Today we took Cam to Hugs Ranch in Byron Center, MI. Like all of our kids, Cam has experienced trauma in his life. When a neighbor told us about Hugs, we knew we had to check it out. It was a fantastic experience for him and for us. Hugs is a faith-based nonprofit that (according to their website) provides a healing path for hurting children. The kids do ranch chores — brushing horses, feeding pigs and goats, cleaning stalls, and petting Chester the braying donkey who demands attention from passers by.
Dressed in his Texas cowboy gear, Cam took the grand tour as Britt and I spent time in the parents area. Between emails and blog posts, we’d see him walk by, give a smile and a wave, and go about his merry way with a bucket of feed or a brush.
On the way to the ranch, Cam was heartbroken because, earlier in the day, we caught a frog in the front yard that eventually hopped away. “Froggie… I want Frooooggggiieeee” he cried, needing a few minutes to collect himself in the parking lot. “I don’t want horses, I want Froggieeee…”. By the time we left, he was ready to come back again, which he will. The frog was long forgotten.
They say that kids who deal with PTSD, ADHD, and the like, strongly benefit from these life skills. After a good amount of time passes, a horse will grow to trust the child, thus teaching them the value of nonverbal communication and consistency. I imagine the day where Cam is reading Horton Hatches the Egg to a goat.
We have our hands full in our blended family. All of us have lost something, and we’ll spend the rest of our lives processing. Therapeutic practices like this help kids (and grownups) work through loss in a healing way. There’s something centering about tending to God’s creation that can’t be replicated any other way. When Chester the donkey yells “HOWWWKNEEEEEEEEE”, you can’t ignore it.