CLARK COUNTY, Mo. (AP) - A ranch in remote northeast Missouri seeks to help children learn to care for horses - and by extension, understand the importance of caring for themselves and others.
The Quincy (Ill.) Herald-Whig (http://bit.ly/pI7vuy) reports that Son Valley Youth Ranch in Clark County is a horse rescue in which the young clientele care for horses. The eight horses at the ranch arrived through difficult circumstances. One was mistreated. One was found wandering a gravel road.
Dona Stansbery started the ranch earlier this year. The ranch springs to life about 4 p.m. weekdays after school lets out. Children climb out of cars and immediately begin enjoying country life - watching frogs, playing with dogs - before they head to the dusty arena and the horses.
Stansbery wanted to see kids out in nature instead of watch TVs or playing video games. So far, the ranch has served about 80 kids.
Stansbery said it was a return to her Christian faith that led her to her lifelong dream of opening a ranch like this. For a long time, life got in the way.
"Once I recommitted my life to God, the dream came back," she said.
Stansbery began revisiting the idea, in part, after she heard Christian rancher Kim Meeder on the radio. She and her husband, Jeff, eventually attended a weeklong clinic at Meeder's Oregon ranch, Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch, then opened their own.
Children who come to the ranch learn to saddle and ride horses, and do chores. The kids come at no charge thanks to financial and in-kind donations, mostly notable from members of Stansbery's church, Keokuk (Iowa) Evangelical Free Church.
On a recent afternoon, sisters Shannon and Samantha DeSherlia, ages 11 and 13, of Keokuk, bounced around the arena, tending to the horses before they prepard for an afternoon of riding.
Samantha patted the plump side of a spirited red and white pony named Rusty.
"He can never be unloved," she said. "There's so much to love."
Stansbery said the two girls have opened up to her, sharing many of their hopes and dreams and telling of the impact she and her horses have had on their lives.
"The child becomes connected and feels like part of the ranch," Stansbery said. "They feel like they've got hope in life, something to look forward to. ... It just puts a spark in their life."
Information from: The Quincy Herald-Whig, http://www.whig.com