Cal Farley's Boys Ranch in Amarillo
Welcome to the 75th annual Boys Ranch Rodeo +adventureFEST! The young people who chose to compete in this year’s exciting rodeo have spent literally hundreds of hours over many weeks to prepare for Boys Ranch’s signature public event. It’s no exaggeration to say they’re excited to hear the cheers of the crowd. All the children and staff at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch are honored to welcome the thousands of guests who join us each year to celebrate the life-changing work Boys Ranch does with at-risk youth from around the nation!
This event, one of the most visible outward expressions of our life-changing work, is also one of many tools we use to provide our youth with a healthy encounter with adventure, many exciting memories and a sense of self-confidence that will be with them the rest of their lives. Indeed, many of our youth experience the first ‘win’ they’ve ever known right here at Boys Ranch.
Why adventure matters
At Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch, our youth have a near-endless variety of activities to occupy their time and provide hours of enjoyment. Traditional ranch staples include horseback riding, bicycling and a number of athletic competitions. But, there are also many other exciting pastimes.
Rock climbing, ropes course challenges and even racing homemade boats crafted from cardboard across one of our picturesque lakes.
As fun as these activities are, they serve no small role in helping our residents work through their individual struggles raging from trust to communication, relationship-building and more. In this way, experiencing healthy risk-taking in the positive, controlled environment of Boys Ranch serves as a bridge to allow the children Cal Farley’s serves to express their natural need for excitement while accomplishing very tangible therapeutic needs.
“It creates an opportunity for our kids to get outside their comfort zone in a safe, measurable way,” explained Luke Benton, who heads Cal Farley’s Adventure-Based Services program, adding that sometimes a child who isn’t comfortable connecting with others can do so more easily in the context of a fun activity.
It’s one of many techniques Cal Farley’s professional staff will use to reach children who otherwise might be unwilling to actively participate in their placement at Cal Farley’s.
“I’m all about relationships. That’s our biggest intervention, getting a relationship between staff and the kids,” Benton said.
By focusing on building relationships above all, Benton said residents learn to trust their Cal Farley’s mentors as they’re guided through activities to achieve therapeutic goals.
Benton shared the example of a resident who might struggle to trust enough to socialize or work with others. Instead of directly addressing his or her trust issues, the resident participates in a more innocuous, individualized activity, such as grooming a horse inside a pen. As the child grows more comfortable with the task, she’s invited to halter and groom her horse outside the pen, where others are also grooming. Through a series of baby steps, the child progresses into a group environment, but in a way that lets her feel a much-needed sense of control over her environment.
“So, what we’re going to do is kind of a back-door approach,” Benton said. “You teach the child a skill … but the whole focus is going to be on fellowship and relationship.”
Regardless what fun, thrilling or even downright silly form it takes, Cal Farley’s professional staff rely on traditional industry best practices and cutting-edge therapeutic interventions to provide the very best care possible – the best (ITAL) adventure (END ITAL) -- for every child Cal Farley’s serves.
Boys Ranch equine programming
Horses are part of any rodeo, and the 75th annual Boys Ranch Rodeo is no exception.
But, the interaction Cal Farley’s youth have with horses goes beyond the rodeo. Boys Ranch’s equine programs are a powerful tool Cal Farley’s uses to help children overcome painful or dysfunctional pasts.
But, how do equine programs work? Why are they so valuable in helping a child heal and grow?
Often, youth who come to Cal Farley’s have established unhealthy relationship patterns. At times, even the foundational understanding necessary to form a relationship with other people is missing.
“If you look, developmentally, at how we become who we are, it all stems from our early relationships,” explained Michelle Maikoetter, Cal Farley’s chief program officer. “How our caregivers were with us sets the foundation for all the relationships that follow.”
One of the primary goals for Cal Farley’s, Maikoetter said, is to help youth develop an understanding of how to form and maintain relationships. Cal Farley’s often finds an indirect approach is the most effective way to convey this to children.
“We don’t say ‘today, we’re going to talk about social skills,’” Maikoetter explained. “But, every interaction is built toward modeling those skills. What we’re trying to do is help them rebuild that template of what a relationship is.”
Horses are a vital part of the process. They are social creatures, just like humans. But, unlike people a child may have encountered elsewhere, horses give him or her instant, honest feedback.
The lessons youth learn from their interactions with the horses at Boys Ranch provide them insights to their relationships with peers or adults. A child who struggles with relationships may initially try to force another person to comply with his or her wishes. A horse, however, isn’t intimidated by such an unhealthy approach. Instead, the child must build a relationship with the horse based on mutual trust.
While the child might deny this problem in direct conversation, the same truth – taught in a real-world interaction – is easier to accept.
“It’s a less threatening environment to talk about doing something with this horse and how that parallels to how you try to make friends,” Maikoetter said. “So, when you get frustrated with the horse, how do you handle it? It’s about saying ‘How does this work? Does this get you the results that you want?’ So, if you want to have friends, but the way you’re doing it isn’t working out for you, what can we do to make that different?”
From riding and roping to building lasting relationships, the men, women – and horses – of Cal Farley’s equine programs provide children with skills they’ll use throughout their adult lives.
Amarillo, TX 79101