ (a long walking stick that has been decorated with a crystal, dragon’s tooth and medallion) is given as a token of gratitude and recognition to the advocate team that has shown an outstanding effort with its service project that month. 
 
Alongside the service being done by our staff (on their own time) and the monthly advocate service outings, service has become an integral part of the students’ lessons work.  Each level includes an element of service that gets the other boys on campus involved in coming up with ideas, planning and implementing a project.     
    As part of the Marshall 2 Lessons work, a 100-hour service project has been added!  Not only do the boys get to practice their leadership skills and feel the joy and accomplishment of reaching out and doing things for others, they leave Cherry Gulch with well over 100 hours of service/volunteer hours that will help them with admittance into future schools, programs, colleges and jobs (please see article below).
   We believe that serving others is and should be at the root of what we do.  As each of us, staff and students alike, have joined together in serving one another and our community, we have drawn closer to each other, developed more empathy for others, and learned that true joy comes from thinking of others more than     ourselves.  The day that I took a group of boys to an Assisted Living facility in Emmett a few months ago brought all of this to light for me.  I saw the boys giving their undivided attention to the women, helping them make crafts and jewelry. I saw the joy in the army veterans’ eyes when the boys took an interest in their stories of war and family.  The boys walked away from the service project that day with a happiness and desire to help others that cannot be felt in any other way than stepping outside of ourselves and doing something for others.
   I look forward to the continued growth of our service program at CG, and the continued growth of each of the individuals who take part in putting others first and reaching out to help those in need! If you have any questions about the Cherry Gulch Service Project please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The 2017 trips have been decided! Here is a list and brief description of each. If you are interested in finding out more about these trips, please email the teacher listed below each description.

February 2017: Patagonia

A Hero's Journey through the rugged wilderness of Patagonia white water rafting, sea kayaking, rock climbing, horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking glaciers, backpacking, zip lining and serving the people! Led by Character Development teacher Kylie Langer: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

April 2017: Harry Potter Trip
A literary adventure spanning three countries and two continents including the Scottish highlands, London and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando! Lindsey Olsen, Academic Director, will be leading this trip: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

August 2017: Alaska

A historical tour through the beautiful landscape of Alaska learning about earthquakes, native animals, different tribal cultures, panning for gold, dog sledding and discovering first-hand what Alaskan life is like! This trip will be led by Kim Hyde, math teacher: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

An innovative new program by Cherry Gulch

Owners Andy Sapp, Ph.D., Chris McRoberts, Ph.D., and Bernie Zimmerman, M.A., LCPC announce with great excitement the grand opening of Novitas Academy located in Emmett, Idaho. 

Located on 26 acres of majestic river front property, Novitas Academy is a unique fully accredited therapeutic boarding school for boys ages 14-18.  The program is designed to meet the needs of young men struggling with life skills, learning differences, lack of academic motivation, ADHD as well as mild to moderate behavioral and emotional problems.  Novitas is a relationship-based program that strives to help our students build their self-esteem and self-confidence through discovering and nurturing their strengths, passions and dreams.  
Novitas Academy uses a blended learning approach that consists of project-based learning, differentiated instruction, online credit recovery classes and career development.  Students also partake in a career & college assessment program, local internships and develop an individualized 10-year-plan.  Novitas students will also have the opportunity to attend a local professional technical academy which offers an array of hands on vocational training.  Students receive individual, group and family therapy.

The mission is to provide students a safe, therapeutic, and nurturing learning environment in order to facilitate a successful transition into early adulthood. At Novitas Academy students are inspired to believe in themselves, their dreams, and their visions.  Students are encouraged to be innovative, entrepreneurial, outside-the-box thinkers, as well as to pursue their interests and passions. 

“With inspiration from the books Mindset and David and Goliath, we have combined the Anatomy of Peace, The Ruler Approach and a modified collaborative problem solving approach into a relational strengths-based vocational-prep. program that inspires students to reach their goals” says Andy Sapp, Founder & Owner of both Cherry Gulch and Novitas Academy.
In mid-June, we quietly opened our doors and enrolled five students, leaving only five spaces remaining for admission.  For more information please view our website at www.novitasacademy.org or email inquiries to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Camp is pitched at the Canyon Village campgrounds in Yellowstone NP.  This site provides us a central location from which to launch our day touring.  After an early breakfast, with a hearty deli packed lunch in hand, we head out for daily exploration of the wonders of the park.  We return for a late dinner and an evening campfire or Ranger campground presentation.

We take a day to explore the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, viewing the Upper and Lower Falls in the canyon, then hiking down, the easy part, to the rim of the Lower Falls.  Afterwards, exploration of the vast Hayden Valley for wildlife sightings leads to a short hike up to Mud Volcano and Dragon Springs.

Exploring the Lower, Middle and Upper Geyser Basins is an all-day adventure in one the world’s densest collection of geysers and hot springs. At Upper Geyser Basin we visit the rustic log and wood shingle lodge Old Faithful Inn, built in on site in the winter of 1904; observe an eruption of Old Faithful geyser and often those of others like Beehive, Castle, and Lion Geyser.

Middle Geyser Basin presents us with Grand Prismatic Spring, third largest hot spring in the world, and Excelsior Geyser as it pours over 4,000 gallons per minute of hot water into the Firehole River.  In the Lower Geyser Basin we view Clepsydra Geyser, Silex Springs, and the colorful mud of the Fountain Paint Pots.

Norris Geyser Basin, the hottest geyser basin in the park, begins another day of wonder.  Then it is on to the nearby Museum of the National Park Ranger, north to Mammoth Hot Springs, a Scavenger Hunt at the Albright Museum in Mammoth, on to Tower Falls, site of John Colter's historic crossing of the Yellowstone River in winter of 1807-1808; up and over Mt. Washburn, a 10, 243ft peak once covered by glacial ice, where we may get to see wolves and bear if we are lucky.

There are additional side trips and stops for wildlife viewing whenever sighted, other geological areas, historical features, and park museums.  Our itinerary is flexible to accommodate hikes, wildlife activity, varied weather conditions, and the overall park conditions.  Evening activities include wildlife viewing, camp fires, and Ranger activities.

Cherry Gulch's Shakespeare class returned from England June 13. After eight days of activities in London and Stratford-Upon-Avon (Shakespeare's birthplace), the ten students, four staff, and four parents were exhausted but very satisfied with their experiences abroad. “It was tiring to stay up for 27 hours on end, but the excitement kept me awake,” said Max M., a student attendee.

 

The students began their journey with a six month course on British history and culture, travel behavior, and the works of history's most famous playwright, William Shakespeare. Most students admit that their understanding of-- and interest in-- Shakespeare was minimal before taking the course. “The class definitely changed the way I looked at Shakespeare. I really didn't know anything about Shakespeare other than 'To be or not to be. That is the question,'” said Matt G. “I always thought it was going to be boring, but I'd never actually seen a single Shakespeare play. Now I love him! Especially Hamlet Guy [Kenneth Branagh],” added Caelan L.

 

The pilgrimage to London helped students place Shakespeare's works in context; from Henry V at the Globe to Richard III at the Royal Shakespeare Company, touring the site of Shakespeare's birth and seeing his grave, students were able to get up close and personal with the Bard. “Seeing some of the older sites helped me visualize some of the things that Shakespeare would try to describe in his writing,” said Tim O. “It sort of rekindled an interest I've always had in Shakespeare. I watched Othello on the plane ride home and have been reading the plays since we left London,” said Dawn R., parent. “It brought me back to a time when I studied Shakespeare and I think I appreciate it more the second time around.”

 

In addition, the group toured the Thames by speedboat; rode Europe's tallest Ferris wheel; explored the Tower of London, Warwick Castle, and Warner Brothers' Harry Potter studios; rode countless underground trains and, occasionally, slept. “The London Eye and the speedboat tour [were the best], because I've never been on anything that went that fast before!” said Jackson M.

 

As Cherry Gulch's first international trip, the success of this experience opens the door to future overseas learning opportunities. In fact, many Cherry Gulch Shakespearians hope to return to London next year as alumni. But next year, we aim to get more sleep!

Last Friday, July 20, Micron Technologies Education Outreach program came out to the Cherry Gulch campus and presented on the ‘Forces of Motion.’ We started with a short visual presentation introducing us to Galileo and Isaac Newton and his Three Laws of Motion. Next students were given the supplies to each build a rocket. With assistance from the presenters and teachers, students crafted their rocket’s body, nose cone, and fins from paper. Yes, paper.

Once assembly was completed, we adjourned to the horse arena for launchings. Propulsion was provided by a tire pump attached to pvc pipe fitted with pressure gauge and valve. With rockets slipped over the launch pipe, valves were thrown and it was Rockets Away! Longest flight was 260 feet. There is still one unaccounted for out there. “Ground Control to Major Tom!” Not bad for paper ships.

Cherry Gulch currently offers the following programs with the purpose of giving our students the resources they need to be successful in our program and throughout their lives. These programs are not intended to be a replacement for face to face therapeutic intervention, but rather a tool to work alongside other aspects included in our school.

Neurofeedback is a program that has also been called EEG Biofeedback. Neurofeedback is a direct training of brain function. We observe brain activity while the student is controlling a video game with his level of concentration and relaxation. The game is used to reward the brain for changing its own activity to more appropriate patterns. This program is designed to train the brain for self-regulation of arousal levels. Neurofeedback addresses problems of brain deregulation. Neurofeedback research has seen improvements in many areas including the anxiety-depression spectrum, attention deficits, behavior disorders, various sleep disorders, headaches and migraines, and emotional disturbances. You can find more information about Neurofeedback at www.eeginfo.com.

Play Attention was developed by a Master Educator whose techniques have been proven in over 450 school systems, thousands of homes, learning centers, hospitals, and psychologist’s offices, worldwide since 1996. Play Attention has been used for more years and by more people than virtually any attention training system or memory training system available. It has been featured in the national news media on Good Morning America, NBC News, Woman’s World, The Boston Globe, and many other national and international media (playattention.com). A series of games are used to teach the student what it feels like to be fully focused for a long period of time. This is particularly helpful with ADD and ADHD, but is used by many people that don’t have a disorder and just want to increase concentration skills.

Cogmed Working Memory Training is a computer-based program designed to improve the working memory. Using a series of computer-based games and activities, the student exercises his working memory through challenging tasks involving number, letter, and light sequences. The Cogmed program tracks the student’s progress and gives a final margin of improvement after the program is completed.

Alpha Stem is a small machine with two small clips that are placed on each ear lobe. Tiny electric currents are sent through these clips that are similar to those found naturally in the body, using a method called Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation (CES). The tiny electric currents that are sent through the ear lobes are designed to regulate the electrical activity of the brain resulting in relief from stress, anxiety, insomnia, and depression.

This past month or so has been busy in science class! We have done some fun things while learning about alternative energy in Environmental Science. We made an anemometer which measured wind energy, built a calorimeter that measured the energy produced from vegetable oil versus petroleum, and built solar box ovens. The ovens were then used to make smores. In Biology, we looked through the microscopes to observe mitosis and meiosis when learning about development, dissected chicken wings when learning about tendons and muscles, and created “offspring” when we learned about genetics. In our Integrated Science classes, we learned about skateboarding physics and tried some of those tricks out. We learned about pressure and made a barometer to measure the air pressure around us. We then moved on to magnets where we created our own compasses and learned about how animals use the magnetic field of the earth to navigate. For all the classes, I recently brought in some liquid nitrogen to explore its amazing properties (including the ability to make great ice cream).

Recently, the new Boise Aquarium did a great job of showing us around and teaching us about the great span of wildlife they have there. The Boise Zoo also had a really great butterfly exhibit. A group of us then visited Yellowstone where we same lots of bison and elk and even saw a grizzly bear with her two cubs! This summer will be a new adventure. The boys will be taking Health, which will start with sex education, move onto general health, and end with drug education. We have a lot of fun stuff planned such as guest speakers and visiting the body exhibit coming to the Discovery Center of Idaho. At the end of summer we will be going to camp Stanley and exploring the many plants and animals there while learning about their life cycles and their effects on the environment. We are all looking forward to it!

“Cherry Gulch Chess Team Wins State Championship Title Again!”

On January 29th, the Cherry Gulch Chess Team won 1st Place Overall in the official Idaho Novice State Championship held in Boise, ID. This accomplishment extends the school’s winning streak in the 6-12 grade Division to a remarkable four consecutive state titles. Eight of the players on the chess team also won individual top 3 awards. The Cherry Gulch chess players additionally learn to use all the critical thinking benefits of chess to make good decisions in their daily lives. These skills include patience, planning, concentration, teamwork, problem-solving, and improved critical thinking. The school chess coach is Daniel J. Vellotti, whose therapeutic approach and empathetic nature make him a perfect fit for Cherry Gulch!

Daniel enjoys working with the students closely to help them to develop not only their chess skills, but also their life skills. A native of California, Daniel moved to Boise, ID at the age of 9. He fell in love with chess soon after moving here when he discovered a chess set in his grandmother's closet. Soon after he started competing in local chess tournaments, Daniel was winning first place in all the Boise tournaments that he entered.

Daniel started competing throughout the state and won the State Championship title a record three times. He continued to compete nationally becoming a champion in many different prestigious tournaments throughout the country. Daniel became a well-known representative of excellence in academic achievement for the state, and soon had a large following of students who were looking for a local role model. In May of 2000, Daniel established a chess coaching company and discovered his true passion of motivating and inspiring students through his original and interactive "Success in Chess" Training System. Vellotti's Chess Kids has become extremely popular and successful throughout the Treasure Valley. His outreach and enrichment teaching program is designed to teach a love and appreciation for the game of chess and along with all the academic benefits and life skills that go along with it. His favorite quote and teaching motto is “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” By William Butler Yeats.

Daniel is a regular presenter at the gifted conference Edufest, and his company was recently nominated as a "Parent's Picks Choice" by Nickelodeon for best Children's Programming. He is a prolific published author of chess workbooks, and he has also served as the President of the Idaho Chess Association. Daniel's other interests include organic gardening, sketch artistry, and white-water rafting.

His tremendous ability to connect with students of all ages includes members of his own household, Carl and Luke, who are following in his footsteps. 12 year old Luke is a three time National Chess Champion and 3x member of the All-American Team for chess. Luke, who attained the status of National Master this past fall, is the highest rated player in Idaho- including both children and adults. He is also a very popular assistant of Vellotti's Chess Kids performing "chess magic" for all the students by doing simultaneous chess exhibitions, speed chess, and blindfold chess. Carl is a State and National chess champion who helps instruct for Vellotti's Chess Kids in group classes. He is also the President of the Boise High Chess Club, and has produced several student chess champions of his own.

You may read more about Daniel and his family in the following link to news articles at http://www.vellottischesskids.com/articles.htm: “Idaho Chess Prodigy takes on all comers for Haiti” (2010) "Idaho's Newest Chess Champs are Girls” (2009) "Boise Boy Invited to World Championships" (2008) "Second-Grader Dominates..." (2007) "Chess prodigy competes for Idaho's best" (2007) "Vellotti's Chess Kids Students Best in Country" (2006) "Daniel Vellotti trains future chess whizzes" (2005) "Checkmate!" (2004)

Upon my arrival to Cherry Gulch on the 24th of December, it was just past noon. Ms. Sue greeted me with a Merry Christmas hug as I walked through the door, staff were smiling and greeting one another. Some boys were busily painting, others writing cards or letters. Most the boys were gone on home visits or outings but the group that had stayed back awaiting the taxi to take them to the airport, or parent’s arrival to visit seemed to be making good use of their time making last minute gifts or playing a board game with a friend.  It seems the wii is often a part of the activity for some.

I went out to check the animals at the barnyard and do some routine training with the horses. As I filled water tanks two mule deer grazed just outside the horse pasture fence. Both were bucks, one just with forked antlers and the other a small three point. Could they be Santa’s reindeer? No. Surely not! It wouldn’t surprise me one bit, if they are part of the Santa team, fully equipped with headset and two-way radio capable of directing Santa for a safe landing should Christmas turn out to be a foggy night.

In fact this Christmas eve, there was a light fog over parts of the Boy’s ranch--yet the sun shone through in other areas and there in those places, the snow came alive with sparkling, like snow diamonds all across the hills, arena, animal paddocks and on top the buildings. The horses, now fluffy in their winter coats, nickered and hung their heads over the gate as I worked. I tossed out straw in the shelter of each group of animals, the horses, the sheep and goats, the chickens, Patty dog’s house, and Shotgun the rabbit already had lots of fluffy straw in the rabbit hutch. Albert, one of the Cherry Gulch students made sure of that one of the days before he’d left for his home visit. Shotgun had since burrowed down making three nice little nests for himself in the straw and he was looking mighty satisfied as he lay there, peeking from his nest, hind legs sprawled out behind him. Christmas eve indeed!

The sheep and goats greeted me at the gate, expecting that the straw was to eat. (They like to eat!!) They all followed me back to the shelter where I fluffed up mounds of the yellow straw bedding. Sister Sue is our little white goat, looks like a pygmy but I’m told she’s something else. Very cute little thing, ever watchful. I told her as she gazed at me with head bent sideways that she was supposed to go lay down in that straw, not eat it. So, as if understanding, she walked over, fluffed it up a bit and lay down--a perfect example to the others who chewed the hollow stems of straw mindless of her cozy comfort.

I haltered up Lena, our newest addition to our tiny remuda (horse herd) and rode through the snow up into the hills. I go out alone sometimes, checking the terrain conditions for safety in case some boys should want to go for a Holiday trail ride. The ground was soft beneath the snow, Lena was getting quite a work out as she sank a bit through the snow and into the wet earth with each step. I find nothing so rejuvenating as riding across quiet hillsides, covered in glistening snow, on a warm wintery day with bright blue sky and a layer of clouds in the valley below. When I returned to Cherry Gulch I asked Lena to do some trotting and loping exercises. Together we made figure eight trails through the snowy arena. When all her responses met the standards I’d set for the day we found rest at the hitching rail. As I brushed her I thought of how unusual it was to have all the boys content indoors, since generally there would be two or three out working with me in the barnyard. My observation wasn’t in disappointment even though I love seeing the boys spend time with the animals. Instead on this Christmas eve day I felt gratitude for the wonderful staff we have at Cherry Gulch. Busily and cheerfully came the voices over the two way radio at my hip. Our activity director, the shift manager, the direct care, office personnel, and cooks. What a wonderful group of skilled, playful and loving people! The first person I saw as I walked down the driveway, was one of our teachers, with a spring in his step and all adorned with Santa hat pulled snuggly down over his head! His wife often comes up for occasions such as these to work with the boys on art projects. The staff work together like family--these people have never failed to bring to my face a smile or a laugh (sometimes a tear of gratitude)! And each and every person I know at Cherry Gulch loves the boys and their families as if an extension of their own. As I reflected on this, and listened appreciatively to my co-workers on the radio, I walked Lena to the paddock and scratched and massaged Fhusha, Cheyenne and DeeDee (our other three horses). When I made my rounds to the chicken coop, the roosters and hens scratched the straw and pecked at the ground. I turned back, heading for the lodge when I noticed something in the horse pen. At second glance, I stopped to admire Patty Dog (our big white, fluffy Great Pyrenees Sheep dog) diligently guarding the premises from the snowy center of the horse paddock, stoically looking out over the hills watching the neighboring cattle. I walked out there, and kneeled down beside her, looking out over the hills of Cherry Gulch mirroring her gaze. I know that for the Cherry Gulch boys, being away from home and family can be a tremendous challenge. (as can it be for the family who has placed their son, grandson or brother here). It must be a very difficult decision to make the commitment to bring a child to Cherry Gulch or any other therapeutic program. Nothing I say or do can diminish that fact. That being said- being a part of this Cherry Gulch family, I along with the other staff get to see this place from the inside out---I see that this is a fine place to be.

For boys that need to make changes, experience more, challenge themselves to deeper levels, develop better understanding of morals and discipline and family unity-Cherry Gulch is just IT. Being a part of something like this place, as staff caring for and teaching the young men here, in the full scale of things-this is really one of the best gifts a person could ask for. It was a beautiful day, on Christmas eve-up at the Cherry Gulch boy’s ranch. LORD I pray these boys and families receive a blessing such as this--as they come, or before they go--let them be witness to this beauty, peaceful re-charging, and gratitude. Amen.

Cherry Gulch has introduced a new sport to our students, BMX racing. Thanks to some wonderful donations by several of our parents, we were able to get seven BMX bikes. So far 13 of our boys have been very interested in the sport. Alex has raced 4 times and has placated 2nd and 3rd in two of the races, Alex says racing is fun for him and enjoys the competition with other kids. Chad raced once with a 3rd place win, Chad enjoyed just being able to ride on a BMX track. Ben raced once as well and in his division he has placed 3rd, Ben just liked the friendly competition. Mathew, who has enjoyed the sport in the past, has been to a few practices and is sharing his love for the sport. Anton raced 3 times and has placed 2nd once and 3rd twice; he says he likes jumping and doing tricks. Eugene raced four times and has placed 3rd & 4th; he said he likes to challenge himself. Caelan is our BMX star. He raced 5 times and has placed 1st twice, 2nd twice, and 3rd once. He likes the adrenalin rush. Connor has raced twice and has placed 1st and 2nd. He enjoys jumping most. Colin raced once and placed 2nd.

A typical race has 3 heats and a final race, when these boys place 1st, 2nd, or 3rd they receive trophies and biker bucks which is money that they can use to buy bike parts or pay for their entry fees. BMX racing is a great sport which can be very motivating for kids especially when they are bringing home trophies. Our Program Coordinator (Cole Sewall) grew up racing BMX locally and truly experienced a great family, fun, competitive sport. He was ranked 35 in the nation when he was fifteen and then went pro for a year.

We have found the ABA BMX association to be a great organization that does not tolerate drugs or alcohol at their events and encourages their riders toward healthy lifestyles and sportsmanship. BMX racing provides our students with a fun way to stay healthy. It can also be a boost to their self-esteem as they see themselves improving and carrying home a 3 foot tall trophy doesn’t hurt either. It is a great lesson to see how hard work and dedication to something leads to improved performance. Physical exercise has many positive benefits but BMX racing also forces one to be very focused and mindful for at least a minute or two and that can be the start to better concentration and focus for longer periods of time. BMX has also been a social experience and the camaraderie of practicing to together, rooting for each other, and the shared experience of the activity has strengthened the relationships the boys have with each other and the staff who coach them. One of our students (Eugene) even started a bike repair shop on-campus but that is the topic of another blog about the EYE Club. We will be building a practice track on-campus in the future.

by Sonja Rhodes

There are many ways that we can define freedom or confinement. A person may feel restricted by influences in their environment, or by internal restraints built up around ideas and beliefs held about oneself. Other people may feel held back by physical limitations.

I believe that horses offer nuggets of wisdom in self-awareness. Horse wisdom helps move our mental, emotional and physical limitations to a place of balance, harmony and inner-truth. When we find our rhythm and balance its like an internal light radiates out of every pore in our skin and we shine like stars in the night.

When I began working at Cherry Gulch boarding school near Emmett, Idaho we were coming into winter. I started working in late November with two days of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy each week and three days of riding over the weekend, starting on Friday.

Alex probably wouldn’t have described himself as shining when he first started going out for horse activities. Initially he didn’t appear very interested in the horses. He had stated at different times that he didn’t feel very safe around them.

Through the winter the weather was sometimes damp so in the beginning the boys would lead the horses on walks down the road or up in the hills with me, I wanted to get to know the ranch horses better so I would know which boys to match with each horse. Leading is good exercise for both the boys and the horses, and it is always fun to be out around the ranch on the trails or down the lane.

As time went on I learned which boys were confident or experienced with horses and which horses would be safe for boys who had either not ridden before, or had emotional triggers that might be upsetting to some horses.

We have one horse at Cherry Gulch that all boys ride first before I will allow them to ride the other horses. This horse is named Smokey. He is our little trooper! The smallest and oldest of the herd, an old barrel racing horse who will run with the experienced boys if they are persistent in asking and will stand stone still, eyes closed, waiting for the boys who are feeling intimidated and unconfident. Once they gain understanding and focus on what they need to do to communicate, then Smokey begins to travel. He gives the gift of awareness in attitude, focus and partnership. This translates as freedom from negative behavior, lack of focus and being self-absorbed.

Alex started on Smokey, and over the weeks he rode him in the round pen, the arena, and down the Cherry Gulch lane. Alex experienced riding both saddled and bareback, trotting and cantering on Smokey. Next he moved on to Skipper.

Skipper is a big, stout mountain horse. Alex’s confidence had grown in leaps and bounds through the winter and him riding that powerful horse with ease was very rewarding for him, this was clear from the big smile that stretched across his face as he rode. Skipper is very smooth to ride so Alex trotted around the arena and became familiar with the movement of the horse and how to maintain balance and control. Skipper gives a gift in his gentle strength and power. Weighing in at nearly 1300 pounds, he can appear intimidating. His size is undeniable, yet he is managed with little more than a thought. Perhaps strength and power are determined more from our internal clarity than our external appearance…there is freedom in the wisdom of understanding these things.

Alex is sensitive to his surroundings, taking in and filtering through the activity, energy and attitudes around him---this is what horses do all day long and even in their sleep so they know naturally when they are with a person who has this type of awareness even if the person doesn’t notice. When a person is tuned into their surroundings yet stays calm and grounded a horse can feel safe with them. This explains why some people seem to have a natural connection with animals. Alex’s sensitivity to energy and attitudes around him seem to represent his confinements. It is my perception that these things are the pressures that crowd him. This can be hard for a teenager to understand or describe no doubt as it can’t be seen or heard. Horses are so tuned in to their surroundings. Being alert to attitude, energy and body language is what keeps a horse alive in the wild.

On Saturday, February 21 Alex asked to go out for horse activities. He asked if he might be able to ride Duke.

Duke is the tallest horse on the ranch, standing near 16 hands. He’s a Thoroughbred cross; gray faded to white with the biggest, soft black eyes and kind expression. Duke is a retired Ranch horse, 16 years of age. When I first started working with him he was all business, rearing to go and no time to stand still. I had been riding him but so far hadn’t let any of the boys ride him yet. Of all the boys I felt Alex would make a good fit for Duke, so on that warm, sunny day we agreed to saddle Duke up and give it a try.

Alex started in the round pen, climbed aboard and rubbed Duke on the neck. Duke was calm and relaxed and so was Alex. I asked Alex to walk around doing figure 8 curves and stops to show me he had control. Alex and Duke walked around together looking like they were of one body…Duke has not looked or behaved in such a calm, confident manner since I’ve been there—even with ME! To say I was pleased is an understatement. Alex and Duke got familiar with each other in the round pen and after about 45 minutes he asked if he and Duke could join the other two boys and their horses in the arena.

Alex and Duke walked and trotted around the arena and as that became familiar and comfortable to them both, Duke broke into a gliding canter! Alex had never gone that fast on a horse so as they rounded the corner I held my breath. They rounded another corner at a rapid speed yet it felt like slow motion as I watched Alex look my way, making eye contact. I said “ok, Alex—breathe, sigh and ask your horse to stop.” And he did. Duke came to a graceful stop, stood steady and relaxed—waiting for Alex’s next cue.

Look at the freedom a young boy gave to a horse! To be able to run like the wind, emotions controlled, safe to move forward in the gentle, steady hands of his rider. And the horse gave Alex the gift of turning loose and allowing speed and movement to be an experience he could take hold of and enjoy! Together they filled in the gaps for each other to share a freedom they hadn’t yet felt alone.

Harmony, balance, inner truth--To know they are capable, safe and willing to step out beyond the boundaries they’ve placed around themselves to reach a little higher, to shine like a morning star in the darkest hour of night…that is a journey toward true freedom.

Written by Sonja Rhodes Equine Specialist Cherry Gulch Emmett, Idaho

Cherry Gulch is a ranch-style, therapeutic boarding school designed specifically for 10 -14 year old boys. Cherry Gulch’s supportive, encouraging and respect-based approach is designed to build students up—rather than tear them down. Cherry Gulch is passionate about providing early intervention and prevention to help boys reach their full potential and become well-rounded, pro-social young men. We are dedicated to providing outstanding therapeutic and academic services to students and their families. This is accomplished in the context of a safe environment working toward “Building Brighter Tomorrows for the Boys of Today.”

by Sonja Rhodes

The wind was nipping my nose on the frosty afternoon that the lady came around to my pasture. At first I avoided her because I didn't see the point or the purpose of what she was doing. I turned left and then right, looked away avoiding eye contact. I thought maybe she would give up and leave me alone.

I knew her plan was to take me to the mesa with the boy, but the boy wasn't there yet anyway-he was busy with other things and just returning in the white van from some group outing. Maybe he didn't really want to be with me anyway. I wasn't sure.

The lady wouldn't give up, she approached me, talked to me, and waited for me to acknowledge her. It seemed easier to meet her half way than to keep on avoiding it. She seemed harmless and hopeful.

She proved to have good intentions as I followed her and waited at the standing rail. I was thankful that she didn't make the rope knotted. I know that knotting the rope takes away my options and if I needed to flee I would be stuck. This lady looped the rope so I had something to hold onto without being captive. She knew I could pull away and leave, I knew that if I did, she would go with me till I was ready to go back, but she left the impression that she trusted me to stay. I was thankful the choice was mine, the rope was secure but not confining.

The boy showed up and the lady asked him to brush Skipper and me while she broke the ice in the water tanks. The boy smiled while he brushed us, I noticed this and became less annoyed that I was taken out of my home and comfort zone. I realized I'd been standing there, cold- focus inward, not noticing the company of the others around me. It wasn't so bad being there with that boy, being taken care of.

I saw that while he groomed me, he seemed ok with being there with me, so I relaxed.

The boy conversed with the lady as she saddled us, then they climbed up on our backs. The boy took hold of my reins and with that connection I couldn't help but size him up. I decided who I thought he was. Maybe I didn't know him well, but I had to ask myself right then--who he was going to be to me.

As he held my reins he had the most vulnerable part of me right there in the palm of his hands, as he held the leather that connected to that metal bit in my mouth.

I thought about my past--I wasn't always a dependable horse. I know how to buck. I know how to spook off and leave a rider in a heap of dust. I know the power of my weight and muscle. I feel lucky that the lady took the time to teach me that I can be confident in myself--safe and kind toward others while still staying true to myself. I have learned to be patient, gentle and playful. I have learned not to be judgmental of those who take hold of my reins a bit harshly. I see now that they're just learning and that they're doing the best they know how while trying to communicate with me.

Somehow I've learned now to relax and help them through those clumsy times without blame or defensiveness. There was a time though when I'd of thought about bucking a rider off for not knowing what I felt I needed from them. But bucking a rider off never left me feeling very good about myself. It seemed like everybody lost and everybody blamed everybody else.

Now here I am, a year gone by. I've been carrying the weight of boys of many shapes, sizes and temperaments. It goes against my instinct of self-preservation, but the more I do this, the more I see how good it is to be strong for others and to help them to be faster, stronger and braver than they were before they met me. I am proving that I can be trusted and reliable, even though once I wasn't.

The boy took my reins and held the bit comfortably in my mouth with them. He rubbed my shoulder and smiled. We began our trip up the hill together. The lady and Skipper went ahead, Skipper was moving quickly--he seemed to make it look easy even though I noticed an unsteady rhythm in his gait.

The boy and I moved more slowly, sometimes we stopped and the boy looked far away studying the desert and horizon. I could sense all he considered as he watched the vast stillness while the wind whipped against our faces.

Many times along that climb he seemed to go someplace else in his mind, but his hands remained steady, connecting us so I went with him to those places deep within himself and far away to other places -- out there somewhere.

I wondered if he knew I was there with him.

Sometimes the climb tired me. The rocks were hard under my feet and the frost on the grass made the footing uncertain. Sometimes I'd begin to slip but the boy would catch me with the reins and steady my steps, keeping me from falling.

As we neared the big rocks I grew tired. The way was steep, reaching the top seemed far away, maybe impossible. I stopped more often, I rested longer. The boy expressed concern that I wouldn't make it further. He didn't know if I could.

I knew that the lady knows about my strength and ability. I knew she was probably gauging the circumstance, the environment, time and future events. I knew she was considering how far to push, how fast to progress--and whether it was about this particular hill we were climbing--reaching that one specific goal, or if in fact the conditions of the day required a change of direction. She might have known that sometimes unexpected destinations prove better than the plans we have for ourselves.

The lady spoke to the boy about this briefly, and- just like the way she wrapped my rope at the standing rail earlier, she gave this boy options.

She asked him if he wanted to continue our climb to the top of the mesa. This meant slowly picking our path through the rocks under the shadow of the tall hill as the sun quickly sank behind its back.

Or, did he want to go toward the hills where the sun still shone brightly over a smoother, more gradual trail away from the sharp rocks and scrub brush.

The boy chose to go the way where the sun shone. The path had less obstacles and the hard places didn't bruise my heels. I wondered if he knew how much I was thanking him for choosing that way, and considering me. Did he knew how much easier it was on both of us. Did he realize how cold, and long and difficult the other path might of been had he thought only about reaching the highest place that day.

We still had to work as we walked on the path the boy had chosen. The wind still beat against us sometimes, and we still felt the cold on our skin, but the sun was there, softening the frozen ground and warming the air. We could have ran and played with ease along that path had we decided to. It wouldn't have caused us any harm.

We saw herds of deer and watched the ranch dog running after them. We stopped after some miles, at the top of the furthest peak from where we'd expected we'd be when we started.

We looked over the valley and water. The boy enjoyed some trail mix the lady had brought and while they ate it, he talked about the hopes and dreams he has for his future and thanked the lady for the time he'd had with me. I knew then that I was a very Lucky horse.

The boy noticed as we headed back to Cherry Gulch that I was actually much stronger than he'd first thought. My stride became quick as I knew I was headed toward my home.

I knew the way I had to go to get back to the place I'd started. As I went I remembered the way he'd chosen for me to go. I remembered the journey we'd taken together and I reflected on how difficult the path had been sometimes, and how it made me feel uncertain.

During that part of the journey I had questioned myself and I probably questioned the boy too sometimes, wondering whether he really cared about me or if I was just a way to pass the time. I knew he had doubted my abilities for a while--but then he chose the way that he thought would be best for me.

I remembered how back at the pasture I had thought at first that I'd rather not even go at all, that it was a waste of my time and energy. I thought I'd be missing out not being back there where I'd always been.

Being there with that boy, I realized that I was so glad I had gone the way with him and experienced the journey.

Spending that time with the boy and knowing that he really did care about the path I took and how it affected me--it made me thankful. I knew I was in good hands and the time it took, the choices we made together, they reminded me I was stronger than others knew and more capable than I gave myself credit for. I was also more willing than my nature would have chosen on its own without the determination of others who were choosing to wait it out with me and go along side to places more peaceful and rewarding than I'd imagined they could ever be.

Dec.4, 2009 Written and interpreted by Sonja Rhodes, ES Cherry Gulch Boy's Therapeutic Boarding school Cherry Gulch is a ranch-style, therapeutic boarding school designed specifically for 10 -14 year old boys. Cherry Gulch’s supportive, encouraging and respect-based approach is designed to build students up—rather than tear them down. Cherry Gulch is passionate about providing early intervention and prevention to help boys reach their full potential and become well-rounded, pro-social young men. We are dedicated to providing outstanding therapeutic and academic services to students and their families. This is accomplished in the context of a safe environment working toward “Building Brighter Tomorrows for the Boys of Today.”

So, I went to work and was met at the lodge stairs by the little boy (fairly new) who said "Ms. Sonja, can I go out to the horses today???!!!!!" and in his face, I see this look of doubt, or worry, or anticipation...his little eyebrows were raised and his forehead wrinkled with question.

I asked "Well, how are things going for you today?" And he says "Pretty good, I haven't gotten into to much trouble." So I say that he can probably go, his face lights up and he runs across the room, then runs back and asks "Can I get ready?" The shift manager says he can go because his behavior has been fairly good so I send him off to get ready.

I find another boy to go with us and off we go---happy chatter all the way to the horse barn warms my heart.

We brush, clean hooves, saddle and this boy does it all with such care and constant questions "Is this right Ms. Sonja? Did I do it good? oh...thank you!!!" smiley, smiley, smiley.....and lots of anticipation of getting on, but we have to wait till all the horses are saddled, and for him it must feel like an eternity!

Finally we head up to the arena and he is instructed on how to get on the horse safely and how to direct the horse...his horse is Lucky. His FAVORITE horse, in fact, he tells me, Lucky is his BEST friend! They understand each other, he says!

So I instruct him as he tells me "Yeah, I know---I rode at other schools I went to" but Lucky won't go forward. We discuss some things, give him a little more slack in the rein, shift his energy forward, look where he wants to go...finally he's off, but its a bumpy start. The horse chews his bit, walks very, very slowly (which is mirroring the boys energy that is stuck on idle without his knowing it)...the boy says that this horse just won't listen, what is wrong with him?

I say "well, its not really that he won't listen, it is just that you don't understand each other yet. I continued to give instruction and he continued to work really hard to figure it out, yet I could see the concern in his face. This was so much work, he thought. Why isn't this working, he wondered.

Then the other boy that was riding got called away for an outing. Disappointed the other boy slowly got off his horse and walked away, head hung---yet obedient and polite, saying he'd ride the next week.

This left the little boy on Lucky with all my attention. I was able to keep his focus and reveal the simplicity of horse language. Simple, yet so complex I suppose.

This boy found his focus, he watched and mirrored the way I rode. I showed him a way to just pick that rein up the tiniest bit and turn the horse. He was happy, it was no longer work.

Another boy came out, and began barrel racing. So this young boy on Lucky followed and learned the pattern. As he did I gave him more little tips, toes up, back straight, focus----awesome! Perfect! Great job!!!!

And next thing he was trotting and then loping and he was in harmony with his horse, his face was covered with a smile that spread from ear to ear!

Another boy comes out and joins us too, they lope around the arena together. The other two boys eventually tired of riding but this boy wants to stay forever! He rubs Lucky's neck and talks softly to him as they walk around together cooling down. He comes over and asks me "So do you think I did ok today?" I told him "You were amazing, I am very proud of what you learned--it wasn't hard anymore was it? It became really easy didn't it?" He smiles and says "Yeah it did!!!! And its sad, because at first it was really hard and I thought about giving up on him. I'm glad I didn't--he's a really good horse, he and I are good friends--we understand each other."

This little boy went on to unsaddle, put everything away, straighten the boot area, and help with all the animal chores and then went on to coach a boy in the lodge who was bent on negativity...and I noticed no matter how that boy pushed him away and tried to continue to be difficult, this young man stayed with him and coached him to a better place.

How rewarding to be a part of such growth and learning, it never ceases to amaze me how a horse can teach a lesson in a day that would take people months to do, simply because we're willing to listen to the horse.

God bless the horses, and God bless the little boys.

Written by Sonja Rhodes


So, I went to work and was met at the lodge stairs by the little boy (fairly new) who said "Ms. Sonja, can I go out to the horses today???!!!!!" and in his face, I see this look of doubt, or worry, or anticipation...his little eyebrows were raised and his forehead wrinkled with question.

I asked "Well, how are things going for you today?" And he says "Pretty good, I haven't gotten into to much trouble." So I say that he can probably go, his face lights up and he runs across the room, then runs back and asks "Can I get ready?" The shift manager says he can go because his behavior has been fairly good so I send him off to get ready.

I find another boy to go with us and off we go---happy chatter all the way to the horse barn warms my heart.

We brush, clean hooves, saddle and this boy does it all with such care and constant questions "Is this right Ms. Sonja? Did I do it good? oh...thank you!!!" smiley, smiley, smiley.....and lots of anticipation of getting on, but we have to wait till all the horses are saddled, and for him it must feel like an eternity!

Finally we head up to the arena and he is instructed on how to get on the horse safely and how to direct the horse...his horse is Lucky. His FAVORITE horse, in fact, he tells me, Lucky is his BEST friend! They understand each other, he says!

So I instruct him as he tells me "Yeah, I know---I rode at other schools I went to" but Lucky won't go forward. We discuss some things, give him a little more slack in the rein, shift his energy forward, look where he wants to go...finally he's off, but its a bumpy start. The horse chews his bit, walks very, very slowly (which is mirroring the boys energy that is stuck on idle without his knowing it)...the boy says that this horse just won't listen, what is wrong with him?

I say "well, its not really that he won't listen, it is just that you don't understand each other yet. I continued to give instruction and he continued to work really hard to figure it out, yet I could see the concern in his face. This was so much work, he thought. Why isn't this working, he wondered.

Then the other boy that was riding got called away for an outing. Disappointed the other boy slowly got off his horse and walked away, head hung---yet obedient and polite, saying he'd ride the next week.

This left the little boy on Lucky with all my attention. I was able to keep his focus and reveal the simplicity of horse language. Simple, yet so complex I suppose.

This boy found his focus, he watched and mirrored the way I rode. I showed him a way to just pick that rein up the tiniest bit and turn the horse. He was happy, it was no longer work.

Another boy came out, and began barrel racing. So this young boy on Lucky followed and learned the pattern. As he did I gave him more little tips, toes up, back straight, focus----awesome! Perfect! Great job!!!!

And next thing he was trotting and then loping and he was in harmony with his horse, his face was covered with a smile that spread from ear to ear!

Another boy comes out and joins us too, they lope around the arena together. The other two boys eventually tired of riding but this boy wants to stay forever! He rubs Lucky's neck and talks softly to him as they walk around together cooling down. He comes over and asks me "So do you think I did ok today?" I told him "You were amazing, I am very proud of what you learned--it wasn't hard anymore was it? It became really easy didn't it?" He smiles and says "Yeah it did!!!! And its sad, because at first it was really hard and I thought about giving up on him. I'm glad I didn't--he's a really good horse, he and I are good friends--we understand each other."

This little boy went on to unsaddle, put everything away, straighten the boot area, and help with all the animal chores and then went on to coach a boy in the lodge who was bent on negativity...and I noticed no matter how that boy pushed him away and tried to continue to be difficult, this young man stayed with him and coached him to a better place.

How rewarding to be a part of such growth and learning, it never ceases to amaze me how a horse can teach a lesson in a day that would take people months to do, simply because we're willing to listen to the horse.

God bless the horses, and God bless the little boys.

Written by Sonja Rhodes


Cherry Gulch is a ranch-style, therapeutic boarding school designed specifically for 10 -14 year old boys. Cherry Gulch’s supportive, encouraging and respect-based approach is designed to build students up—rather than tear them down. Cherry Gulch is passionate about providing early intervention and prevention to help boys reach their full potential and become well-rounded, pro-social young men. We are dedicated to providing outstanding therapeutic and academic services to students and their families. This is accomplished in the context of a safe environment working toward “Building Brighter Tomorrows for the Boys of Today.”

by Sonja Rhodes

Equine Department of Cherry Gulch Therapeutic Boarding School, Emmett, Idaho

Not long ago I was visiting with a boy's family as I was finishing up daily logs at Cherry Gulch therapeutic boarding school. The family had come to spend the weekend with their son and were resting in the office before having him take them to the barnyard to meet the horses and see what he has learned about horsemanship since being at the school.

The mother and I were talking about the process the boys go through, learning horsemanship skills and horse psychology before eventually going out on trail rides. Some boys pick up on this quickly while others may take longer before they are ready to go out into the hills to ride on a trail. This family's son has gone out on several trail rides.

The mother said that she would be surprised if her son had any fear with horses because he is an accomplished athlete and has done many extreme sports that would normally build courage. She said she would expect him to carry that brave spirit over into other areas.

We soon headed out to the horses. I asked the boy to explain things to his parents as we went along our way. He has pioneered some really great ideas for Cherry Gulch, from garden paths to skateboard ramps. His ideas are great, but his coping skills have not been as good as yet. He has made a habit of getting upset if things don't go exactly as he thinks they should.

Sometimes when he forgets about others and thinks its all about him, he gets removed from the project because he refuses to follow any one else's plan.

Because of this other boys finished the projects he'd started. So far with the horses he had been willing to go through the hard stuff and get along with peers.

Once out to the horses the boy gathered up a halter and went out to his favorite horse. He approached her with confidence and stood petting her gently before haltering, rubbing the faces of the other horses softly as they gathered around him. His family mentioned that this is what they were waiting to see--if he could show kindness and be gentle with the animals. They were really excited to see how considerate he was with not only the horse he was haltering but also with the others that came over to greet him as well.

After he had spent a few moments with each of the horses he looked to his favorite one and after getting eye contact with her, they headed off together with slack in the lead rope, walking side by side. He looped her rope at the hitching rail and began to thoroughly groom her.

During each step of the process his family would ask him what he was doing and he would explain. They would ask "but how do you know that about her?" and he would show them that he knew from her expression or body language. He lifted up her leg and held her hoof while he scraped the rocks and dirt that had packed into her sole, and then when he got to the hind foot he said to me "Can you help me with these I'm a little scared to do these by myself".

I showed him how to do this in a way that he and the horse could help each other. I've shown him this each time we've gone out but his confidence is still not strong in this area. He trusts the horse while picking up the front leg, but is not sure enough to do the hind.

At the last foot I saw him pushing the horse in the shoulder in attempt to get her foot up. I mentioned that he wouldn't be helping himself by pushing on her because he would teach her to lean into pressure since she would feel like he was trying to push her over.

I watched and he changed from pushing to grabbing, trying to make her lift that last foot. It was all very subtle, and to an untrained eye or someone not in the mind of horses it might not have looked like anything notable.

I've worked with a lot of horses, and though the horse could respond to this in a number of ways- it usually shows up as some sort of resistence. Though the boy didn't realize his behavior was influencing her that much, I knew that I could help him learn so the experience wouldn't leave her with a 'bad taste in her mouth'.

Its my job to help the boys understand these little things so that our horses continue to enjoy their job at Cherry Gulch and continue to work well for all the boys. I knew that with this being the last hoof to be cleaned, if I didn't help him find a positive solution for picking up the horses last foot, her memory would remain with the thought of resistance from what she views as a violation or threat.

I know for this boy has had situations here at Cherry Gulch where he started out with great intentions but then in wanting to hurry up he'd wind up frustrating others and it would end badly for them all. This was a good opportunity for me to allow a horse to teach him some life skills.

All of these thoughts went through my mind in about 10 seconds, then I said "Let me show you, if you prepare her and just...." she lifted her leg- that fast.

He saw this and tried again, but he grabbed and squeezed both the inside and outside of her knee, which I imagine to a horse might think was a lot like a dog bite. She resisted with her foot firmly planted on the ground like a concrete pillar.

The boy's mom asked him to let me show him again, so I rubbed lightly down her shoulder around to her leg and without doing anything more she lifted her foot up for me. He said "hmmmm!"

I told him "We can't really make her lift her foot up, its heavy with her weight on it--but if she lifts it for us it doesn't weigh anything at all." When the horse trusts us, she will balance on her other three legs and hold her hoof up on her own just resting it in our hand lightly. The horse is paying attention to everything we do. She is thinking about our behavior, our attitude and and our actions.

We're always teaching her something--and it all boils down to either "You can trust me horse" or "Don't trust me, horse because I'm not thinking about your basic internal needs".

I keep a watchful eye from start to finish on the interactions of horse and boy. I see what to many might look like barely anything at all. I watch because I know that good horsemanship comes from the strength that can't be seen in the arm, or the back. The person can be small or weak in body if they are strong in trust, respect and understanding of the horse.

I work with the boys through horses so they might find how trust, respect and understanding will look for them. We all have different boundaries and dispositions but anyone can bring these things into their relationships with desire, time, experience and practice. Guidance from someone who's had many years experience doesn't hurt either.

It is fun for me when the boys begin trusting themselves to make the right choices. This is often trial and error and any honest try will receive an honest response from the horse.

After all the details were in place the boy got ready to ride the mare, I'm sure he was excited to show his family all that he had learned. He had artfully saddled and showed them some ground skills he could do with the horse while leading. His family asked him lots of questions as he demonstrated these things.

Satisfied, he stepped up on the mounting block and maybe he had nervous excitement going on internally, but whatever it was, for some reason the horse avoided going near enough for him to put his foot in the stirrup.

I could imagine the mystery of his inner conversation as he held his breath, then slumped his shoulders as she'd side step to avoid going over there. Like the horse, I didn't know what was necessarily going on for him internally but I could see the effect of it written all over his body language. I know this is what horses are artfully aware of.

I watched as he attempted to work it out using all the skills he could think of, but remember--he was really anxious to show his family how well he rides this horse. He was anxious to show his family how he'd made a bond with this particular horse and now she was moving away from him! The more he worked to get her to come near and stay, the harder it seemed to get what he wanted. When she did edge near he would try to hurry up and grab hold causing her to move away from him again.

I could see not only the boy's body language but also that of the horse. I was taking mental notes and paid attention to the way her head was held high and her neck was tight, her hind legs were way out behind her and her front legs were spread wide as she avoided the place he needed her to be. I could not read her mind, but I could see clearly that she was not feeling ok about him riding yet.

I had to decide if I was willing to let him get on a horse that, for whatever reason didn't trust him at this moment. I knew if I did he would likely have a mediocre ride at best and his family would see him go through the motions of riding. But I knew it would be only the motions and everyone would know that something was missing. They might not understand what it was, but they would all leave feeling a bit dissatisfied.

I know from many years of working with horses and riders that if the horse is showing me she feels uneasy, then there is a 99% chance that the rider is trying NOT to show me- but none the less is feeling uneasy. Uneasy horses carrying uneasy riders usually results in mutual frustration and with these boys, a melt down can often follow. So, for me it seemed like my choice was to help him work through a problem that leaks into his whole approach to life---or I could let him do what he wanted, continue an unhealthy habit and then be miserable from the consequence of his actions.

I made my choice. The boy would have to work on the trust between him and the horse before he got up in the saddle. Everybody's goal was to see him ride, yet it might be better that his family would witness their son and the horse working through the process of building mutual trust. I had to trust that this would benefit the family more than accomplishing a basic tutored skill.

So each time the horse came near, the boy was instructed not to think about what he wanted, but only to think about the horse's need to feel safe next to him. That was a challenge for him. He was asked to think about (understand) how to cause the horse to believe that it was ok for her to be over there close to him. Once she was showing us she was comfortable there, and after a brief pause to relax together-he was instructed to ask her to leave his side by sending her out away from him on a circle at the end of the lead rope while he remained on the steps. That was a bigger challenge for him. I could see him questioning why he would get her comfortable being there, have her right where he wanted her and where he could get on (his goal) and then have to ask her to leave again! He looked at me and asked me why he couldn't just get on and ride.

When I was 9 years old I had a mare come into my life who had a lot of trouble believing that people were worth consistently trusting. When she arrived at my house, she greeted me with an angry face, bearing her teeth! She would run at me and try to bite, kick or push past me--and who knows why I continued to want to be with her. I guess I just thought it would be pretty awful to go through life that angry and upset all the time. Sometimes I feel just like that with the boys at Cherry Gulch and I'm thankful that I had that pony all those years ago that learned and taught me a better way to live. After all that work together, the years that followed were rewarding and unforgettable.

I can remember to this day the journey we took in gaining mutual trust that would carry through all the obstacles we met along the trails of our life together. I was a very adventurous soul and it took a lot of trust for a pony to take me all the places I asked her to go with me.

As an adult I made a career of working with the toughest horses, the ones that wouldn't come around to conventional theories and methods of schooling. No matter the type of horse or the reason for their trouble--I learned that the ingredients for the concrete foundation always came down to mutual trust, respect, and understanding.

Even before I understood the source of a horse's trouble---I had to find a way to establish trust they could understand. I had to learn that different horses needed different things to begin to trust. Some of them were so fearful while others were shut down, some seemed mean and others didn't seem to be able to focus long enough to grasp any form of communication. I felt like a horse psychologist!

Once I established consistent trust in a variety of situations the respect began to come automatically, and with that trust and respect suddenly the horse and I would understand each other. As time went on, they would begin to show me the troubled places and things would begin to make sense as we worked our way through those things to true confidence that ran clear to their core.

I can remember how frustrated people would bring me horses that seemed so out of control. They had often been told that their horse was hopeless. They would leave their horse there with me, wondering if they had just dropped them off on another dead end road. They would check on me often, not knowing if I really cared about their horse. I imagine they were afraid of how I might handle their prized horse when it tried any number of things with me that it had done with them. It was probably hard to believe that I, like them--wanted nothing more than to see that horse become a solid, sturdy success story with many sequels to follow long after I was only a distant memory.

I can remember when weary people would come back to see their horse. They would see all the things the horses had learned to do confidently, willingly with exuberance but yet all the while relaxed. They wouldn't understand how the horse made that change. And the journey to the change wasn't really anything I could explain because so much of it was internal and unseen. And the biggest accomplishment was when I'd get to watch as they learned that once the horse believed in their own abilities, they could much more easily carry that trust, respect and understanding over into all their relationships. There was no greater joy than watching as the horse and riders learned that they were as safe together as they were with me.

Remembering all this and sharing none of it with the boy, for it was HIS day! I simply smiled and told him that it was important for the horse that he could consider her safety (and his) above the goal. As he practiced moving her near and asking her to leave again I allowed him to express his own intuition on the subject. Whatever he saw, he could express it. I watched the horse and the boy and when we both were all in agreement that they were ready, he stepped up in the saddle.

At last he was riding. I gave some reminders here or there but mostly let he and the horse shine together enjoying the moment for a little while. Then when all was just right--after all the time it took to get there, I tested the boy--and asked him to get off the horse. I asked him to let the day end with him and the horse feeling like there was no better place than being together. He asked me "Can I just take her ONE more time around?" and I smiled and said "No." He grinned and did a beautiful demonstration of an emergency dismount--something we'd been practicing over the weeks to teach him that he can learn to make a classy 'exit' when things go awry.

It may have seemed a bit tough not allowing him one more round around the arena, but his family and I both know that when this boy finds what he's been waiting for then he tends to want more and more and more. He admits to pushing for one more time in everything until eventually that 'one more' causes a good thing to fall apart and turn ugly leaving him and everyone around him feeling frustrated.

I'd been coaching him on noticing that moment when all is well or at least better than they were before and then stopping with that. To leave things on a good note takes a bit of faith. It takes a bit of faith that the 'good times' won't be all used up by somebody else if he doesn't take them all for himself.

For him to do this might mean he would need to learn to trust that good things can come for him again and again. He might need to believe that he has the skills to get things right in himself before making demands on others on terms that they aren't able to start.

How fortunate that we have horses to help figure all this out.