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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.”