Trinity Circle Horses Healing Hearts (TCHHH) is located north of Neosho.
Trinity Circle Horses Healing Hearts (TCHHH) is located north of Neosho.
About 25 of the 40 horses at the TCHHH ranch are utilized for therapy, though some of those are not used in riding, but in grooming exercises or for walking kids through the obstacles. A 6-year-old client with autism is always very excited when she arrives at the ranch so Dawn Newlan walks her through the obstacle course until she settles down.
"Because if I put her on a horse right off she wants up down/up down/up down 'cause she's just not settled," she related. "So I put her through the obstacle course. But she loves, and she talks to, the horses, 'It's okay,' And she'l pet them and say, 'It's OK,' because she doesn't want them to be scared. They're not scared but she doesn't know that. So she walks through the obstacles; she's thrilled, she calms down, and then we put her on the horse and we ride."
Once riding, the girl makes up what Newlan called "wonderful stories" about the goose that laid the golden egg, princes and princesses and castles.
A 4-year old boy is fine when riding the horse but if stopped, he gets unhappy and wants down. "And he'll ride for about 30 minutes," she reported. "And his mom will tell you, for him to set still for 30 minutes is just - it doesn't happen. But you put him on that horse and he settles down. And both of those kids are autistic; and when they leave here their mothers will tell you that they are calm, they're relaxed, the sleep good that night. If they don't get to come out the next week due to weather or illness or whatever, they see the difference in how they act. They don't stay as calm the following week."
Mental health professional Tami Soria, who has a masters degree in social work, is now part of the team, who Newlan noted works on the psycho-therapy end of the program. "So they don't have to go seek their own counselor'" she observed. "We do have our own here on staff; and I am looking for an educator that wants to work with us, part time at first, and hopefully it would lead to a full time position."
Taking On New Challenges
The pair have developed new curriculum to serve the varied needs of clients, starting with one special challenge. "We've got a young man right now who we are trying very hard to help," Newlan revealed. He's got a lot of background and many, many years of issues that we actually developed our program to work with him to see if we can't steer him back in the right direction. He's been in the Family Services and the court system for many years, and we have just not had any luck with him in the traditional therapies."
The ranch has not had anyone they couldn't help to at least some degree, but Newlan said this young man brought new challenges that the team jumped into. "He was having outbursts that he actually was running with a chair and hit a girl and slammed her into the wall," she shared. "So it wasn't just verbal outbursts; he was getting violent and he was verging on some serious trouble in school."
Newlan was finally able to get the young man to articulate what was wrong, beginning with his insistence that his teacher "hated him." She finally convinced him that was not the case and he revealed that he could not communicate to her where he needed help. Since she was unable to help him, he construed that as hate for him.
Communication exercises followed, including him leading his mother -she pretending to be a horse with blinders - through the obstacle course by giving very specific instructions, as she could hardly see. "I told the mom, since the horse may get frightened; they might kick, they might bite, she could do whatever she needed to if she wasn't given specific instructions and could be scared, this is how the horse might react," Newlan elaborated. "We all laughed. It was great. And when he was done he went from being very cold - I would tell him, 'Tell your horse, good horse." And he would go, 'Good horse.' And when we were done he was going, 'Good girl. Good girl.' And very, very communicative. He was able to communicate exactly how she needed to step, where she needed to step, so on and so forth."
The exercise was a major breakthrough and Newlan said he hasn't had an outburst since January, and his teachers now know how to meet him halfway for clear and effective communication.
A McDonald County youth who is going through the court system was classified by a juvenile officer as their worst case, but the ranch took on that challenge and achieved another major success. "Where the rest of the boys are in trouble, he's not in trouble," Newlan instructed. "The judge is joking and laughing with him, and he's doing everything that he is supposed to. And his entire family said that when he does not come out here you can tell this huge difference in his attitude and his patience level. It's really, really cool to watch."
Both boys spend from 90 minutes to two hours at the ranch weekly. The horses make a huge difference as Newlan indicated the kids form bonds with the horses and they learn, grow and change and build confidence. "And just be happy, because when he first started coming out here he was very angry," she explained of the Diamond area youth. "And very bitter. His mom will send me messages saying how cool it is to have back the child she used to have, that he's laughing and joking and he is getting along with his sisters and the family and he's not so volatile, because he would just get so angry and blow up."
Each client brings their own unique challenges. "There so many things we can do, it's just limited by your imagination," Newlan expressed. "Because with the horses, and the psycho-therapy and the education - any kind of program that you want to put together, we can do. It's literally limitless. And hopefully this year we're going to be raising enough funds to do a covered arena soon so we'll be able to be year-'round.
"This is opening up so many doors for us because it was stuff that I was able to do - I knew how to do it - but now I have the credentials that show that I do know what I'm doing. It makes a lot of people feel better."
Identifying With the Pain
In achieving the accreditation Newlan said she learned about doing paperwork and how to deal with mental health and teachers, but she learned nothing new about horsemanship and utilizing equines to provide effective therapy, she is already doing what they teach is proper.
She told the instructors who all came from a background of being trainers in the realms of English and Dressage? Western Pleasure Riders, but they did not come from the angle of being a client themselves.
"I said I came at this from going through hell with the PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and learning how to work with my horses from the other side of it," she disclosed. "So I understand what the client needs, because I was a client. I just didn't know it."
Newlan's husband committed suicide, and her horse Katana got her through that dark time. "And I told them when you come from the other side of this, and you come to this point, I said, 'you have a whole different view than when you are just a trainer - you ride a horse,"' she ascertained. " I said, 'You have no idea what that client actually needs. I've been a client, I know what it's like.'
"It's a huge difference on how I can deal with people and how I understand because I've been there, done that; and unlike a lot of counselors, when someone is talking to me about their PTSD or their emotional trauma and they say, 'You don't understand.' I say, 'Yes I do.' They know that I do understand, whereas a lot of counselors that are sitting across the desk, really don't. So the people can open up a little more with me. They tend to relax a little more because they know I'm not going to judge them. I've been through it. I understand what they are going though. And the atmosphere out here is so - you see it when you come in - it's so relaxing. So many people come in the gate and they say 'Wow! This is a little piece of heaven."'
Newlan feels that her clients receive a nice little jolt of therapy as they enter the peaceful confines of TCHHH.
Help is provided by her parents, Mary and Mike Newlan, who are both RNs and spend their time away from the hospital helping at the ranch. A volunteer, Claire, has entered the RN program, and she indicated that all of the volunteers are very caring for the clients. "They're here because they care," Newlan asserted. "Not because they are being paid to do it. And that makes a huge difference. They're worth their weight in gold I would not trade any one of them."
She singled out volunteer Jeff Witzman as being her most trusted ally, after Mom and Dad, who is always there to help in an emergency or any time with an ailing horse, feeding and watering, helping with clients, and anything that needs to be done.
"People like that, you can't find them to pay them," Newlan exhorted. "I mean they are just great.
"And I do believe - very strongly - that God has his hand in everything in this."
Newlan was in design for 25 years and literally dropped everything to start the ranch on faith. Someone drew the Biblical reference, "Ranch of His uncut stone" and wrote, "Revelation 3:8" in one of the boards on the arena fence three years ago, and Newlan related that when God originally taught man how to worship - to build an alter to come to Him, it was of the uncut stone and unpolished wood.
"And she wrote that on there and it made me cry," she recalled. "And Revelation 3:8 says, "I know your deeds, see I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name."
Newlan felt pushed to take that plunge of faith for two years but didn't feel her "head was on straight" enough to do it. She finally gathered enough faith. "I came in the gate one day and I was just like, 'Alright God, I don't know what you are doing to me here, but if you think we need to do this, let's do this.' And I said, 'You better give me the words, you better give me the knowledge, you better give me whatever because there are days I can't handle me and You want me to handle people.' And here we are."
Now that she has taken the plunge, Newlan has no doubts it was the right thing to do. Not only is she educating others, but Newlan and her parents have been and will continue their education in mental health, suicide prevention and horsemanship, most recently attending a two-day training in St. Louis the first weekend in September with renown horseman Clinton Anderson.