By Jessica Rolph
Reprinted from a March 19, 2019 article from First Farmer’s Bank and Trust.
The first things you notice when you get to Narrow Gate Ranch are horses. The large barn is surrounded by gently rolling acres. The horses graze in small groups, some galloping a few yards as the mood takes them, most still and watchful. It’s not far from downtown Kokomo, but the flowing land and calm presence of the horses leaves you feeling far from anything you’d find in the city. It’s a peaceful scene, and one that Susan Zody appreciates.
For the past few years, Susan has been running the Narrow Gate Horse Ranch. Susan wasn’t familiar with horses when she started on this journey. She had been searching for a way to get the kids to continue coming and engaging with a youth outreach program where she volunteered, and remembered an article she’d read about a therapy horse ranch. After raising the funds through donations and researching therapy ranches, Susan was able to take a group to a nearby facility. The funds continued to roll in, and Susan started seeing the impact the visits were making on some of the kids in the program. Grades improved. Behavior improved. The kids started making better decisions. She was impressed, and committed to continue providing this to the children.
“They come here really, to build a relationship with a horse,” says Susan about the draw for the youth she works with at the ranch. These young people have sometimes suffered abuse and neglect, and an adult seeking to mentor these individuals will often face an uphill battle. But a horse, patient and calm and not demanding, can bridge that divide.
As donations continued to come in, Susan had to ask herself if there was more that she could do. Was it just the small group of children that she currently worked with that were meant to benefit? Could something else be done? It was a crossroads for Susan. She knew the need was greater than what could be met by visiting a horse ranch an hour way. She could see the improvements, but her kids, and the kids she knew needed connection in the community, would benefit from a slightly different approach. One that focused on building relationships and making better decisions, and ultimately, one that had its foundation in faith.
This was where Susan found herself in 2016 when she invited a group of people from the community to a discussion. Would the community support an organization like what she envisioned? Were the resources there to make it successful? Her plans were met with enthusiasm and support, and a board was formed. In a short three years, Narrow Gate Horse Ranch has been established and has weekly classes.
Narrow Gate’s target audience is at-risk youth in the community. In Howard County, Indiana alone, over 4,000 children live at or below the poverty level. At the Ranch, these children are able to grow their confidence, leadership skills, and communication skills.
“I want these kids to gain some confidence and to know that if they do things correctly, there will be a good ending.”Scott MacDonald
When we visited Susan at the ranch, we also met Scott MacDonald, the equine specialist at the Ranch, and Kelsey and Autumn, two sisters who volunteer. Together, Susan and Scott shared stories that more often than not brought tears to the eyes of both speaker and listeners. The horses at Narrow Gate have faced their own challenges, much like the youth that works with them. The kids relate to the horses. They see their own struggles, and they work together to overcome challenges. It’s a rewarding experience for everyone involved, and one the team at Narrow Gate never tires of.
It was an honor to meet with Susan and Scott at Narrow Gate Horse Ranch, to be introduced to the horses, and to meet some of the youth benefitting from this wonderful operation.