It’s no secret that those formative childhood years can have a lasting impact on an individual’s future health and wellness. Unfortunately, childhoods aren’t created equally, and many kids often find themselves adrift in the world far too early. To help young people who might be struggling in some way, and recognizing the value of a connection with horses, many programs aimed at providing access to both horses and community are doing some incredible work all over the world. Stable View’s Brave Today program, which launched in spring of 2021, is one of these horse havens hoping to help its participants grow and learn over the course of a six week curriculum.
“It’s estimated that one in five people suffer from a mental health episode everyday, which includes children as young as eight years of age,” Stable View described in its Brave Today launch announcement. “We believe that these issues are very prevalent in Aiken county. Stable View’s ‘Brave Today’ goal is to provide a safe haven for those children and youth to gather, experience the connection of horses, develop life long skills and provide support after each program through mentorship and scholarships.”
Janice Keats, a longtime instructor and Aiken resident, was a part of the development process for Brave Today and helps run the program now. “I’ve always loved helping kids develop confidence and hope,” she describes. “The program has been designed around an acronym, ‘Dress4TLC’, or the life skills that we work on. We talk about it in human form and then transfer it to the horses. The ‘Dress4TLC’ stands for Decision Making, Relationship Skills, Respect, Empathy, Self-Awareness, Social-Awareness, Trustworthy, Leadership and Communication.”
Horses have been a natural fit for Brave Today. Through instruction using proper body language, kids gain confidence around the horses that can then be transferred to life outside of the barn.
“It’s very organic and purposely set up very small,” Janice adds. “Part of it is building trust. It’s very quiet, no observers. Just a closed group. We want to be intentional and get to know the kids.”
Kids participating in Brave Today attend weekly sessions over six weeks, after which they have the opportunity to stay on as mentors for future participants or express interest in participating in another local organization. The program is also in the process of forming a partnership with the Clemson University Youth Learning Institute to help with future expansion.
Using established programs such as Detroit Horse Power as models for building Brave Today, Janice says it’s been an all-out effort for the close-knit Aiken community to bring this program to life. “The town is great, and there are a lot of organizations doing a real push right now to help kids navigate mental health challenges,” Janice explains. “My big thing has always been that we all help as a community, together. We want to sponsor the kids after (Brave Today) to go into other programs in the community. We want them to have the opportunity to discover and develop their passions and see what’s out there.”
Brave Today continues to grow, having just added a second weekly session to accommodate more participants. Eventually, Janice hopes to grow the program so that it can offer riding opportunities. Down the road, transportation will become an increased necessity so that kids can have a way to get to the program if their families are working. Brave Today is always accepting donations and volunteers as it continues to grow. You can learn more about Brave Today and how you can be involved here.
“It’s all been word of mouth to this point,” Janice says. “And we’re just starting, so it’s really beginning to snowball. Hopefully, it just keeps developing and growing. We never overpromise, and we’re always open to change. We’re just letting the program lead us.”