BRUSH PRAIRIE — Brush Prairie’s Silver Buckle Ranch used to be the best-kept secret in Clark County, says Board President Jody Benson. But she’s working hard to change that.
“We put people with horses,” Benson says. “They come in, and they’re quiet. Hunched up. Afraid. But it’s not very long and a kid is leading a thousand pound animal. Standing up straight. With a huge smile. It gives them a different focus on life.”
Silver Buckle served over 600 kids last year. But the 501(c)(3) organization doesn’t just work with kids.
“It’s so inclusive,” Benson says. “Lots of places specialize. But we work with adults transitioning (to independent living), at-risk teens, five-year-olds at birthday parties. Last summer we had patients with dementia interacting with teens. And it was wonderful.”
Silver Buckle’s signature program is Ranch HANDS, an 8-10 week program with sections for young children, older children, and teens. Ranch HANDS meet two hours a week, with time divided between classroom learning, barn chores, and riding time. Each week’s activities have a specific focus — trustworthiness, responsibility, teamwork, etc.
Silver Buckle Ranch
- To learn more about Silver Buckle Ranch visit silverbuckleranch.org.
- To give a tax-deductible donation or to volunteer, click on the Get Involved button at the top right of the home page.
“It’s a phenomenal program,” says Benson.
The 40-acre ranch also offers a five-day-a-week Teen Wranglers program.
“We’ve partnered with the juvenile courts, and brought in kids on probation,” says Benson. “This past summer we had eight kids and three horses in an intensive all-summer program. Some of the kids put in 200 hours. We brought in rescue horses, and they worked with the horses to get them adoptable.”
While working with a horse with eating aggression issues, says Benson, one teen got rattled.
“But (Volunteer Coordinator) Keri (Gorman) told her, ‘Now stop, and center yourself.’ And you could see her . . .” Benson shakes her arms and head, takes a deep breath, and sits up straighter. “And at some point in her life, when she needs it, she’ll know she can stop, recollect herself, and move on.”
The ranch partners with various community organizations including Vancouver Parks and Recreation, and Vancouver Public Schools’ GATE program (Gateway to Adult Transition Education) which helps young adults with substantial learning and physical disabilities transition from high school to independent living.
Silver Buckle also serves children on the autism spectrum.
“We had some kids out here from Burnt Bridge Elementary,” Benson says. “And there was this kid that was just screaming. The teacher and therapist said, ‘Let’s get this kid on a horse.’ We trusted them. There was no talking. We just got the kid on a horse. And immediately the child relaxed. And the family, watching this — there were tears. They were so happy.”
Benson has volunteered at the ranch, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary, since 2009.
“Our granddaughter — she’s 15 — is paraplegic,” says Benson. “Spina bifida. When my husband turned 50 he had an opportunity to get a horse. And I found out what horses can do for kids. I started researching hippotherapy, and ended up here.”
But it hasn’t always been easy.
“2013 was a very difficult time,” says Benson. “We met weekly and figured out what and how. It takes six to ten thousand (dollars) a month to keep this place running. And that’s not for staff.” Benson pauses, then chuckles. “Well, sort of — four-footed staff.”
Benson says she worked over 40 hours a week at Silver Buckle that year. The ranch began accepting paying clients to supplement donations in order to be able to provide full scholarships to qualifying at-risk and special needs clients.
“Now we’re on a solid footing,” says Benson. “We hold the property free and clear. We’ve been incredibly blessed with all that.”
Blessed is a word Benson uses to describe her personal life as well. Married for 48 years to her high school sweetheart, the Vancouver native has two children, both in the area, and two grandchildren.
As a child, Benson says, she desperately wanted a horse.
“At Hough (Elementary), we pretended we were horses,’’ Benson said. “We ran around with plastic bits in our mouths. I know how badly I wanted to be around a horse, and we couldn’t afford it. And now to watch the little kids, their joy.”
“In the world today, all of our kids are at risk. If more kids could come, and we could get them at four, five, six, full of wonder, brushing a horse would change things. This is a safe place, a nurturing place. A place where someone is caring for you. I’m a worker bee, not a leader. But this I can do: I can make a difference, so that all the other people can then place their piece of the mosaic. And you see the difference in the kids. And sometimes it’s dramatic.”