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Gateway to Haven

Apr 2, 2012
by Staff

Students in Free Enterprise team helping youth offenders learn new skills through horses

For the 10 youth offenders, the picture-perfect ranch and horse rides are a far cry from the barbed wire and tiny cells at the St. Johns Youth Academy.

But saddling up at the Haven Horse Ranch, just outside of St. Augustine, is no reward for good behavior. Rather it’s part of a new program that Flagler’s Students in Free Enterprise team began with the ranch and the moderate-risk facility for male offenders between the ages of 14 to 18 years old.

Called “Gateway to Haven,” the goal of the 12-week program is to teach personal responsibility through interaction with the horses.

“Working with horses will teach them how to have better behavior, relationships and accountability,” said SIFE President Emily Marcellus. “Horses tend to mirror their riders’ behavior, so if one of these kids acts angry or frustrated with the horse, the horse will act the same way. The students will have to learn to respect and be patient with the horse, which will help them in real life situations.”

Ric Lehman, who founded the ranch in 1990 to work with disadvantaged kids and help with physical rehabilitation, said this is the first time he has worked with inmates.

He said the program is intended to teach the participants important social traits by handling and caring for the horses.

“If you’re going to work with a horse, you have to be in charge,” he said. “It teaches them accountability, which isn’t being taught today.”

The idea was the brainchild of SIFE project leader Jovie Reeves, who has always been a horse enthusiast and felt the program at Horse Haven could work with the youth offenders.

“We wanted to reach out to the youth of St. Johns County to give them the opportunity to learn these important social skills,” she said. “We loved the mission of the ranch and wanted to help in any way we could.”

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