Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
By Taylar Tramil
For many people your normal pet would be a dog or a cat, but for the children at the Oblong Christian home, they have horses, ponies, and miniature horses. Together these animals give the children reassurance and the trust that they need to become successful in the program, for the Oblong Children’s Christian Home, its all about trust rather than patience.
In 2012, the children’s home started a project to build a campus school, New Life Academy, and an indoor riding arena. The academy was finished in August 2013, but completion of the arena for the horsemanship program is in progress.
The program, run by counselor Shana Puckett, consists of seven horses, one pony, and two miniature horses. These animals used for the program is to get each child the task of teaching the animal trust, and in return gain more confidence in caring for themselves, as well as the animal their taking care of.
“If they don’t want to be close to you, it makes our job harder in order to gain that trust,” said Amy Kemp, the home’s director for promotions and partnership development.
Kemp explained that children at the home have often been in situations where they lose trust in adults. To get them to trust again, they are put into a position of authority where they are in control of getting the horse to trust them. By doing so they realize that by being in a position of authority, they begin to trust again, Kemp said.
The facility will allow the children to participate in the program 365 days a year, in any weather.
When working with the animals, the children have a full range of responsibilities, including grooming the horses and feeding them and making sure that their hooves are clean. This also helps the children develop good hygiene and healthy habits like coming their hair every morning.
And children teach the animals as well as learning from them. For example, they put the horses through a series of activities where the horse must overcome a fear, like walking over a black tarp; from there the horse begins to trust the child.
The home’s 20 children are there for many reasons. Some have gone through difficult family situations, others are recommended by a judge to go into the home to help avoid juvenile detention, and many times grandparents, parents and counselors will call. In some cases kids come from homeless shelters, or hotels.
It is licensed by the state to take children from 5 to 17. They stay until they have reached goals they set for themselves, and parents also set goals for themselves.
Kemp said the home provides a “welcoming environment.”
“These are kids they need a place to grow up,” she said.
Every six months the counselors will check up on the child and/or the parents and their progress toward their goals.
Eight children live in each of the houses on the campus. Each house has house parents, one mom and one dad, to provide a parenting role in the household.
The horsemanship program has gotten support from World Mission. Churches send 10-12 electricians or volunteers ready to help with additional jobs.
In addition to caring for the animals and learning to ride, the program allows the children to participate in competitions with their horses.
“The amount of pride that they have and to receive a blue ribbon will give them confidence,” Kemp said.
She explained that having a horsemanship program helps restore trust within the children. When they are in situations where they must teach trust to their animals, they are more open to the help offered to them by the children’s home.