Hope 'Reins' at Real-Life 'Heartland' Ranch
Nine-year-old Kim climbed awkwardly onto the little mare, anxiety swirling around her heavy heart. She’d never been on a horse before, but she didn’t care. Something in the horse’s eyes, in the way he responded to her touch, told her that she was safe. That she was loved. That everything would be okay. How she needed to believe it, to feel it – today of all days.
It was the day her parents were buried. Her father, unable to face the bitter divorce ahead, killed his wife and then committed suicide. Their deaths shattered Kim’s already shaky world. But that day, riding as fast as she dared, Kim galloped out to the edge of her childhood and into the arms of a loving God.
Looking back, Kim Meeder, now 49, fully understands the significance of that tragedy, not in terms of mourning and loss, but in terms of healing and ministry.
“That was the first day that I understood unconditional love of the Lord through a horse,” she says. “And how ironic and completely not coincidental that my personal tragedy was the beginning of what we’re doing here now.”
Land of the Broken
Here and now, Kim and her husband, Troy, own and operate Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch, a nine-acre plot of heaven-on-earth for broken, abused horses and hurting, neglected children, a humble piece of red crust in the Cascade Mountains of Central Oregon, where in nine years more than 25,000 children have found hope and healing.
The ranch is home to 26 horses from among the 300 Kim and Troy have rescued from severe neglect, starvation, or abuse. Funded by grants and donations, Crystal Peaks is the only ranch of its kind in the country, with a program that promises one child with one horse and one counselor, 100 percent of the time, free of cost to anyone.
When Kim and Troy cashed in their life savings to buy the old cinder mine with a three-acre crater smack in the middle of it, they knew it would take years of grit and determination to restore it.
“The property was so broken, no one wanted it. That’s the only reason we could afford it,” Kim says. “But my husband, who is a landscaper by profession, would bring home all these broken trees and organic material to help the property heal and be able to support life. And then the broken horses started coming, and the broken kids started coming. The results have just been miraculous.
“But isn’t it just like the Lord to choose the broken and useless things in this world to show His greatest glory?” Kim asks, not for an answer but as the answer. “In our brokenness, He begins to fit everything back together... like stained glass that is beautiful beyond words.”
Unlike other ranches that work with disadvantaged children, Crystal Peaks isn’t a “saddle ’em up, ride ’em, and leave” operation. It’s a place of self-discovery, a place where horses and children make an unmistakable connection. Whether it’s cleaning a paddock, pulling weeds, moving hay, or fixing a fence, Kim explains, “these kids, who are rejected by the world, suddenly find a place where they’re needed. And that changes everything. They’ll bring their friends and say, ‘I fixed that fence, I planted all those flowers, and that horse is alive because I loved it back to health.’ It just gives them a sense of identity and purpose. It also opens the door for us to speak into their lives.”
At Crystal Peaks, children learn how to move safely around a horse and how to treat every horse with kindness and respect. This begins to teach them how to treat others with kindness and respect, something that has never been modeled for them.
“With horses, you can’t just come barreling right up because the horse will back away from you,” Kim says of the interaction between kids and horses. “Life is kind of like that, too. We need to go gently, creating situations where it’s easy for the horse or our friends or our family to choose the right thing. So we’re kind of teaching them about life through this process of working with horses.”
Horses, especially these rescued horses, connect with neglected, hurting children in real, visceral ways, Kim explains, ways that say, “I understand your pain.”
“Horses don’t know if you’re unpopular or don’t wear designer clothes. They don’t know that you have buckteeth and a pimply face. They just know that you’re here to love them, and because they’re assured of that, they give more than they receive. ...Horses have and express much more emotion than we give them credit for. They understand more about these children than we think,” she says
Next: The Ranch of Rescued Dreams Is Born
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