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Friday, March 1, 2024
March 1, 2024

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Oregon horse ranch sets sights on therapy

Couple’s plans unite neglected animals, struggling humans

2 Photos
Matt and Rachel Wilson who also perform as a folk duo known as Wampus Cat., perform in Oregon.
Matt and Rachel Wilson who also perform as a folk duo known as Wampus Cat., perform in Oregon. (Photos by Kurt Liedtke /The Herald And News) Photo Gallery

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — Since 1998, the Butterfly Ranch in Silver Lake, Ore., has served the communities of northern Lake County trying to save abused, abandoned and neglected animals with the hope of eventually finding them new homes.

Now, the 501c3 nonprofit hopes to turn its attention to rehabilitating humans in need through equine therapy.

A family operation, the 40-acre ranch tucked away northwest of the small rural community in Lake County is a small property with a big heart. It is overseen by Matt and Rachel Wilson with assistance by their daughters.

The Butterfly Ranch has been a new home for many abandoned or neglected animals, specializing in horses for treatment and on-site long-term care, with the hope of providing a second chance at a loving home.

Despite the ever-present demand for this service, the ranch operated at a loss, the majority of its roughly $42,000 estimated annual operating costs coming directly out of the family’s private resources.

Throughout its operations, the Wilsons, who are also accomplished musicians and artists, have tried to expand its activities to garner a more rounded interest such as hosting clinics, youth camps and summer arts and music camps. The couple also comprise a popular acoustic folk duo, Wampus Cat, and tour extensively across the West Coast while also hosting an annual Lake County music festival fundraiser — The Wildhorse Opry.

Their music act is a symbiotic relationship with the Butterfly Ranch’s purpose, each concert an opportunity to educate and raise money for the ranch’s life-saving operations.

The duo recently released a new music video for their single, “Bathsheba,” filmed on location at the Butterfly Ranch, for an upcoming CD release this summer.

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Now the Butterfly Ranch plans to take a new direction, modifying its focus as rehabilitation for people through animal-related activities.

Returning to its original mission statement, the ranch hopes to focus its efforts on working with families and individuals who have suffered trauma or are at-risk, pairing them with skill-building opportunities by working directly with horses.

Although neither are certified counselors, Rachel Wilson is working toward a master’s in psychology.

Equine therapy has been used effectively in drug rehabilitation programs as a way to focus and recover from mental and physical trauma, a path the Wilsons hope to follow as well.

“We want to work with individuals who may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, have failing marriages or come from broken families and help them reconnect through working with horses,” said Rachel Wilson.

“It would also be a skill-building setting, where people with community service requirements or at-risk teens and others who want to get back to nature, can work with wild horses outside of the typical aspects found at a general youth roping school or youth camp. It has great rehab potential, reconnecting and rejuvenating relationships where people depend on equine for therapy.”

To achieve this goal, Wilson is preparing grant submissions totaling $2.7 million to construct indoor and outdoor riding facilities complete with barn and lodge to house a fully-operational equine therapy facility.

Wilson hopes that with grant support and sponsorships, the facility could be operational as early as next year. The lodge would also be available for weddings, business conferences, artisan getaways, clinics and other events.

Connection required

The ranch hosts an annual summer teepee camp, dubbed Cow Camp Silver Lake, allowing camping grounds in Native American style teepees with therapy trail rides and basic amenities provided. The Wilsons plan to install a solar-powered shower and outdoor arena this year to add to the camping experience.

“We have tried to involve the community in so many different ways,” said Wilson. “To be able to share horses, we offered up so many different things that our personal skills could provide. Now we’re staying focused on what we love and what we feel we should be doing by providing therapy to people through horses.”

Equine therapy has proven effective at various rehabilitation facilities across the country as an alternative to traditional medical detoxification practices. It is purely a mental and motor-skill practice requiring close concentration while establishing a relationship with an animal that cannot otherwise communicate. Rather than verbal skills the connection required with the animal is based on different skills not normally utilized in human relationships.

“There’s something very calming about having a conversation with a silent partner, someone that does not verbalize,” explained Wilson.

“Working with a horse requires disconnecting from verbal communication, it forces people to be silent and observe. It takes people out of the anxieties of the world and various PTSD triggers, removing the comfort zone and placing a person in new surroundings. It’s not based on emotions, but drawing beyond normal behavior.”

Wilson noted that the extensive mental focus and symbiotic partnership required to complete specific tasks with a therapeutic equine partner brings on a quietness to a near-meditative state, withdrawing a person from the stress of the normal world and focusing only on the animal. This results in a greater sense of success when tasks are achieved, having a tangible positive impact on human emotions and behavior.

“Inevitably the animal connects with the person, and they gain a silent confidant that they can grow very attached to, building a trust that may otherwise be broken which has led to that individual’s PTSD, pain and inability to communicate,” said Wilson.

Wilson reiterated that they are very careful to match a person with the right horse to create what she calls a very real and spiritual connection between human and animal.

“There is a great power in horses, people gain self-esteem and their emotional core begins to reconstruct with that cornerstone of trust,” added Wilson. “People who have been abused start seeing their ability to assert themselves in a positive healthy way when they have to be a leader.”