RURAL SPRAGUE -- This time, Kaare Mathison wants to make Beau, his favorite horse, trot.
He's not trotted on Beau yet. Or any horse. It might be scary, but he's ready to try.
He was so excited this morning, knowing he'd be coming to the L5 Youth Ranch, that he woke up early. He dressed in his ranch clothes -- his L5 Ranch T-shirt and his new Wranglers, so big he needs a belt.
"He would have worn his cowboy boots to school if I would have let him," says his mom, Shawn, smiling as she watches him lead the horse around the corral.
The 12-year-old has been coming to the ranch for three years. At first, he was too scared to ride, so he brushed the horses down. He fingerpainted on them, too, to get use to the feel of their muscles and hair and size. Then he washed off that paint.
He learned to feed and groom the horses. The routine of the ranch helped him relax.
He learned that you always approach a horse with love in your hands.
He told his therapist, his doctors, some of the other kids at school, about the ranch.
Kaare is intelligent. He gets good grades at Pound Middle School. But it's hard for him to make friends. He has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism that makes social interaction difficult. Kids with Asperger's can have meltdowns and bad days.
The horses became his friends. So did the other kids who come to the L5 Youth Ranch. So did Matt and Daisy Langston, who started this ranch near Sprague four years ago, after feeling called by God.
The ranch serves at-risk and disadvantaged kids.
Matt wears a cowboy hat and Wranglers. He looks every inch the real deal.
He and Kaare have a routine. Before riding, they walk around the dirt inside the corral and pick up rocks, so Beau doesn't trip. They brush Beau, put on his saddle just so. That's their one-on-one time, when they talk about troubles at school or anything else.
Then Kaare mounts the horse and Matt leads them around.
On this recent evening, Matt has Kaare lift his arms straight out, then over his head. No hands!
His mom cheers.
"That's really good!"
"He's so much more relaxed," she says. "Last year, if the horse sneezed, if he shook a little, it made Kaare very, very nervous. Last year, he would have a death grip on that saddlehorn, going around in there.
"And this year, you see how he's much more relaxed."
The first time he ever rode was on a horse named Maverick. He went just a short distance. But his mom was amazed to see him overcome the fear.
In the car driving home, she cried.
Nearby, in a smaller corral, Daisy Langston works with a 9-year-old girl who had a rough start in life. She was in foster care. She has anger issues. Her foster parents adopted her.
She has a knack for horses, her mom says, standing just outside the ring. She loves the ranch so much, she begged to come out last winter, just to pet the horses.
Beau. Mouse. Blue. Hershey ...
They have not had it easy, either. Matt and Daisy rescued most of them from bad environments. Mouse came to them after an accident. He fell inside a trailer. Another horse stomped on him. His mouth didn't heal properly.
That's why it looks a little weird, Kaare says later, his boots planted back in the dirt.
"Oh. You might want to keep your hat away from Mouse," he warns. "He steals hats."
Some horses come in underfed. Some come with a look in their eyes that could only be described as dead.
The horses help the kids heal. The kids help the horses.
Matt taught Kaare how to rope using a plastic cow head. Kaare asked for one for his birthday last year.
Kaare wrote a poem at school last year. It was about how he dreams of owning a ranch like the L5 someday. How he dreams of owning a horse. How he dreams that people will treat horses right.
How he dreams Asperger's syndrome will go away.
He's an old hand at the ranch now.
And guess what: He and Beau trotted for the first time tonight.
How did it feel?
"Not too good physically," he says. "But pretty good mentally."
By the end of this summer, he plans to be riding all on his own.
Reach Colleen Kenney at 402-473-2655 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kids, horses healing one another