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New Juvenile Court program lets horses help at-risk kids | March 8, 2023

By JIM PHILLIPS, PERRY COUNTY TRIBUNE EDITOR NEW LEXINGTON – Perry County Probate/Juvenile Judge Luann Cooperrider prides herself on the number and variety of innovative programs the juvenile court offers to help young people who end up there for whatever reason. One of the programs she’s most enthusiastic about at the moment is a new one, active only since December of last year.

 

 

 

 New Juvenile Court program lets horses help at-risk kids | March 8, 2023

 

 

By JIM PHILLIPS, PERRY COUNTY TRIBUNE EDITOR

Click on the photos below to view full size.

A participant in the Horse Power program makes friends with their horse.

 

From left: Penny Maxwell, Perry Behavioral Health Services; Mendy Boley, Perry County Juvenile Court; TJ Ross, New Lexington Police Chief; Judge Luann Cooperrider; Ally Potter & Billie Jo Chapman, Diamond Lake Horse Farm; Sgt. Andy Love, Somerset Police Department.

 

NEW LEXINGTON – Perry County Probate/Juvenile Judge Luann Cooperrider prides herself on the number and variety of innovative programs the juvenile court offers to help young people who end up there for whatever reason. One of the programs she’s most enthusiastic about at the moment is a new one, active only since December of last year.

 

Winston Churchill said, “The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man.” Roughly the same idea might be said to inspire the court’s new Horse Power equine therapy program, which allows at-risk youth to work with and care for horses as a way for them to learn more about themselves.

 

“We’re always trying to find new things to help kids and families, and there’s a lot of research out there on animal therapy, especially with horses,” Cooperrider said. “And we are the kind of court and staff that like to implement things that work… We’ve done a lot of things with animals. All of our kids that are in our court system can participate in 4-H, because a lot of our kids don’t have the parents at home, or maybe the finances, to be involved in these kinds of programs. So we’re going to help them do it.”

 

Court Probation Officer Mendy Boley, who has extensive experience with horses including years as a 4-H adviser, is taking lead on the new program, which benefits from multiple community partnerships. One is with Diamond Lake Horse Farm in Mount Perry, which supplies the location and the horses.

 

“There’s a curriculum, we have pre-planned exercises that we do with the kids and an equine partner,” Boley explained. “They gain things like communication skills, responsibility, decision making, listening. It teaches them how to focus, be in tune to their body language, that sort of thing. A lot of social-emotional types of things.”

 

One way in which equine therapy is supposed to be helpful to people is based on the fact that when working with horses, it’s necessary to be very focused, intentional and consistent in the messages you’re communicating to them, and attentive to their response. Once learned, this mindful empathy can help in relating to your fellow two-legged creatures as well.

 

Boley said she’s already seen it happening.

 

“Yes, absolutely,” she said. “We had one kiddo who was doing just that – her body language, everything she was saying was, ‘I’m grumpy, I don’t want to be here.’ And she found out really quickly that her attitude directly affected her horse. And we were able to use that active moment to point that out to her, and then transfer that into her relationships at home, with her family, her teachers, that sort of thing. And she got that direct response to the way her behavior was affecting the animal, and how it affects people around her.”

 

Cooperrider said she thinks another way the program helps the youth who take part is simpler. “It makes them feel good,” she said. “You know, a lot of our kids come from a background where they’re never given a compliment, they’re never told, ‘Hey, good job today.’ And the research shows that this (kind of program) really gets to where it needs to be in the hearts and minds of kids.”

 

Boley and Cooperrider both expressed gratitude for the cooperation they’re seeing, not only from Diamond Lake, but also from law enforcement, Perry Behavioral Health Choices, Inc., and all four of the county’s school districts.

 

Perry Behavioral Health Choices’ Youth and Family program has been “front and center,” Boley said, providing a case manager to attend every equine therapy session. And the police chiefs of New Lexington and Somerset are “totally engaged in this program,” according to the judge.

 

“There is always a law enforcement presence,” added Boley. “At every one of these program days that we’ve had, there’s been someone from law enforcement there – which has been fantastic, because a lot of these kids, their interactions with law enforcement are not usually good ones. And to be able to have a police officer helping you muck a stall, helping you brush a horse, and just having some real-life conversations with them, you know, turns them human. It’s been a beautiful thing to see happen, that’s for sure.”

 

The involvement of the schools is also key to making the project work.

 

“We could not do this without cooperation from our school districts,” Boley said. “They have been very supportive in our picking the kids up at school and taking them to this program, and then bringing them home afterwards. So huge, huge thank you to our school districts. And that’s all of our school districts, it’s not just one.”

 

In the short time it’s been up and trotting, the program has gotten a strong positive response – not least from its young participants.

 

“Honestly, I’ve had a lot of kids ask, ‘Can I go?’” Boley reported. “I’ve had a handful of kiddos who, the first time they went, just were not at all engaged, didn’t want to be there. By the time were done with the session – we always have kind of a reflection and close at the end –those kids were rating it a 10.”

 

She added, “If I have 16 kids we’re going to take kayaking, we might be able to actually pull in 10 of them to go. And I have not had one spot (in equine therapy) where a kid just didn’t go. They really look forward to it… It definitely, I think, exceeded our expectations as far as numbers. I really envisioned just a handful of kids every couple of weeks, and it’s quickly gone from that to eight kids every week.”

 

Cooperrider added that “we have a lot of our counseling agencies that are wanting to refer lots more kids.” She said the court was also able to get some grant funding through the Ohio Department of Youth Services for training, “so Mendy is going to be trained herself as an equine instructor.”

 

So what types of youth can benefit from the program? Boley suggested the criteria for choosing participants are broad.

 

“It’s any kid that could be considered at risk,” she said. “So it could be anything from ‘My parents are divorced, and I’ve got to go back and forth, and I’m struggling with that,’ to ‘I have parents that are incarcerated, and I’m involved in the court.’ I mean, it’s kids from one end of the scale to the other. I don’t know that there’s a kiddo out there that wouldn’t benefit from this type of a program.”

 

To learn more about the program, contact Perry County Juvenile Court.

 

Email at jphillips@perrytribune.com

 

More info HERE.


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