Healing Families

The following testimonial is from a parent of a child who volunteered at the ranch last year. We are grateful that we were able to help this child and her family; and are honored to receive this letter.  — Katherine.


“A fortuitous encounter with Keith and Katherine Wacholz last spring sparked hope regarding our eldest daughter’s increasingly difficult behavior — that there finally WAS some hope for our family situation. We had met them at their fall harvest fundraiser the year before, and although we had really only chatted with them briefly at that time, I was moved by how Keith really listened to me when I explained our frustrations and difficulties with our oldest daughter’s behavior. Always the child that challenged us, she had become tyrannical over the course of the school year: defiant, disrespectful, and oppositional to everything.

Just three weeks before meeting Keith and Katherine, we had traveled to France to visit family and friends, and had been forced to leave our daughter behind with her Grandma. Her behavior had escalated to a point where it had become incompatible with a family trip we had planned. We were sure she would act the same way during vacation as she usually did, egged on by the jet lag and a general level of fatigue; and we couldn’t bear to impose such scenes on our hosts. She had complained angrily about “having to go,” and about how she was going “to be bored stiff,” and that it “wasn’t even her idea, but one we had imposed on her.” She had made it clear to the counselor two days before our departure that she intended to ruin our vacation once we got there. We had had no choice but to leave her behind and it broke our hearts.

In previous years, when we had asked school counselors, teachers, or our generalist for help in trying to nail down what it was that was troubling her, we didn’t always get the support we were seeking. Instead were often encouraged to take parenting classes. Our daughter got very good grades and was considered “really smart,” so there wasn’t any obvious mental handicap and they didn’t feel her behavior at school was bad enough to merit the label of ODD (Oppositional and Defiance Disorder). Everyone agreed she could be difficult, but they just pointed out that it was probably a phase, she was a pre-teen after all, and would undoubtedly outgrow it. We felt increasingly alone, frustrated, ineffective…. Other parents we knew who had daughters the same age as her didn’t struggle like we did. And our other daughters never behaved the way she did – at any stage of their development. Normal parenting behavior got the intended results with them! We really didn’t know WHAT to think, anymore, and it started taking a toll on us and our family dynamics in general.

Keith really seemed to understand our situation and he didn’t make me feel guiltier than I already did about having made such a decision; but rather, he supported us for having set some boundaries. Wow. We had left her behind when the rest of us went to France, and he could understand? I wasn’t a bad mom? We weren’t crazy parents? Word cannot explain the feeling of relief I felt when I was talking with him.

I knew that Keith and Katherine worked with children that had difficulties, but our daughter had never been formally diagnosed with anything. She didn’t have an IEP or a 504, so I doubted the services of K2 Equestrian Center would be open to her. We were sure this kind of an activity could be therapeutic for her, though. She had always been drawn to animals in general, horses in particular, and talked about wanting to be a vet when she grew up. When I finally got up the courage to ask if he and Katherine would consider taking on our daughter as a volunteer worker or “student” in one of their “classes” at his ranch, I was so afraid that he would say no that I got choked up as I asked. To my amazement he said it would be an honor to work with our daughter, and to please call him later to set something up. And he wouldn’t hear of charging us anything for their services. I couldn’t believe my ears.

A couple weeks later, our daughter began an hour of supervised volunteering each Saturday. At home, we couldn’t ask her to pick up a stray sock up off the floor without getting a nasty look or sassy comment, yet they could ask her to chase all over the pasture rounding up the animals, or to help out with moving hay bales, or to rake truckloads of leaves, and she did it with a smile! Most often Keith supervised her activities at the ranch, having her help with cleaning stalls and the feeding. But occasionally Katherine took her aside and engaged her help for other tasks.

At this time our daughter refused to talk to us about anything concerning her behavior. We took her to a counselor for nearly six months, hoping she would talk to her, and that had been a huge disappointment too. Half the time we had paid the session fee, only for her to refuse to talk to the counselor, reading a book in defiance during the sessions. Keith and Katherine really know how to “read” the different people that come to them, though, and how to guide them to a greater understanding of life, of oneself, of others. They are very observant, they listen closely, they ask questions, and they show they care. We hoped that while helping out at the ranch she would feel comfortable enough to talk about what was going on in her mind, and why she was acting out the way she was.

Keith helped mediated conversations between us so that I was able to express our frustration with her behavior as well as our love and support for her. She would not have sat still long enough for me to get the words out otherwise; she would have refused to listen, getting up and pushing past me to slam doors or yell from the other end of the room. Keith understood perfectly how to channel her behavior while she was volunteering at the ranch, helping her understand that if she wanted something from the animals, she had to ask for it gently and with respect – not with a shove!

The horses had a calming, healing effect on her, and being around Keith and Katherine at their equestrian center provided much-needed therapy. Not only did she get the exposure to life and work on a ranch that she has been begging for, but she gained confidence in herself around the horses and we were able to see her interacting with others in a very positive way. Her behavior and communication improved on the days she volunteered at the K2 Equestrian Center, and we had fewer issues when school started, as well. After she stopped going to the ranch on a regular basis in late fall, however, our daughter’s behavior started going downhill again.

We needed to find a therapy solution for the winter months, so in January 2013, we reenrolled her in counseling sessions, this time with a tag team of two different psychologists. These sessions have gone much better than previous sessions, and she has opened up to them about what is going on in her life. They have diagnosed her behavior as being possibly ADD and/or on the Aspergers continuum. Although our daughter has been very resistant to the idea of having either condition, it has been extremely helpful for us, as parents, to finally have a starting point to understanding her behavior and to learn targeted strategies and solutions that encourage it to improve. Discovering this winter that I have ADD, in fact, has also helped us better understand some of the frustrations and feelings of inadequacy when dealing with her anger and defiant behavior.

One research study we recently learned of named sleep deprivation as a major causation of ADD/ADHD-type behavior in children, and tonsillectomies/adenoidectomies had improved nearly 80% of the test cases in that study. It just so happens that our daughter had a tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy three weeks ago because of their unusually large size. We hoped and prayed that the operation would have a radical change on her behavior, holding off on any medical treatments for ADD or Aspergers to avoid tainting the results of the operation.

We have indeed seen a huge improvement in her general attitude and behavior since the operation. Old habits die hard, however, so even if her body is no longer under the toxic effect of her infected tonsils/adenoids/sinuses etc, she sometimes lapses into the same disrespectful behavior and tirades. And sometimes we fall into our old responses to that behavior, too. We all need to be vigilant to change the family dynamics for the better.

We are so thankful for Keith and Katherine and the K2 Equestrian Center for their expertise and their generosity: for being there for us all when we were at the end of our rope, for helping us to believe that solutions could exist after so many years of dead ends, and for welcoming our daughter to their ranch and being the pivot point from which things finally started looking up. This year we dare to hope that things will improve with time and a continued effort, and what a difference that makes.”

— Heather R. , Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

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