Transferable Skills

Harmony Project at Achaius Ranch helps build confidence in kids

Participants in the Harmony Project ride horses at the Achaius Ranch in Ladoga.
Participants in the Harmony Project ride horses at the Achaius Ranch in Ladoga.
Taylor Dixon/Journal Review
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Elisha McCulloh, Achaius Ranch program director, defines harmony as, “getting people in sync with nature and each other in order to bring peace.”

That is the focus of the Harmony Project at Achaius Ranch outside of Ladoga. The new project is being funded by the Montgomery County Community Foundation and McCulloh hopes it can become a permanent program.

Achaius Ranch has been offering youth programs for eight summers and has operated as a nonprofit since 2011, but this is the first youth camp to have more than horse riding and focus on kids who have faced adverse circumstances.

The program has more than 40 participants and 17 junior volunteers.

McCulloh has a background as a social worker, focusing on those who have experienced trauma. She said children partner with the horses they ride to develop a mutual respect. And by working with horses, children develop confidence, patience, communication and leadership skills.

“Having these small kids be able to point and move a giant horse backwards because they told them to is powerful,” McCulloh said. “Interacting with horses allows for confidence building, and leadership skills and what they learn with a horse they can then use with people.”

At the ranch kids spend one morning a week riding horses and participating in “Adventure Activities.” These include nature activities, caring for animals, team building exercises and a variety of exercises in the arts.

This summer the ranch has reached full capacity and is seeing about 70 children, ages eight to 18, a week. However, McCulloh said the ranch will be open to field trips and individual riding sessions in the fall.

Mady Williams, a session leader, went through the whole program, from participating in the youth camps to becoming a junior volunteer and now a session leader. She said her favorite part about being a session leader was seeing quiet kids come out of their shell while working with the horses.

After four moves and an unsure start at a new high school Williams said Achaius Ranch was a place that helped her become acclimated to the area.

“This place gives you a place to feel like you belong,” Williams said. “It became like a second home.”

To learn more visit online at www.achaiusranch.org or find the ranch on Facebook.

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