My name is Lindsey. I began my horse journey at five years old with a sweet horse named Shadow, a spirited but steady bay Arabian-Quarter Horse gelding. I never have stayed away from horses for too long, between the show ring, trail rides, and training. I’ve worked with a variety of horses over the years, yet still value the practice of learning. Read this blog to find Horse care and..
Boundaries, in my opinion, are such an underrated thing. They can take on a negative connotation because they imply confrontation at times, which can be uncomfortable. Most people confuse boundaries with abuse or mean-spirited behavior. But boundaries, with humans or with horses, carry a magic to them, a magic that I didn’t discover until my late twenties.
I had to learn the hard way that we teach people how to treat us. If we want them to be kind to us, we have to teach them that we are not okay with rude comments. If we want them to respect our privacy, we have to show them where our personal space begins. And if we want them to love us, we have to be vulnerable enough to show them how we receive love. We cultivate our relationships based on the communication of those boundaries. When we show what we are and are not okay with, we’ve drawn out a sacred space where a relationship can move in and make itself a home. When I finally started getting the hang of boundaries in my life, toxic relationships faded quickly, and more wholesome relationships started to blossom.
And really, horses are no different. Sure, they cannot consider our human-equine partnership at the level that we can. But they do understand and desire leadership, belonging, and safety. Believe it or not, boundaries are what catalyze all these things. When we exemplify leadership through boundaries with our horses, we allow them to blossom into the best horse they possibly can be.
The lack of boundaries, on the other hand, can cause an otherwise talented and kind horse to become dangerous. Without boundaries, your hose could become a liability, a problem, or a project.
Eliminating confusion in your horse. This will make them less tense and fearful, and less likely to spook or react in a bottled up tantrum.
Establishing your Leadership. This will lead to happier rides for your horse and safer rides for you, especially in new situations. While they may not know what to do in a new situation, they will still look to you for guidance.
When we work with our horses, we don’t want them to be in trouble. We don’t want them to misbehave or overreact or spook. But in order to bring forth an even-tempered horse in our training, we need to implement boundaries consistently in the smallest things. For example, if I let my horse rush ahead of me when coming out of the stall, will he listen to me when I ask him to stop on the trail? Horses, when allowed to practice bad habits, will persist their bad behavior, and often escalate to worse behavior.
What we don’t often think about in handling is how our horse suffers for our lack of boundaries. Most domesticated horses are bred to be submissive. With the herd mentality in mind, the more submissive horses are expecting to be led by the dominant horse. In the dynamic between you and your horse, you are the dominant leader.
By not stepping up into your leadership role, you risk making your horse feel like he/she needs to step up on your place. For most domesticated horses, this produces fear, because they don’t necessarily want to lead. This is why a “misbehaved” horse might be more prone to spooking. Their bad behavior is rooted in fear. To make matters worse, when we don’t implement small boundaries, we will overcompensate when our horses escalate their behavior. This only produces more confusion, tension, and fear in our horses around being handled. The combination of all these factors ultimately create a dangerous horse.
If you are just learning about boundaries for the first time, do not worry. The amazing thing about boundaries is that they start to take effect immediately. Follow these simple steps to start transforming your partnership with your horse from hazardous to healthy.
How to Implement Healthy Boundaries with Your Horse:
Don’t Allow Bad Habits to Form or Persist: I know we all struggle with this one from time to time, we need to draw a line with bad habits in our horses: habits like stomping their feet, anxious movement at the mounting block, biting, kicking, rushing past you when walking, or ignoring your aids. Stop them as soon as you see this behavior, and use the Pressure and Release Method to reinforce a better one.
Be Consistent: When your horse knows exactly what is expected of him/her, he/she will more willingly trust your leadership and be at peace. Not knowing how you’ll react to a given situation can cause confusion. A confused horse will more often be tense, fearful, flighty, or aggressive.
Be the Leader: This is hard for us meeker personality types. Horses are big animals, and we don’t necessarily want to piss them off. But by not reminding them that you’re the leader in smaller struggles will almost always lead to a bigger dominance struggle. If you allow this to escalate, you could end up in a new and scary situation on the back of a horse that won’t listen to your direction.
Reward Positive Change: When teaching your horse which behaviors are not okay, it is equally important to show them the behaviors that you favor. Simple rewards include a pat on their neck, soothing touch or tone of voice, or providing them a break from their task. This will reinforce their training more effectively, and possibly cut down training time altogether.
I thought that exercising boundaries would kill me when I started to practice them. With horses and humans, I thought that no one would want to be around me when I wasn’t agreeable. But what I found instead was that boundaries provide the other half of a partnership a means to relate to you and trust you. If you are consistent with what behavior you will allow, your horse will respond generously–trust me.
Boundaries are not complicated at all, but they can be hard. Just keep in mind the positive behavior that you want from your horse. You will then be able to respond to that behavior while it’s still in its simplest form. When you reward the baby steps towards progress, your horse will be encouraged and learn more quickly. This create a safer handling and riding experience for you. But more importantly, it will set your horse’s mind at ease, knowing that he’s not the one that has to call the shots. And remember, always, that your horse is not against you, he’s just waiting for you to be the leader. Do so with kindness, and you’ll have a loyal horse forever.
What comes to mind when you think of boundaries? Have you found them useful in your life, either with people or horses? I’d love to hear in the comments below or at email@example.com
Weight loss is a sensitive topic that most of us equestrian women want to know more about but are often embarrassed to talk openly about because of the struggles we face. Today, I want to share my journey with you out of overeating and my top weight loss tips after losing 50 lbs and keeping it off.
So let’s get this out of the way: I love food. Food is fantastic in that it nourishes our life on a daily basis and has incredible healing, strengthening, and energizing properties. Most of my Instagram feed is filled with people who are really creative with how they pair food in inspiringly healthy ways.
I love food, but I’ve spent most of my life depending on it. And I don’t mean physically for sustenance and nourishment, as mentioned above. I spent years of my life relying on food to regulate my moods, make me feel secure, and deal with stress and heartbreak.
So, as you can imagine, I have spent many years being heavier than I should have been. When I was young, my binge-eating was easier to hide. I could put away twelve tacos, chips, and ice cream in a day (plus breakfast and dinner) without anyone really noticing, because I was extremely active. I typically played two to four sports regularly, in addition to swimming several times a week.
Struggling with deep depression and searching for meaning in my life, I kept myself numb enough to function by feeding my brain more fats, more sugars, and more carbs.
When I think about how I used to relate to food, I feel sad for the girl that was going through a hard time and couldn’t see her way out. But the reality of any eating disorder is that it happens in a difficult time in our life as a crutch to keep us from dealing with the chaos around us or the pain inside of us. If we use this crutch for long enough, it becomes part of our identity. I’d always felt ashamed about being bigger than other girls my age. But, I needed food to keep me from being sad all the time more than I needed a good body image.
Finally in my twenties, I started to face all of the pain I was afraid to deal with. I didn’t want to see the self-hatred, the betrayal, or the loss that I had experienced. But little by little, I started to feel the experiences, look at them, and move forward. I had the help of a therapist for a while, pastoral counsel at another point, horses through the worst of it, and new, healthy relationships at last.
As I started to separate my personal identity from the heartache that had formerly defined me, I began to see myself as a healthy and whole person. The picture wasn’t complete at first, but I saw glimmers of who I could be, and I walked towards that girl until the picture became clearer. Looking back at how broken I was to where I am now, I know that God is real and He cares.
As I started to deal with the realities of my life, my mentality towards food started to change, too.
Two short years ago, I married the love of my life and am happy to say he is also my best friend. Well, my best friend happens to be insanely healthy. During our first year of marriage, I lost thirty pounds alone by just mimicking his behavior with food some of the time. During the second year of marriage, we started to get serious about diet and exercise being a part of our life, and I lost another twenty pounds.
The process was gradual and never too difficult. I missed the mark all the time (and still do!) in regards to ideal eating habits. However my eating habits, by continually setting higher goals, have been completely transformed. By adding some exercise to the routine, I started to feel more confident and protective of the body that was working so hard to keep healthy.
Me in 2015 vs. 2018
More recently, I wanted to learn more about how I could make my body stronger and get to a new level of health. I joined the beta group of a program called The Equestrian’s Edge, that specifically helped me focus on how to exercise in a way that benefit me as a woman and equestrian. That journey boosted my confidence exponentially, because I saw my body starting to take shape in ways I never thought possible.
So, why am I sharing all of this? Because I hope it encourages some equestrians who may be struggling with either food addiction or just feeling discouraged about starting their health journey. This is not advice for someone who wants to lose weight fast or be bikini-ready for next summer. But if you want a healthier relationship with food, your body, and your self-confidence, you’re in good company.
Practical Guidelines for Transformative Weight Loss
Personally, my weight loss journey had to be manageable and involve healthier eating habits, routine exercise, and mentality shifts. Please remember that I have 0.00 medical training, so please consult your doctor before making any drastic changes to your diet or exercise routine. But if you identify at all with my story, these transformation tips may be a good place to start:
Pay Attention to Portions:
Counting calories at first isn’t bad if it helps you identify portion sizes of food and how many should be eaten in a day. Calories will be different for everyone, but the standard is under 2,000 per day. Some will go lower, depending on their goals. For me, 1,500 calories a day at first helped me understand portions in a day that would help me lose weight. But the really, really important thing to focus on, calories or not, is to eat slowly and stop when you’re full. You’ll have to adjust to a new “full” sensation, because it’s not the “roll me outta here” full anymore. The healthy full is when you feel just satisfied.
Balance Your Macros:
Macros can be a scary word for someone entering the health world, but they’re actually your best friend. Basically, your body needs proteins, carbs, and fats to function. (For example: did you know that some vitamins and minerals can only be absorbed when fats are present? That’s why apples and nut butter are a great combo: the fats in the nut butter help absorb the Vitamin A!). Because your body needs carbs, fats, and proteins to function, focus on getting all three in a meal (focusing on healthy carbs and fats–for example sweet potato or avocado), and you will not only remain full longer, but also be fueling your body in the way it was intended to function. Anything we can do to help our bodies function naturally is a win, right?
Check In With Yourself:
This one has been the longest process but has provided the deepest transformation when rewiring my emotional eating. I kid you not, I left a Starbucks parking lot crying one day because I realized that all I was there to do was buy pastries so that I wouldn’t be sad for a few hours. Checking in with yourself will help you understand when you’re eating to elevate your mood, alleviate stress, or to actually satisfy hunger and nourish your body. Make this a habit by maybe setting your alarm 5 times in a day to ask yourself how you’re doing & why. Or, when you run to the fridge or pantry unexpectedly, ask yourself: “Do I need to talk with someone, journal, or have a good cry? Or do I actually need to eat?”
Move a Little:
Did you know that your body is healthiest when you’re pushing it physically? Physical activity releases endorphins (that affect your mood & mindset), boosts metabolism, and makes you physically stronger to help you live longer. My suggestion: start small. Maybe this means starting with three walks a week, bike rides, hikes, or longer riding sessions. Do something that makes your body feel good afterward. The key to prolonged physical activity is combining cardio activity with strength training. Our bodies need both for optimal health.
Don’t roll your eyes at me! At first, I had to force myself to drink water. What I have found to be most helpful is to start with a glass at the beginning of the day when I first wake up, because it makes me think about drinking water the rest of the day. You can also incorporate fun things to flavor it, like cold-steeping a tea bag throughout the day, or infusing it with strawberries, lemons, or cucumbers to give it a little flavor.
Settle at Your Healthy Body Weight & Type:
Please, please don’t skip this step. The difference between going on a diet and adopting a healthy lifestyle is considering the long-term goals for your body. You want your healthy homeostasis to be right where your body is happiest. Over-eating past this point and starving yourself to be smaller are the two edges of the same destructive sword. So eat healthy, keep moving, drink water, watch your portions, and fall in love with the size and shape that it settles at. In order to continue being healthy, you have to love your healthy body.
Always be Looking to Improve:
I know myself well enough to know that I’ll be looking for a way to slip back into bingeing donuts, chips, and cheeseburgers if I’m not setting new health goals once I’ve achieved my former ones. My mind is always trying to find ways to go back to my old lifestyle, telling me, “You’ve lost the weight, now you can live it up again.” Well, when I was eating everything in sight, I was NOT happy. I was barely surviving. Now, I’m focused on thriving. By continuing to learn about nutrition, I haven’t yet run out of ways to make my daily diet and exercise routine more healthy. So crush your health goals, make them a habit, and keep reaching higher.
Get a Support System:
Living a healthy life can be hard and require sacrifices that can be challenging at first. Having friends to journey with help. Your support system may be a work-out buddy (friend, husband, co-worker) who can go to the gym with you and share healthy eating tips together. It could be a personal trainer or nutritionist, in the case that you feel you’d benefit from one-on-one professional support and guidance. This may be a fitness program that has a broader support group of like-minded people who are taking the same journey.
I was fortunate to find a fitness group that I completely loved when I wanted to take the next step in my fitness journey. The best part? It’s just for equestrians.The Equestrian’s Edgeis a fitness and nutrition program that is geared specifically towards equestrian women who want to be stronger and healthier in horseback riding and every other aspect of life.
While going through the first month of the program, I did a series of videos chronicling my journey through the challenges and victories. This first video is more detail about my health journey upon entering the program and an overview of The Equestrian’s Edge! Check it out below:
Equestrian Wellness: My Fitness Reset Intro - YouTube
To join the waitlist for the launch of The Equestrian’s Edge with Kristin Montero, sign up HERE.
Let’s Journey Together
My heart in sharing all of this with you is to let you know that the journey to your best health is not linear. It will not happen overnight, but it doesn’t need to. Today is never too late to take the next step towards your overall health. Let us make decisions today that will prolong our lives, make us feel happier and healthier, and make us feel stronger riding our horses for hours on end!
What have you done in your health journey to make you a better rider? Do you have any tips to share? I’d love to hear in the comments below or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Is there a better feeling for an equestrian than the moment when their most challenging horse becomes the most pleasurable to ride? It is that moment of sweet accomplishment when you and that horse have hit a beautiful harmony after ages of toil, reevaluation, misunderstanding, and finally….connection.
These past few months, I have been working with a horse who is the complete opposite of my favorite equine personality type. I typically prefer the opinionated overthinkers: the horse that wants to learn, yet has his own opinion on everything you do, and wants to anticipate your requests before you even mention them. They are my favorite because, though opinionated, they are always talking to you.
The mare I have been riding recently has not only been the opposite personality type, but she is also very green and unsure about everything. Fiery, sensitive, and elusive, Rose will often bite, kick, or stop when she doesn’t understand.
How Do You Make a Horse Want What You Want?
When we face challenges as riders, we have two choices: we can either make the horse do what we want them to, or we can offer an opportunity to partner with us. The first choice involves a lot of fear tactics, and often at the risk of overlooking potential pain, fear, and confusion they already experience. The second presents the horse with the choice to either work with us and be rewarded, or work against us and experience pressure.
Pressure is something that horses instinctually work to eliminate, which is why release is the ultimate reward to teach them. Release, in any form, is a way to show the horse that they are on the right track, without ever having to escalate to forceful training methods. The idea is to entice them in a positive direction, not look for the wrong behavior and punish it. This Pressure & Release philosophy works with the sensitive and stubborn horses alike, because it makes the ideal outcome their path of least resistance.
Breaking it Down: How to Make Your Horse Attuned to You
1. Find Your Focus: Every rider should know the trajectory of where they want their horse to be. As a lesson groupie, I used to rely on my trainer to tell me what I should expect from my horse. Once I started working on my own, I realized I needed to pre-determine my desired outcome for my horse. Be it behavioral achievements or learning a new movement, all horses thrive when challenged.
2. Be Attuned to Your Horse First: Before you can provide any feedback to your horse, you’ll need to know as much as possible about their world at that current moment. Take note of their mood, any change in behavior, whether they seem relaxed or anxious, and if they could be experiencing any pain. Be aware of what they are communicating to you from the moment you walk into their stall.
3. Create Pressure: Whatever it is that you want to teach your horse, the key is to apply just enough pressure to encourage the behavior, movement, or pattern. The pressure should be appropriate for the situation. If it’s a movement under saddle, this might be leg pressure and seat weight. If it’s a spooky corner in the trail that’s hard for your horse to pass, it could just be making it a hassle for them to back up or turn around. If it’s reaching farther into their back as they move, lean deep into your back pockets and maintain steady contact with their mouth.
4. Then, Release: As soon as your horse takes that first step to accomplishing the desired outcome, release the pressure. Back off of the leg, loosen your body, or release a little of your reins. This will reinforce that the behavior they just performed provides them rest. Knowing this, they will come back to the behavior more quickly next time, because they want to have that experience of rest again sooner.
5. Reinforce Small Steps: The wonderful thing about attunement is that the process itself gets easier as you incorporate it deeper into your training. You’re not only encouraging the good behavior or movement, but also a posture of more quiet and attentive listening.
Troubleshooting Attunement Issues
There are certain things that could inhibit your progress when conditioning your horse for attunement. The most common issues are pain, fear, confusion, and disrespect. After multiple attempts at teaching your horse the next movement or behavior, your horse may still not be responding. But all can be resolved by remaining present with your horse. So ask yourself if there could be any source of pain or fear, whether he fully understands your requests, and if you’ve been to passive in your boundaries recently.
This method of creating a release in our training reinforces both our leadership and trustworthiness in our equine partnership. Instead of forcing your horse to do anything, you’re creating a circumstance where they can continue their behavior and maintain a state of discomfort and annoyance, or they can let you lead them to the next level, where they will restore their restful state. Showing them that your behavior is predictable will reinforce their loyalty and respect for you over time. In essence, you are conditioning them to understand that meeting your requests is the path of greatest reward. Additionally, your horse will come to see that you will always treat them kindly, even if they don’t want to give at first.
Now that Rose has caught on to the pressure-release dynamic, she is so much more willing to offer curiosity instead of fear in new challenges. Her development into a relaxed, sweet, and willing horse is a beautiful thing to behold. The fun part about training our horses is when we get to celebrate those victories together. But more than that, it’s about the memories and report we build with them over time. Given time, consistency, and kindness, your horse will undoubtedly offer their best efforts in return.
Have you tried the pressure-release method? How did it go? If you try this method after reading this post, please let me know how it went at email@example.com!
Abuse is a big word amongst animal lovers. Many of us have met or rehabilitated animals that have been through some sort of abuse or neglect. But what are we supposed to do when the horse we rescued is so broken that they seem impossible to work with? Furthermore, is it possible that we could perpetuate practices that could lead to abuse without even realizing it? Of course, none of us would outright abuse our animals, but stay with me, because in this article, we will address:
How and why abuse happens
How to identify a horse who has suffered abuse
How to approach their handling and training
Abuse is often considered the opposite of bonding, the opposite of trust, but that’s not always the case. An abusive dynamic happens when you’ve gained the trust of an equine, and then utterly shattered it to the point of them regretting that trust, not just in you, but in all humans.
How and Why Abuse Happens
None of us really want to hear this, but we are all capable of abusing our horse. Be it through poor instruction we have received, high-octane emotions from our personal life spilling over into our barn time, or being inconsistent with how we handle our horse, we are all capable of shattering our horse’s trust and mistreating them, even if for just a moment.
In order to understand the root of abuse, we need to be able to recognize it in ourselves. We need to identify with the problem in a way that doesn’t compound blame or hatred. There are some who don’t care that they mistreat or neglect their horses, and that is simply abhorrent. But the majority of abuse happens due to ignorance and not knowing a better way to deal with horses.
The first way that abuse can happen is when the handler is out of touch or not dealing with his or her own stressors, emotions, or trauma. We have all been here to a certain degree, right? We come to the barn with all the angst from work, stressing about our finances, or heartbroken over a relational fracture. Instead of recognizing and dealing with the emotions themselves, we let them slip out in unhealthy ways at our horse’s expense.
Does this sound familiar?
Now, imagine someone who lives their life that way, and continues to take out all of their angst on their horse. Horrendous in practice, it is usually triggered in a moment when “the horse is being bad.” So they kick him hard on the side, they wail on him with a whip or run him way too hard. Notice that these are all reactions that have deviated from more appropriate reactions.
It is not abusive to make your horse circle when he’s not listening. It is abusive to spin him around you for twenty minutes on end at a near-canter with his body completely tight with fear. It is abusive to beat a horse with any object, or to repetitively yank on their face, withhold food from them, or practice any correction with cruelty. If the pattern continues, the horse begins to associate humans as their predator, not their ally.
How to Identify a Horse Who Has Suffered Abuse
Every horse will tell you about their past abuse in different ways. Some will be incredibly aggressive, others will be skittish. Others yet will be loners, keeping to themselves and not interested in interaction whatsoever. Many horses will be a combination of all of these things depending on the level and length of abuse they experienced.
The basic question to consider is if the horse’s reaction seems appropriate to the situation. Are they much more aggressive than the average horse about personal space? Are they extremely skittish to the human touch? Do they spend time hiding behind other horses and stay away from humans? They may have been abused, and you can find specific issues of trauma based on situations that trigger these reactions even more.
However they tell you about their past harm, the greatest challenge with an abused horse is their memory. All their behavior stems back to the reality of their trauma, because to them it is still imminent. From an instinctual perspective, to forget what happened to them is to set themselves up for harm again. Depending on how significantly they were traumatized, the horse may or may not be able to differentiate the difference between a trustworthy human and an untrustworthy one.
You may have read the story of Karen & Isaac in A Partnership Like Ours. In Isaac’s case, he had been so thoroughly abused that all humans were awful. Though Karen is now working one by one through his individual fears from his past, his overarching fear was about humans, not situations or objects.
Seeing humans as the predator, the horse will try to protect itself. Many will run away as much as possible. Some will be ready to bite, kick, or bulldoze out of self defense. The task is great to rehabilitate these animals from their dangerous yet fragile state, but it can be done.
How to Approach Their Handling and Training
While we may not be able to intervene when a horse is being abused, we can change the trajectory of their new experiences. We can show them with time and patience that humans can be trusted, and teach them certain manners to prevent future abuse if they need to be rehomed.
Please note that with abused horses, extra measures of safety need to be taken. Do not work alone with an abused horse if you are inexperienced with horses or have never dealt with behavioral issues before. When in doubt, take the safest route with retraining.
The Basics of Handling and Training an Abused Horse:
Take Things Slowly: Let this be the one tip to rule the others. The abused horse will have suffered trauma that you probably don’t know about. You only have part of the story, at best. Anything could be a trigger. Take all new experiences slowly until you have a feel for their reaction. If you push a horse too far through something they are afraid of, it could backfire and break some of the trust you’ve built with them.
Have a Loose Agenda: Because you don’t know what will be under the surface of their trauma, be willing to redirect your lesson plan at any time. Whatever you may have planned to work on might be too overwhelming for them. They may even let you know that they are ready to walk through something that you didn’t expect them to. Take the opportunity to be present with them in the moment and to learn together. Retraining a traumatized horse is more about doing things together, and less about a checklist of accomplishments. Go with the flow and get creative with what they are allowing you to see.
Be Clear About Boundaries: A lot of abused horses were punished because their owners weren’t consistent with their boundaries. They would allow the undesired behavior to happen until they finally snapped on the horse, leaving them guessing as to why they were in trouble. In order to gain your horse’s full trust, you will have to be clear about what you expect of them and stick with it. Not all boundaries will be communicated at once, but if you don’t allow your horse to bite, make sure (even if it’s just a jerk to their lead rope) that the behavior will never be tolerated. Don’t escalate your punishment, just make it a hassle for them to overrule you as their leader. The abused horse will settle knowing that they don’t need to be in charge (see Part I for more on this).
Spend a LOT of Extra Time Bonding: Even more than your average horse, the abused horse needs to know that you have the best intentions for them. When you’re not schooling them, let them know that you are there to care for them. If they are standoffish, come to their paddock to leave them a little extra grain. Spend time hanging out around them. Pet or massage them on their neck and shoulder first (the safe zone) and progressively get them used to your touch over their whole body. Talk to them soothingly. Give them every reason to believe that you are trustworthy and want to care for them.
Horses are naturally skittish animals as it is. With domestication, we teach them how to relate to us humans, as well as how to trust us. Horses that have been abused are harder to train than a horse that is new to handling, because their experience with humans has been largely negative. Your task is to convince them that the species that inflicted so much harm upon them before are no longer dangerous.
The amazing thing about horses who have undergone abuse is that they are capable of incredible compassion and trust. As much as they fear trusting a human again, they, more than the average horse, crave the feeling of safety and connection. The abused horses are worth the extra time, effort, and patience to rehabilitate, because in return they will offer their whole heart back to you for the chance to belong to someone who will not harm them.
Have you ever rehabilitated an abused horse? What was the biggest challenge? What was the greatest reward?
An Interview with Jennifer Gentner, founder of Living Hope Ranch.
Forty minutes outside Lansing lies the quiet Americana town of Laingsburg, Michigan. Nestled in its countryside is Living Hope Ranch, a place for broken children to come and find solace; a place where hurting hearts can play and let go of sorrow; a place where children can see the reality of wholeness on the other side of their struggle.
Living Hope Ranch was born long before there was ever a physical place or an official nonprofit organization. Jennifer Gentner was a Freshman at Michigan University working with third-grade inner city children in Lansing. The students at the time were not doing well: their home life was chaotic, and they were were scholastically underperforming. Having recently given her life to Christ, Jennifer deeply desired to connect with these kids, and to empower them to have a better life.
The children, however, refused to connect with her. For the better part of nine months, she saw no change in their attitude or studies. Jennifer finally asked herself, “How can I get a breakthrough?” She considered connecting to these children through the one pastime that had been her solace since she was ten years old: horses.
Growing up, Jennifer lived in a tumultuous household. At the hands of those around her, she suffered every abuse imaginable. Her mother had divorced and remarried multiple times, and the lack of a father’s love took its toll on her young heart. When she was in fifth grade, she had a teacher who loved to take her class on field trips, including the Planetarium and even a day trip to Chicago. One of these trips was to a camp in remote Michigan that had horses. From that first interaction with these intuitive, strong, tender creatures, Jennifer felt an incredible new feeling of simultaneous freedom and escape.
Longing to create a space in her life for her new-found refuge, Jennifer started working as much as she could in order to pay for horseback riding lessons. She spent hours on end at the barn, and worked diligently to train her first horse, Fox. Fox was a two-year-old Saddlebred gelding when he came to her from Kentucky. She was the first person to ever ride him, and trained him from the ground up.
It was only fitting that she should introduce her current students to the horse that meant so much to her, and hoped that such an experience would provide a liberating escape to them also. Jennifer knew what it meant to feel broken, forgotten, and hopeless. She also knew that a day away from the city interacting with Fox could give them the same sense of freedom that she first felt many years before. The school unexpectedly approved her request to take the children on a day trip to the barn with their transportation, even though she wasn’t a staff member.
When the children stepped off the bus and saw Fox’s big, soft, brown eyes, everything about their demeanor transformed. Within no time, these distant, tough children were throwing hay, laughing and revealing the first smiles Jennifer had seen in nine months. Her heart-horse had built a bridge where connection seemed impossible. God began to speak to her from that point forward about her purpose of reaching the greater need of broken and disadvantaged children in her region.
Years later, Jennifer married her husband, Robert, and they had seven children. She still often considered God’s call on her life to reach the inner city children of Michigan. Jennifer started dreaming of all the ways that she could fashion a ranch just for them. She wanted to give them the full ranch experience, including cows, chickens, sheep, and a remote country setting. Over the years, the dream of Living Hope Ranch was born.
The vision for Living Hope was not just to create a haven for children in broken situations, but also to rehabilitate horses who had been deeply broken as well. In December of 2015, God spoke to Jennifer again, saying that she was going to rescue the first horse for Living Hope Ranch. Prior to this, she thought that non-abused horses would be better for the children coming to the ranch–horses without the baggage of mistreatment are often safe without the need for retraining and the extra time it takes to build trust.
But God told Jennifer, “You are going to rescue horses, and you are going to rescue kids, and they will rescue each other. Rescue horses have more compassion and are able to identify and relate to broken children much more quickly and deeply than a horse who has not undergone trauma.”
While in prayer, Jennifer saw the face of a mare who was in trouble at that very moment. She had the distinct sense that this horse was going to be her first rescue. The name that came to mind was Petra, which means “Rock” in Latin. Jennifer also sensed God telling her, “You’re moving.” Within seven days, the house sold for full price, and she and her husband packed up the entire household and moved to Laingsburg.
Meanwhile, Jennifer had been seeing a rescue campaign pop up on her social feeds called “Saving Sugar.” She dismissed the promotion, passing over it twice before she paid any attention to it. The third time she saw it, she took a good look at Sugar’s face. This sweet mare was strikingly familiar. It was Petra, the same mare she had seen in prayer.
This mare was all white, starved, with her legs cut up from barbed wire. Her eye had been kicked in and left to rot and liquefy in the socket. Her owner at the time had neglected the mare and was unaware that she was undernourished and in desperate need of medical care at the current boarding facility. A woman named Jessica had watched the mare become progressively thinner over the course of a few months. When she saw her injured eye go untended, she refused to remain silent any longer.
Jessica could not afford to keep the horse, so she set up a GoFundMe page–“Saving Sugar”– to raise money to remove the festering eye and to purchase items for her next owner to care for her. Jennifer got in contact with Jessica and through the course of the conversation, they both realized this was the Living Hope Ranch’s first rescue horse. Jennifer sent Jessica a photo of the prayer journal page where she wrote down all of the specifics about Petra’s appearance and background, and told her she had been praying in anticipation of her rescue. Jessica wept as Jennifer recounted every detail. She had been low on faith, and prayed God would help her find a home for this horse she cared so deeply about.
But there was one problem: Jennifer had no place to keep this rescue horse when she finally found her. She and her husband were still in the middle of moving. Within two days, Jennifer got a call from her friend and barn owner, Sarah. She told her she had prepared a paddock for Jennifer to bring Petra and keep her there free of charge. “That field is your field. You can put as many horses there as you’d like.”
When Jennifer went to pick up Petra, the desperate mare loaded immediately onto the trailer. Because of the fundraiser, Jessica had purchased a halter, lead rope, winter blanket, special grain, and beet pulp pellets–enough to sustain Petra for her transition time.
Jennifer and Robert now have three more horses that work at the ranch, one of whom has also been rescued. Jennifer has several children from the inner city / foster care system who come to the ranch to ride on a regular basis. The children come from a range of troubled backgrounds, are often suicidal, self-harming, have one or both parents in prison, or themselves are in the juvenile court system. Some have even been prostituted already in their young life.
When the children come to Living Hope Ranch, the main objective is to provide them a solace from their troubles and to offer them a place to heal. Each child gets a 90-minute undivided session with Jennifer, which includes one chore on the farm, then time with one of the animals. After choosing which animal to work with, Jenn will walk them through a session where they talk as they interact with the chickens, sheep, cows or horses.
The children do not leave empty-handed, either. The each get to take mementos back with them: a necklace that says “Faith, Hope & Love”, their very own copy of the Bible, as well as a coloring workbook that teaches them all about horses. Often times, this is the first the children have been allowed the opportunity to learn about God.
During the session with the animals Jennifer says, “God shows up in big, huge, unmistakeable ways….It’s so beautiful, so orchestrated, that God just gets the glory.” One child in particular, who she calls Mali, didn’t even want to engage with the animals when she came to the ranch. Thirteen years old and from inner city Lansing, Mali entered one of her sessions with Jennifer just wanting to talk: “I have so many questions from the Bible you gave me.” Answering each question one by one, Jennifer asked her what she thought of the God of the Bible. Mali replied, “Honestly, I’ve been planning on becoming a Christian my whole life, I just didn’t know how.”
Knowing the gravity of her decision to place her faith and her life into God’s hands, she added, “I just don’t want to do this and my life not change.” Jennifer explained the gospel to her in those precious moments together, from the story of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, to the life-changing presence of the Holy Spirit to those who believe in Him.
“Mali gave her life to Christ, right in my sunroom,” Jennifer recalls with a deep sense of gratitude: “That’s why we do what we do, to bring hope.”
Jennifer and Robert hope to continue to grow the vision of Living Hope Ranch to reach the most broken children in their region. They don’t want notoriety or a pat on the back, they want to see lives changed and a greater measure of hope imparted to children in despair.
Jennifer shares that God has already shown her the face of the next horse she is to rescue for Living Hope Ranch, a Palomino who will be named “Havilah”, which means “one who has suffered much in order to bring forth,” and refers to the purest, highest-quality gold in all the earth. (We will update this article when Jenn finds Havilah the Palomino)
They have and continue to subsidize all of their operations, from the land they live on and use, to the provision for the animals, down to the necklaces and workbooks they pass on to the children. Robert goes to work every day to provide for Jennifer and their children, in addition to the greater family of vulnerable children that come to the ranch.
Jennifer and Robert have several projects on the horizon to improve Living Hope Ranch, to help rescue more horses, and empower more children; including a tack room, round pen, and new arena sand to improve riding conditions. Find out how you can help further Living Hope’s by visiting their Facebook Page.
The time spent with these children is dear to Jennifer’s heart. Each child comes to Living Hope Ranch at a unique point in their journey towards wholeness. The fact that she can just be with them to share God’s love with them as they heal and provide refuge feels like the most important work on the earth–because to Jennifer, it is priceless work with eternal value!
Jennifer and Robert go prayerfully into each day as they pursue the purpose God has placed on their heart: to bring healing and hope into the hearts of others. They encourage and support one another, because their life together has taken on the greater purpose of serving and loving on those who are hurting around them. They live to fight another day for the children who desperately need hope: a Living Hope, a Hope that does not perish, spoil or fade. They fight for the children who need to see that there is life to be lived on the other side of their suffering. They fight for the children who need to see a family that loves each other instead of abusing each other. They fight for the children who need to know that they can be loved unconditionally, forever.
Be sure to follow Jennifer & Robert Gentner on Facebook for more updates on Living Hope Ranch!