Melanie Watt loved horses when she was a child. And when she was feeling down, she talked to her horse, Princess, about what she was going through.
“In those days, you didn’t go to a counselor – you just dealt with it. The only one I had to talk to was Princess,” she said.
Talking about her emotions while grooming Princess made Watt feel better, and at the young age of 12, she had a seed firmly planted in her mind.
“The Lord revealed to me that I would one day start a ranch for hurting children,” she said.
Today, Watt is the CEO of Hope Remains Ranch, which serves local children and adults who are going through a difficult time. A $3,000 grant from Spartanburg Regional Foundation will help the ranch to expand its reach.
“Each year, the Foundation awards grants to organizations that make an impact on the health of our community, and we are so pleased that Hope Remains Ranch is a recipient this year. We know it provides services that make a difference for community members in need,” said Kristy Caradori, executive director of Spartanburg Regional Foundation.
In equine-assisted psychotherapy, a licensed therapist and a horse specialist work together with a client. Interaction with the animal helps to relax a person undergoing therapy. Meanwhile, human and horse develop a bond. Along the way, the person may open up about troubling feelings and experiences more readily than in traditional counseling sessions.
“It might not look like therapy, but working with a horse can be very effective,” Watt said, adding that horses possess a natural intuition that helps to “pull things out of a person.”
She has seen interaction with a horse lead to a child revealing past trauma, including abuse and sexual assault.
Working with a horse also provides lessons in discipline and responsibility and helps a child to understand the effect of his or her actions on others.
“Horses can be an emotional mirror for humans. They respond to the feeling state we show … If a person approaches a horse with anger, the horse will respond by shying away or becoming stubborn. Horses never hide their emotions,” according to a column for Psychology Today by therapist Constance Scharff.
Hope Remains Ranch is located in Wellford. The 27-acre property features a riding arena and two barns. A staff of 23, includes horse specialists, licensed therapists, a barn manager, and other support personnel. Watt was a special education teacher before opening the facility in 2007.
The Christian-based non-profit offers a wide range of services and programs, from individual therapy sessions to team-building activities to summer camps. It was one of 32 grantees in Spartanburg Regional Foundation’s 2018 grant cycle. A total of $594,000 was awarded in June to community organizations and hospital departments that support expanded access to health care.
Watt said she is grateful for the Foundation’s support. And she appreciates the opportunity to raise awareness about the special way horses connect with people in need.
She said, “I get asked all the time, ‘Do you train the horses to do what they do?’ I’m not that smart. They are very intuitive. It’s just the way the Lord made them.”
Learn more about Spartanburg Regional Foundation’s grants program at https://regionalfoundation.com/grants.