I spend a lot of time considering the best approaches to work with youth & what it is we want them to take away from their sessions. What are the most important things we need to teach and want to instill in order for kids to have happy, meaningful lives?

One of the first things that come to mind is the importance of building self and self esteem. Kids who have a strong sense of self are less affected by peer pressure, are less prone to depression and are more likely to do well academically. The list of benefits is long and almost always follows them into adulthood.

Research indicates that self esteem can be engendered from outside of the peer group (thankfully!), as many of us who have had that special mentor in our lives can attest. As adults, we can offer ourselves as a supportive, non judgemental presence, not just for our own children, but to those whose lives intersect ours.

Ideally, we want kids to see their intrinsic value, their unique gifts and their ability to stretch beyond what they think is possible in order to build confidence in their capabilities.

We also want them to know it's OK to feel  anger, disappointment, rejection, acceptance, love, etc., and to be with how that feels in their bodies so that the emotions can be acknowledged and then let go of. This is especially true during adolescence when so much of what is happening physically affects mood and emotions for them.

Our culture seems to be in a constant state of stimulation, through electronic gadgets, television, or a constantly full schedule of sports, etc. I believe that providing the space for kids to slow down and be contemplative is crucial to the process of becoming self aware and centered young people.

The ranch environment is so wonderful for that! Just being with the horses and other animals in nature is in itself therapeutic! Session activities can further enhance the experience though. An example of an activity to quiet the mind would be to have the young person align their breath with that of the horse they have chosen to work with. Very soon, the effects of breathing together become obvious as both horse and human relax. Or not. If the person isn't truly relaxed, the horse will not be either! Most are intrigued with the idea of their ability to have such a profound affect on a 1000+ pound animal! I admit I still am!

posted by Windy Stopnitzky