An advertisement for a trip to Yellowstone National Park

Last week I had a chance to visit Oak Ranch, a 755 acre residential facility operated by North Carolina Baptist Children’s Homes (BCH). We’ll have a feature on Oak Ranch in the North Carolina edition of the October Baptists Today.

Oak Ranch, located on the Lee-Harnett County line near the town of Broadway, is home to up to 14 boys and girls (ages 8-17), several staff families, and 10 horses.The horses are the stars of the show, essential ingredients in equine therapy for at-risk children, the ranch’s specialty.

BCH president Michael Blackwell (right) met me there so Oak Ranch director Phill Richmond (left) could show us around the ranch, part of it on horseback. We all got a laugh when Blackwell, who is always in fund-raising mode, ended up atop a horse named Cash.

Richmond and therapist Terri Dussault explained some of the ways that horses could augment other forms of counseling. To begin with, Richmond told me, troubled children often relate well to horses because the animals aren’t judgmental and offer a natural shoulder to cry on. As they learn to care for the horses and begin to build bonds with them, children often wet the horses’ manes with tears as they work through personal issues, Richmond said.

Richmond and Tussault explained other creative methods ranging from a discussion of horse droppings to talking about horse behavior as a bridge to human relations. I’ll save further discussion of those for the the print article, but I can’t resist pointing to one representative lesson for life: Clyde’s wart.

I got a chance to ride on Clyde, a handsome painted horse who suffers from a big wart on his left hind leg. The wart is not just unsightly, but when Clyde bumps it on something, it bleeds. The wart looks a mess, but Clyde doesn’t let it slow him down. Children who come to Oak Ranch inevitably bear emotional wounds and scars of their own. Counselors can point to Clyde in reminding residents that things don’t have to be perfect; you can be wounded and keep on going.

A lesson we would all do well to remember.


Oak Ranch’s expansive campus includes a mile of frontage on the Cape Fear River.

[Baptist Children’s Homes will receive its annual Thanksgiving Offering in November. This year’s theme is “Growing Hope.”]

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