JACOBSBURG - The journey for RJ Ranch Director and Founder Julie Larish goes back more than 19 years and many miles, but it all began in the Ohio Valley.
Larish has come home to share the healing power of horses with residents affected by physical, mental or emotional challenges starting at ages 4 and up.
"Horses have a magical effect on children and adults of all ages," Larish said.
Sarah Wilson takes a ride on horse Strawberry at the RJ Ranch in Jacobsburg.
The list of services offered is lengthy and always changing, according to Larish. Some of the disabilities worked with include, but are not limited to, paralysis; autism; cerebral palsy; cystic fibrosis; Down syndrome; developmental delays; ADHD; conduct disorder; physical impairments such as being hearing impaired and blindness; stroke victims; organic brain injury; self-confidence or self-esteem issues; PTSD; and physical, emotional, mental or sexual abuse.
General riding lessons also are offered, and the ranch works with youths at risk. Every program is different, developed according to the individual's needs.
When she left the Ohio Valley 19 years ago because of problems with domestic violence and self-esteem issues, Larish said she went west to Grangeville, Idaho, and was given a horse named Berica who challenged her and returned her self-confidence, self-esteem and a goal to help other children who suffered from negativity in their lives.
She had opened the RJ Ranch there but closed it when she moved back to the Ohio Valley recently for personal reasons. While she did not intend to open the ranch here, she said a flood of requests changed her mind. She opened a new version of the ranch in Jacobsburg.
"I see this center making a positive impact on the Ohio Valley," Larish said. "We have had several successes such as children who have never put words and sentences together suddenly holding complete conversations, introducing themselves and increasing their attention spans from two seconds to 15 minutes."
Two of the RJ Ranch's biggest successes are a boy who came in at age 4 unable to verbally communicate who now speaks and functions as a normal fourth grader and a 46-year-old woman with a brain injury who was released from a hospital with two weeks to live, who now functions at roughly 85 percent of her original abilities and lives a normal life.
"I personally see this facility growing," Larish said. "I feel there is a need for it in the valley. We are here to enhance the services being provided to the student in traditional settings such as physical, occupational, speech and mental health therapy. It is amazing what happens on a horse. Many ask me why I do this type of work ... what's in it for me? Well, the first time you see a child who never shows emotions, laugh or smile, you will know why I do it. There is nothing in it for me except the reward of knowing I made a difference in just one life."
But Larish does not claim credit for the ranch's success herself. For her, the best healers are the ones on four hooves who cannot speak.
"Many parents ask me what I did to make things happen," Larish said. "I explain to them that it is not me. It's the horse. The horses are the heroes."
Riding programs begin in April or May each year depending on weather conditions. For more information, contact Julie Larish at firstname.lastname@example.org.