It is a typical breezy evening in Loleta as I drive my daughter up the dirt road leading to the pastures where she will muck out the stable and ride for the next hour. Looking out the closed window as dust kicks up from the tires and wind, I know she has been anticipating this day all week. These are moments that calm her, that connect her, that are hers. She has struggled over the past year with aggressive anger and physical rage, coming on unexpectedly like a force causing me to question if I’m doing anything right as a mom. However, coming to the stable has brought peace into her life that has trickled down to moments after, then the day after, and now days after.
We pull up to one of the last stalls as I turn off the car and unbuckle. I look at my girl, blond with adventurous-wild blue eyes, and pray words of affirmation and excitement over her for this grace-filled break in her chaotic mind.
I see brown dust kick up down the road and know Savanah McCarty is driving in with her big, white truck. After pouring her heart and soul out all day as a full time caseworker at the local Tribal Social Services office, she gets filled back up not only through her horses, but also through the children she works with. And with a seemingly unending supply of energy and strength, she greets my daughter with an *I’m so happy to see you* smile and hug.
Knowing my daughter is in great hands, I will, typically, get back into the car and work while I wait, but today is different. Today I want to follow Savanah around and get to know more about why she does what she does with Wild Souls Ranch.
As my daughter begins her weekly chore of mucking out the stable, Savanah and I walk towards her horses for me to meet them. I notice right away how my daughter’s hair matches with Tuff’s mane. I reach out my hand, gently cupping the top of Tuff’s nose as I ask Savanah to tell me a bit about Wild Souls Ranch (WSR).
She casually mentions I could take a look at the website on my own time but then, going on, she says, “You know, it’s a place I created and built that’s geared for Humboldt County at-risk youth. I built it hoping youth would regularly come every week to be with the horses. And it’s through the horses that I help provide a healing environment where kids can learn new skills, good boundaries, make new friends, and find a safe, nurturing, and restorative space.”
“Okay,” I say, “then what made you start WSR?”
Looking out over the field, we can see Emily mucking down the way, filling the small, plastic wheelbarrow with manure. Savanah begins speaking honestly, “When I was a young child growing up, I struggled with the abandonment of my biological mom and losing the connection with my birth siblings at a young age. I felt alone much of the time, never really knowing where I was supposed to fit in the world. I had began to attend a church and I met a woman there who saw me. She saw a 6 year old struggling and had such compassion for me. She invited me to her local farm where she introduced me to her horse, Bailey. She invested her time, emotional and physical energy, and her love into me by teaching me life lessons alongside riding skills.”
Turning towards me, Savanah confidently says, “I wouldn’t be the adult I am today without her inviting me to her farm once a week growing up.”
My mind races in appreciation and admiration of this young woman who, while having experienced such heartache in her life chooses not to wallow in the past, but chooses, instead, to use her own *healing through horses* to help bring others *healing through horses*.
I reflect on my own experience of being a foster parent in Humboldt County these past 8 years and it has allowed me to see the struggle so many children and their families go through. I stand still, wanting to absorb all her shared words of healing hope she was giving to children, being the hands and feet of Jesus in this small area.
With a strong and confident voice, she went on, “I know there are many kids in Humboldt who are struggling like I was and I wanted to help meet that need for them like this woman from my church did for me. I want to provide the same healing hope for others for years and years to come.”
Looking at her, I say, “I know what it’s like to start a nonprofit, to keep funding, to give of yourself over and over again, and to live out your calling or purpose in life. It’s good-hard work, rewarding and discouraging. What has been the hardest part for you this year?”
Savanah’s head bobs up and down as she chuckles in agreement and says, “I think trying to figure out life balance. Self care is something that I struggle with daily, and am constantly working on. After working a full day as a caseworker and then running Wild Souls Ranch operations and the nonprofit business full time, I am living my life serving others. I learned the hard way that if I’m not taking care of myself emotionally and physically, I cannot effectively care for all the wonderful children in my program that deserve the best possible version of me.”
“Yeah,” I say, nodding, “I feel like I’m always learning how to self-care better too. So then, what has been the most rewarding part?”
Laughing and standing tall, Savanah takes a few steps away from the horses as her cowboy boots kick up dust making the sharp, Loleta wind blow it away.
“Oh wow,” she says, “there are so many rewarding parts!”
She takes a deep breath and with a smile in her voice she says, “I’d say that seeing the smiles and hearing the laughter at the barn when I get off work at 5 p.m. Yeah, my WSR kids give me strength and inspire me everyday to keep pressing on, and to continue to grow and better the organization.”
Her voice gets a little louder as Savanah confesses with joy, “Three of my kids tell me almost every week, ‘I want to work for Wild Souls Ranch when I grow up, I never want to leave!’.” Laughing, she blurts out, “And, just to let you know, I fully support that and want to make that happen for them!”
“The funny thing is,” Savanah admits, “I started Wild Souls Ranch in the hopes of changing young lives. But you know what happened?”. Getting a little quiet, she pauses, thinking.
“You know what happened?” she says again. “They have changed mine. And they continue to everyday. I couldn’t be more thankful to have each and every one of these little wild souls in my life.”
We stand in the windy quiet while I reflect on her vulnerability and love and I wonder what’s next for Wild Souls Ranch. So I ask her what her hopes for the future might be.
Without hesitation, Savanah states, “Of course that we continue to stay open and grow bigger in Humboldt County. We will need more staff as we keep growing and we need more community funding. Everyone who works with WSR is volunteer, including myself, and we all work other full-time jobs. We have a board of directors to oversee our non-profit and to help make decisions. Because we’re volunteer run, out costs are mainly overhead through stable fees, vet bills, and buying hay for the horses. We operate from small, local grants and a couple fundraisers we do throughout the year.”
Pausing for a second to take a breath, she goes on with excitement explaining that their main fundraiser is this next Friday night, May 15th, at the Fortuna River Lodge. She reminds me it’s from 6pm-10pm and will be catered by Shamus T-Bones with music by Cliff Dallas and the Death Valley Troubadours. There will be a silent auction and those who want to support this cause can buy tickets for the event at $40/person. Tickets are being sold at Great Western, Shamus T-Bones and The Farm Store in Eureka.
“We always hope to get a large turnout for this event to support Wild Souls Ranch,” Savanah explains.
I see my daughter just finishing up mucking the horse’s yard and walking towards us with a very full wheelbarrow. She and Savanah begin to make all the arrangements of getting Tuff ready to ride. My daughter’s face shows a sense of purpose and responsibility as she brushes the muscular animal. With Savanah coaching her all along, her hand follows Tuff’s flanks down where she bravely picks up a hoof to clean it. I watch the three of them connecting as Savanah saddles Tuff and hoists the girl up, gently positioning her in the right spot. They make their way together out the fence and down the way towards the corral where they will spend the next hour all together.
As the sun began to cast long shadows over the pasture, making tall crosses out of the fence posts, I breathe thankful prayers over the work this amazing woman has said yes to.
Bethany Cseh is co-pastor of Catalyst Church in Arcata.