By Stacey Gualandi/November 6, 2012
Photos by Adrian Leon
Facebook: WHY Ranch
We’ve all heard the infamous saying about Sin City: “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” But there is one woman’s story in Las Vegas that I hope will be shared around the country, maybe even the world.
“My passion is to give kids a chance to overcome today’s challenges by learning how to befriend, take care of and ride a horse.” Amy Meyer
In 2007, Amy Meyer started WHY Ranch, a program devoted to helping underprivileged children who find themselves bullied, abused, and fearing their future. A good friend, Adrian Leon, told me about WHY Ranch and explained how it provides a safe haven for kids to heal by working with horses.
He shared his beautiful photos and video, and I soon learned that in just a couple of years, dozens of children have overcome some of the biggest challenges facing our youth today.I recently met Amy while in Las Vegas to learn about her work, the healing powers of horses, and of course why…
EYE: Ok, so the obvious question…why do you do this work?
AMY: I grew up in rural Southern Illinois in a single parent family during the 70s. My mom worked several jobs to provide for her four children. However, we paid the price because she didn’t have much time at home, so we were often left to handle ourselves.
We didn’t have programs to positively support a child’s social growth. I eventually came to live in Las Vegas, and together with my Aunt Pauline and grandparents, we created the Paul E. & Helen S. Meyer Foundation, which provides educational grants and scholarships for Las Vegas students.
It has helped many achieve their dreams, to graduate college and obtain masters’ degrees, even PhD’s, since 1994.
I wanted to continue my philanthropic ancestry and to give exceptional opportunities to youths facing the same challenges I had…challenges that lead to making certain choices because of low self-esteem. So I started WHY Ranch.
EYE: Tell me more about the ranch.
AMY: WHY Ranch is an acronym for White Horse Youth Ranch. It’s the only free equestrian education program for socially-challenged youth in Las Vegas.
My passion is to give kids a chance to overcome today’s challenges by learning how to befriend, take care of and ride a horse. There are no words to describe the bond between mucking stalls and growing a relationship with a horse…only memories that will never be forgotten.
EYE: How pervasive is this problem of socially-challenged youth in Las Vegas?
AMY: Pervasive is a good word to start with…. epidemic best describes the obstacles our youth face today. Parents are overworked trying to make ends meet, and families are stressed trying to keep up with changes in technology, beliefs and the world.
Unfortunately, their children feel the effects of an overstressed life and need an outlet to express themselves in a healthy way.
“Today, we as a society have to acknowledge that we need to put more effort into our children.”
EYE: Why are our children so “broken”?
AMY: Because families are broken. I applaud parents for doing the best that they can with what they have, but I’m simply acknowledging that at one time in our history we were more family-oriented than today.
Now, we as a society have to acknowledge that we need to put more effort into our children.
EYE: I’ve heard about horse therapy for people recovering from addiction. Explain the concept of working with horses. Why is this treatment effective?
AMY: As former President Ronald Reagan said: “The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man.” As a people, we are innately relational. We long to have acceptance and connection with one another no matter how much anger or self-preservation dictates otherwise.
Animals never hide their emotions; they don’t know how. Animals are strictly fight, flight or love. They can distinguish between someone who’s acting out of honesty, hurt or deception. In other words, they are feeling and relational-based.
Kids are also feeling and relational-based. They haven’t completely learned the “fakeness” or “corruption” of society in their youth. They still have the hope for true love and acceptance. Horses don’t care what you wear, what you look like, if you have a speech impediment or if you’re poor or wealthy.
They care about who they can trust. Anyone can fool someone else… but not an animal. They know who someone truly is. Ironically, kids also know who is honest and who isn’t.
Therefore, the bond between a horse and a child can build an honest, no expectations, unexplainable bond and change the lives of both the child and horse. I wish that we as a people didn’t have to have the facades of the world and could operate on a more honest level.
“Lauren has a natural talent for riding that would have gone undiscovered without WHY Ranch.”
EYE: Is there one story that represents the type of success you have at WHY Ranch?
AMY: There are many!! But our earliest story begins with Lauren…a socially-challenged young girl who experienced unmentionable bullying because of her hearing impairment, braces, height, meekness and intelligence.
She came to WHY Ranch via word-of-mouth by a teacher in a private charter school. Lauren began our “Diamonds in the Rough” program a few weeks before her sister, Lindsey.
I have had an incredible opportunity to witness how Lauren and her sister were instrumental in rebuilding a relationship with their grandfather after years of separation from the family. Lauren slowly began to reconnect through letters and, eventually, her grandfather came to her first riding competition.
Lauren has a natural talent for riding (as you can see above) that would have gone undiscovered without WHY Ranch. She competed against seasoned riders and trainers and won two second place ribbons and one third place…. just after eight months with WHY Ranch! I was blessed to be in the audience as she won each ribbon.
Her posture and smile gained intensity with each competition. Lauren is currently a student and a mentor to our new students, allowing her to obtain a new level of leadership skills!
EYE: What kind of programs do you provide?
AMY: It’s a structured curriculum that focuses on a child’s relational development. Our “Diamonds in the Rough” students learn discipline, respect and self-value all while having fun taking care of their horse, helping each other through teamwork and creating friendships that will last forever.
We recognize that we cannot do this alone. So, as a society, we need everyone’s support to help our youth, not only in Las Vegas, but across the nation.
EYE: What was your background before WHY Ranch? How rewarding is this work?
AMY: I actually graduated from Stephens College in Columbia, MO, with a BA in Broadcast Production, Radio/TV/Film. I used to think that any diversion from my career path took a backseat to my desires and passions, but, actually, God has fulfilled my deepest most rewarding dreams.
EYE: What do the horses get out of the experience?
AMY: The horses get exercise, lots of love from a new child and also they get to learn how to give more of who they are. Horses learn from the day they are born just like we do.
EYE: What have you learned about yourself and the people that you work with?
AMY: I have learned that I have so much more to offer than I think. I also have so much more to learn. This is what I know… God is who He says He is… He has not only created WHY Ranch to help our impressionable youth… but He has touched the lives of adults.
There have been several adults we have known as friends or vendors who have shown up to our offices with no reason, just the need for prayer. I can honestly say that “broken” children turn into “broken” adults if there is no positive outlet.
EYE: I can’t wait to come out on the next trail ride! I appreciate you letting me be a part of WHY Ranch!