WITH ANY LIFESTYLE IN AGRICULTURE, IT’S RARE TO OPERATE ON A SIMPLE DAY-TO-DAY SCHEDULE. THIS IS CERTAINLY THE CASE FOR SAVANAH MCCARTY.
In 2013, Savanah quit her bartending job. On a quick break, Savanah’s boss found her piecing together a nonprofit business plan for an equine therapy program for at-risk youth, something Savanah hadn’t studied in school but had a passion for—in part because of her own childhood as a ward of the state of California.
The following summer, Savanah founded a program called Wild Souls Ranch with ten kids, a few volunteer workers, and two horses. Every year since, Wild Souls Ranch has accepted youth in rougher and rougher spots—kids some might even see as lost causes. The ranch is a last resort for adopted youth before being sent out of state to residential treatment facilities. Today, Wild Souls Ranch, the only facility of its kind in rural Humboldt County, is thriving. However, it hasn’t always been that way. “Three years ago, I hit a wall,” said Savanah. “We did not have the funding to get the paid staff that we needed to run the ranch as well as the social services side of the organization, and the need for our services kept growing each day, with applications and a waitlist a mile high.” That summer, Savanah took care of every ranch duty herself—caring for horses, running all of the equine-assisted growth sessions, account management, volunteer management, board management, and more. She began to feel hopeless, but she had grown the ranch from nothing and knew that she could do better. Determined to pull herself up by her own bootstraps, she developed and implemented a state-funded program and managed to save the ranch. “Through this program, the child does not have to endure a disrupted adoptive placement and residential treatment living,” she said. “This intervention program also saves the taxpayer from paying out-of-state residential care costs.”
“WITH A DEEP SENSE OF UNDERSTANDING, HORSES SOMETIMES SEEM TO UNDERSTAND HUMAN EMOTIONS BETTER THAN HUMANS DO. THIS GIVES KIDS THE ABILITY TO EXPERIENCE THEIR EMOTIONS, STAYING AWARE YET LEARNING TO TRUST”
Recognizing the potential connection between a struggling child and a horse was serendipitous for Savanah. Her program helps the kids just as it does the horses. In the same way troubled horses often have a scarred past, the youths in Savanah’s program are not pitied, and their past experiences are not held against them. By looking for their strengths, Savanah and her crew see in the kids what many might look past.
The job is far from easy, however. “I have worked with some of the state’s toughest child abuse cases, the type of things that give you nightmares for weeks, the cases that our society doesn’t like to talk about or admit even happens,” said Savanah. Good horses are perfect for cases like these. With a deep sense of understanding, horses sometimes seem to understand human emotions better than humans do. This gives kids the ability to experience their emotions, staying aware yet learning to trust. Horses grant power to their riders, allowing them to be part of a team. Some of the Wild Souls youth have been with the program since it began, many have developed relationships with the horses that have lasted five or six years, and a few have grown into paid ranch hands.
Today, Savanah credits the success of Wild Souls to her crew of dreamers, who almost all happen to be female. She was confident that she could change her community and make a difference in the lives of others, and she has certainly done so.