Runnells, Ia. – At first, ranch owner Deb Hoyt kept the horses that were skittish and ill-tempered away from the teenagers who came to her farm for healing.
Her rescue program for abused and neglected horses was separate from her therapy program for at-risk youth.
But the teens tended to be drawn to the most troubled horses.
“This is something I never expected,” Hoyt said. “We just – wow – the kids just kind of seem to know the horses who are like them.”
Hoyt runs Healing Hearts with Horses for free, working as a waitress all winter to pay for the hefty expense of horse care.
She doesn’t know the histories of the youths – just that they’re from group homes run by Children & Families of Iowa in Des Moines and Youth Homes of Mid-America in Johnston.
One girl started crying when she was introduced to a mare that had recently had a miscarriage, although Hoyt had told no one that. Hoyt was mystified by the girl’s tears.
“She said, ‘I just feel like this horse is really sad,’ ” Hoyt said.
The girl later revealed one of her deepest secrets: She’d had an abortion.
“No one knew,” Hoyt said. “But she felt a kinship with this horse right away. I was just blown away by it.”
All You Need Is Love
One summer, Hoyt told some kids, including a girl who had attempted suicide, that they should say goodbye to Rio. An ex-roping horse with no teeth, lame legs and a damaged neck muscle, Rio had lost his will to live.
Hoyt told the girls the veterinarian would put him down.
Some girls wept. They all snuggled Rio’s thin frame and petted him repeatedly.
The next day, Rio wandered to the barn for some food. The vet came with the euthanasia supplies and was startled to see that his downtrodden demeanor had evaporated.
The next week the girls cried out to see Rio alive. They held a bake sale to buy special feed and lavished attention on him, and his appetite resurged.
The next spring, Rio settled down in a pasture and passed away peacefully.
One of the Healing with Hearts horses: