Troubled kids, horses helpful combination
Program has emotionally disturbed teens working on farm with rescued animals
By LEIGH HORNBECK
ARGYLE, NY -- Horse rescuer Shannon Hahn rehabilitates horses she's saved from abuse, neglect and the slaughterhouse. This summer she welcomed teenagers, who have struggled with troubled pasts of their own, to her Double L Stable.
Once a week for six weeks, a half-dozen emotionally disturbed teenagers reported to the Washington County farm to groom horses, fix stalls and haul manure.
Hahn, who compares her drive to rescue horses to a nun's calling to God, celebrated the progress of one girl who was afraid to touch a horse when the kids first arrived from the BOCES Horizons Adolescent Day Treatment Program. Self-inflicted cuts on the girl's forearms were visible as she quietly led a donkey, Pearl, through a line of barrels.
Watching the kids in the ring, therapist John Campana said working with the horses brought a "night-and-day" change in the teens' behavior.
"They see the horse's size and something about it calms them down, and the horse stays calm," Campana said.
Hahn was sorry to see one boy absent. He had been the only one who could calm a particularly nervous horse at the farm and bathe her. He wasn't allowed on the trip this week because he had threatened a teacher.
On the last day of the group's visits to the farm, Hahn and her husband, Aaron Hahn, both 32, greeted their guests wearing full cowboy gear.
He wore blue fringed chaps and a belt buckle he said was a rodeo trophy. The money he had won that day, $500, bought a bucking horse for his wife, saving it from the meat truck, he said.
She wore red fringed chaps and a heart-shaped belt buckle on her Wranglers. The couple was joined by their sons, Adam, 12, and Eli, 9. The younger brother likes to slip bareback on one of the docile horses kept in a paddock behind the barn.
Double L, named Lily's Legacy for Shannon's first horse, sits on 24 acres off Route 45 and Tilford Road. In 2004, the family moved to Argyle from a rented farm in Lancaster County, Pa. Aaron Hahn works nights as a welder's assistant for CP Rail while his wife works full-time on the farm.
Iren Valentine, program manager for Horizons, was gratified watching the teenagers interact with the horses in the show ring.
"These are kids with a trauma history and it's nice for them to see horses who have had rough lives in a good place," Valentine said.
She watched a boy with a big grin on his face who she said struggles to pay attention for a short time in a classroom but will patiently groom a horse for 45 minutes at the stable.
After the show, the teens led their horses through a field to their stalls and received their prizes.
"There is no bad part of working with horses," said one 14-year-old girl, relishing the four ribbons she won.
Leigh Hornbeck can
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