Originally published by WTVD
By Caitlin Knute

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Coming up this Sunday there’s a family-friendly fundraiser to raise money for an organization called the Shepherd Youth Ranch. It’s a non-profit organization based in Franklinton that caters to children and teens who have mental health issues, autism, or are considered at-risk because of trauma, abuse or neglect they’ve experienced.

“They have anywhere from moderate to severe traumatic issues or challenges that they’re facing, and when they come, they come to participate in what’s called equine assisted psychotherapy or equine assisted learning activities,” explained founder Ashley Boswell.

As the name implies, the work is done using horses, most of which were rescued from abuse or abandonment themselves. It’s something many of the kids can relate to, including Lisa DeMarco’s adopted daughter.

“My daughter was a little over 3 when she was taken out of her first home, it was a lot of abuse and neglect, just a very chaotic home, very violent,” explained Lisa DeMarco.

When the family first brought the little girl into their home at the age of 6, she would hardly make eye contact and barely spoke. She also threw temper tantrums that that her mother describes as the type of fits a toddler would throw. But since taking part in the innovative therapy, her mom says she’s seen an encouraging change in her behavior. Like many other children who go through the program, the now 8-year-old is starting to come to terms with her past and getting in touch with her feelings and emotions.

“She can now say ‘I’m frustrated by this. I’m disappointed. I’m jealous.’ And she’s able to put words to it and understand and she’s able to change her behavior,” Demarco said with a smile.

The program itself runs anywhere from 20-24 weeks, during which time the kids get a lot of hands-on work with the horses, learning how to relate to them, how to take care of them, and doing different therapeutic exercises with them. And, when they’re done with those sessions, they can move on to another phase of the therapy that involves actually learning to ride.

“When they finish these programs, typically 80 percent of the kids want to stay and be part of our step-down program, and it’s at that point they can come back and learn horsemanship,” said Boswell.

And as they continue to work with the animals, the kids also continue working on themselves.

The program is hosting a fundraiser at the Triple R Ranch in Franklinton where they’re located this Sunday from 2-5 p.m. You can buy tickets in advance online or at the gate that day.

For more information on this event or on individual therapy sessions and family sessions: https://shepherdyouthranch.org/