As a young child, a painting of a red barn, a white horse and a mysterious figure mesmerized Eileen Reese. She would place herself inside the scene, imagining the horse was her own. As a teenager, Reese found solace sitting in a field with a herd of horses after her friends had moved away due to military base closings in Sacramento. “The horses made me feel better,” she says.
It was later in life that Reese learned how horses were touching others’ lives. A disabled woman at a church retreat explained how riding a horse allowed her to feel what it was like to walk. Inspired, Reese hoped to one day help others experience the “healing power” of horses. “Just being around horses, amazing things happen,” she says.
The passing of her sister in 2001 propelled Reese, the married mother of four, to take an honest look at her life, and to start “painting” the elements of the old picture she had held in heart, stroke by stroke, as her life evolved.
It began with the purchase of some land in Red Bluff, and a white mare named Cali. Reese then connected with Triple Creek Ranch, Inc. (TCR), a therapeutic riding program for children and adults with disabilities located in Shasta County. While volunteering at the ranch, Reese learned the board of directors was looking for a new program director. She was encouraged to take over the program and move it to Tehama County. The decision was a big one as she was caring for two young grandchildren while her son, a wounded soldier who had served in the Iraq War, transitioned to medical retirement.
A stack of TCR paperwork needed to be processed, not an easy task for Reese, who was also dealing with vision problems. But Reese took on the challenge in 2009 with the help of her husband, family, board members and volunteers. “I am amazed at her tenacity and powerful motivation to see the ranch dream continue to grow,” says volunteer Rachel Jones.
Reese found inspiration in her involvement with programs such as the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association and the O.K Corral Series. Both programs are designed to train participants to utilize horses in the development of clients’ emotional growth and learning. Reese has since expanded TCR to reach children with autism, a program dear to her heart since she cares for her 13-year-old autistic grandson.
Gina Grecian, Program Manager for Rowell Family Empowerment of Northern California (RFENC), says it is the specialized “sensory” experiences that Reese provides with horses that allow children participating in RFENC’s “Successful Living with Autism through Training and Education” (SLATE) program to explore new opportunities and to practice social skills. “It is Eileen’s own life experiences that provide her with the knowledge to really reach out to our families and provide them with an experience that is truly exceptional,” says Grecian.
Also a foster parent to four other children and a “mother hen” to many others over the years, Reese has witnessed what happens when you let the horses do the healing. And so she also developed TCR’s Foster Youth Program.
“Everything is hands-on,” explains Reese. The children get to make many choices. Counselors and social workers partner in the endeavor, and there are a total of 10 horses waiting to make friends. “My job is to redirect if something isn’t safe. The horses are the teachers,” Reese says.
One young girl, who’s had a difficult life, wouldn’t talk, explains Reese. The child picked Cali to work with, but was frightened. She hung on to Reese as together they approached the horse to groom her. As the girl groomed Cali, Reese recalls the horse sat down. “Cali had never done that before,” says Reese, “Horses can feel what others are feeling.” After several sessions, the girl started to talk again.
Reese’s dreams for the future include programs for kids at risk, for people fighting cancer and families of cancer patients, and for wounded military personnel with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Each day brings a new challenge, but Reese continues to move forward. “When I feel like the world is crumbling, I go work with the horses,” she says. The painting that sparked a little girl’s imagination remains in view, reminding Reese that “What you dream about does come true. God knows the desire of your heart.”
On May 5th, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., join Triple Creek Ranch in the Grand Opening celebration of their new Shasta County location in Palo Cedro. Reese can be contacted at (530) 524-8426.