Experience Review: Timberwolf Trails and the Magic of Horse Therapy

As humans, we thrive on experiences. They are the basis of our stories.

Good, bad, mythological – our experiences shape our perspective and our perspective shapes our world.

However, the experiences we, well – the experiences we experience – have the power to impact countless other lives.

In this post, I am going to talk about how horses helped my girls thrive during the pandemic; how that experience has become a cherished core memory; and how one woman’s lifelong passion is going to change the lives of so many who kids who desperately need her horses (and her).

Let’s begin.

For almost 2 years, my girls and I have been homebound 90% of the pandemic. My husband is the only one that gets to leave the house daily for his job. Our girls only leaving for doctor’s appointments and every other week Occupational Therapy appointments.

Horse Therapy is Magic

Our youngest (9) has ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), a communication disorder, social anxiety, and is unofficially on the Autism Spectrum.

Our oldest (12) has ADHD, social anxiety, and SPD.

Getting them to participate in extracurricular activities has been challenging their entire lives. Too much noise, too many smells, too many people, too much, too much, too much.

3 years ago – we tried horse therapy for our youngest (then 6) during summer break to add to her weekly Occupational Therapy sessions.

She loved it. She even started opening up a little bit, adding a few more words to her limited vocabulary. But once school started – our schedules were chaos reincarnate.

And then the pandemic hit.

For the first year – we stayed home as much as possible. This only exacerbated their anxiety, causing near instant storms for our youngest when it was time to leave our front porch.

Something had to change.

I decided to take a look at horse therapy again since it helped so much just 3 years ago. But everywhere I looked – had a waiting list.

So I took a chance and connected with a friend who I knew had a pony, to see if she had any connections.

And that is how Melissa and her passion – Timberwolf Trails – came crashing into our lives like a positive wrecking ball that we desperately needed.

It took a few months as we waited for Timberwolf Trails to become insured and ready for us.

In the meantime – we watched countless horse-themed videos, acquired helmets, and the kids broke in their cowgirl boots.

I am so glad we waited. We may not have had a choice, but every moment waiting – was worth it.

Time flew and we were finally driving up the easy-to-miss gravel driveway tucked a little back from the road next to their peach farm neighbors.

It started as a teenager’s dream

Melissa began dreaming about this exact moment – sharing her love of all things horses – 31 years ago. To her – the barn was her “church growing up,” a place she “felt it was okay to just be [her].”

And because of her experiences growing up – she “thinks all kids need that space.”

As we parked and rolled out of the car – we were greeted by a cheery human named Melissa. It was obvious from our introductions that she was excited to share her passion with these 2 kids that she had never met.

And as we followed her to the barn, I watched as my girls relaxed their anxiety high shoulders. I took a deep breath, and exhaled anxiety I didn’t know I was holding on to.

It felt nearly immediate and I didn’t know it then – but Melissa’s dreams were finally coming true.

Before the pandemic was a possibility and the world seemed like it would never slow down, her and her husband opportunistically purchased the property her home and Timberwolf Trail sits on.

Call it fate, serendipity, a coincidence, or the stars aligning. But before the pandemic – teaching kids didn’t seem to be in the cards.

Hindsight is 20/20 because as the pandemic raged on, as kids were ripped from their pre-pandemic life – she realized that she “had a means to help kids right now who have nowhere to explore.”

I will be forever thankful she had that realization.

Seemed crazy at the time, but all it takes is one idea.

And I am glad she didn’t give up on that idea because in the past when our 9yr old experienced new things – she would have been standing behind me, following me, looking for any chance to escape.

But not on this day.

On this day – Melissa met her at her level. And the rest, they say, is history.

A connection is created

Explaining everything in just enough detail, perfect bite-sized nuggets of information that wouldn’t overwhelm her, but just big enough to keep her interest.

Since our lessons are set up to split the hour amongst 2 kids – Melissa showed us around the farm like she would any friend – showing us their 2 year old “bun-buns” – bunnies Dahlia and Daffodil.

We watched the chickens peck their way around the yard, even being put on chicken watch once Willow got old enough to roam the farm freely, until she learned to ignore them.

We met good girl Stella, a rehomed Great Pyrenees/Maremma sheepdog who is great at “couch napping, endless digging, running at nothing with boundless energy and occasionally a Coyote deterrent.”

We also quickly learned that she loves attention. Which doesn’t bother us – we have a house full of dogs and cats.

As I stayed behind to give Stella some extra loves, and to give my kids some space to explore on their own – I heard my 12 year old tell Melissa that we also have a dog named Stella.

And that was the beginning of the beginning.

Every lesson, our girls opened up more. Every lesson – they leave the house a little less anxious. And at the end of every lesson – they talked a little more on the ride home, pushing outside of their comfort zone just a little bit more.

Some lessons – it took all my energy to get the girls out of the house. And on those days – Melissa understood.

On those days – she didn’t push them. Instead, she walked in front of the horse as they had a relaxing stroll through the woods – never once making me feel guilty or the girls feel bad that they weren’t moving at a fast pace.

And that’s on purpose.

Fun fact: Melissa’s first word was “Horsie”

One horse can change everything

But it wasn’t until she was 10 when her first horse Echo came into her life.

They were best friends for 20+ years until he passed. She says he taught her everything – “all a horse girl could have wanted”.

She slept, ate, lived all things Horses.

For 6 years through middle and high school – she was the Horse 4-H alum & Club President.

Between 1991-1995 – she collected many super non-prestigious awards. From being the Washington & Clackamas County Medallion Winner, and State Fair attendee – she jokes that “other girls would pout when her and Echo arrived at shows” because she was “GOOD” (her words not mine) “once.”

So she knows the power of equine therapy. She understands how a horse can instantly help you feel safe, welcome, calm.

And because she felt her safest around horses, she knows that sometimes, kids just need to “move their bodies, engage with something real, learn patience, overcome fear, obstacles – real or imagined, build bonds, and learn to be a partner.”

That “learning to ride actually seems secondary to half [of her] students.”

That “they just enjoy the horses, their movements…”.

As I watched my girls bring down their walls, as the horse beneath them carried them along the trail, I realized – she’s right.

From the moment they started going to Timberwolf Trails – the goal was to help them learn how to be in nature again after a long year locked inside.

Everything else that came next – like gaining confidence in their voices and a healthy respect for majestic creatures who could feel the beats of our hearts – was just icing on the top.

The pandemic has been hard on our girls. They are immunocompromised and because my husband works out of the hospital, we don’t have a “quaran-team” we can socialize with.

As I write this, it has been 689 days since my kids were last with their friends at school. It has been 689 days since their world turned upside down and inside out.

(update: by the time this is posted – they will have finished their first day at school in almost 2 years!)

Some days it’s a battle to wake the 12yr old up. And some days on our drive to Timberwolf Trails – she falls asleep in the backseat. Heck – some days – she is just plain grumpy.

But when she saddles up, she transforms into this talkative, confident young lady that is ready for whatever comes next.

And the 9yr old? Before one lesson a few months ago, I remember watching the dark clouds roll in and the rain thud on the skylights above me. I texted Melissa, and said it didn’t look like a horsey horse day.

She responded that it was sunny at her home. I distinctly remember laughing because we live maybe 5 miles away from each other. I assumed her weather was the same.

So I asked 9 if she wanted to go – and told her the potential weather forecasts.

Her response? “Yes yes yes yes yes.” So off we went. 9 telling me how much she loves the rain on the drive there, not caring if she has a raincoat on or not.

A community is born

To be honest – Melissa has become more than just “the person who owns the horses” for my 2 amazing girls.

You see, Melissa has this knack for bringing home unwanted pets, comparing herself to the “Statue of Liberty but for animals”.

Going so far as declaring to the universe “give me your sad, your depressed, and your broken! I will try to heal you with love, and excessive treats.”

To my family, she is so much more than the “Statue of Liberty but for animals”.

Melissa has become a friend. A confidant. And a partner in making sure my kids feel safe, comfortable, and welcome.

And as a mom to 2 neurodivergent kids – my number one goal is to make sure I surround my kids with people who are invested in making their lives better.

So when you ask her why Timberwolf Trails is so important for her, her “why” behind this – she doesn’t hesitate as she states she will explain that she “always wanted a place everyone felt welcome at. And I like sharing my love of horses.”

It’s one thing to say something so profound, but it’s another to actually dedicate your life to that purpose. Once you do – it becomes second nature. And you can feel her dedication the moment you first meet her.

Her “why” radiates from her and because of that, Melissa is the type of human who people are chomping at the bit to try and figure out how to help her.

Timberwolf Trails is only the beacon of hope because she is a force for good. She is helping kids ease their anxieties and learn how to just be kids again.

Letting kids, be kids

And after 689 days- us parents have finally found respite as we drive down her gravel driveway and enter the trees surrounding the property.

As the pandemic continues to rage on and forces us to redefine our definition of “normal” – I don’t think I am stepping out of line when I say that us parents just want to make sure we can keep our kids kids as long as possible.

Which is why I want to spread the word about how amazing Timberwolf Trails is. How magical of a place it is. I may be biased because the more people that go to her – the longer my kid can be a kid. But I honestly wish every kid could experience this.

I wish every kid could experience the magic that comes from riding a horse through the woods – away from traffic, away from a lot of noise, away from the chaos that is every day life these days.

I wish every kid could experience their once-feral rescue cats Willow and Milo who have brought such bright smiles to our 9yr old – the cat addict.

Now, I do have to be honest with you.

Timberwolf Trails is not a high-tech barn, it’s not flashy, there is not a huge indoor arena, there are no stalls you typically see, and the trails are in open air so riding can be difficult when it’s crummy Oregon weather.

But none of those are negatives in this situation.

I personally think those facts only add to the rustic feel, the calming environment, and the connection we are all trying to find.

Rain or shine

But on crummy Oregon weather days – Melissa has a back-up plan in place. She knows her students rely on her horses to regulate and find inner calm.

On those days – she provides hands-on experiences, so her students can grow a bond between them and the horse.

You see – equine therapy is more than just getting on a horse and riding. Equine therapy is about connection.

Melissa knows that when kids learn how to interact with horses – it ripples into their every day real life. Because as Melissa says, “there’s SO much beyond sitting in a saddle that horses offer, and require of you. That’s the icing. The real thing is the trust.”

And when you join the Timberwolf Trails family – it’s not just your kid that is building a connection, building trust. So are you.

Timberwolf Trails may be a small, family owned business – but they open their arms wider than a horses gallop.

If you are looking for an outdoor experience with Horses for your kiddos that:

  • won’t overwhelm your sensory kid, or any kiddo for that matter
  • will teach your kiddo in the way they learn best
  • will go at your kiddos speed – anti-pushy to meet any sort of requirement/skill check list
  • just lets your kid exist

Then Timberwolf Trails is waiting for you.

Whether your kiddo rides Danzer (half pony, half Arabian), Cory Pony (Welsh pony) or Tinkerbell – I can promise you that your kiddo will hop in your car with an extra pep in their step.

And as parents living through one of the hardest moments to be a parent – that extra pep in their step means the world to us.

In the meantime, Adventure on with Curiosity,
-Kelly Steele MBA

P.S. Timberwolf Trails can be found on Facebook here

Experience ReviewFinding BalanceHuman ExperienceStoryteller

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