“If the kid leaves the lesson at Velvet Noses happy, with a sense of feeling valued, and no injuries, then it was a good day,” remarks Libby Zaiser Director of Velvet Noses Horse Ministry in Los Osos, CA. Caring for and connecting with horses are the means employed for promoting personal growth in children and adults.
This connection is especially useful for those struggling with low self-esteem, anxiety, loneliness, disconnection, and insecurities. Many of the horses providing the means to encourage and grow the participants are in need of that themselves. The horses and the humans end up truly transforming one another.
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Velvet Noses Beginnings
What began as a means for leading their own kids in 4-H, has now turned into a full horse ministry where Libby and her husband Mike are involved together. “I was the horse 4-H leader here in Los Osos for many years,” explains Libby. When her kids grew up and moved on with life Mike and Libby still had the horses and the set-up in the backyard.
The horse ministry vision came through attending a seminar put on by Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch in Bend, OR. Together, Libby and Mike developed a plan for using horses to connect with people and let God do His wonderful work in both. The brewing idea was based on knowing that horses can play a key role in helping people cope with what life throws at them. Velvet Noses is the vehicle for implementing that reality. Consequently, the Velvet Noses Horse Ministry non-profit grew wings to fly through its establishment in April 2020.
Velvet Noses Takes Flight
Armed with her Certified Horsemanship manuals, Libby put together a plan to teach the horsemanship and basic riding principals using the same material used by 4-H. Libby is well-connected in her neighborhood so that is where her first students came from. Many of these kids still come for lessons. Most students have little or no prior horse experience. Libby begins laying the foundation of understanding how a horse thinks and reacts while teaching horsemanship and basic riding skills.
A typical lesson begins with a horse management lesson, then doing a chore, followed by grooming and tacking up the horse, and finally riding. Libby works with both small groups of students and one-on-one. Throughout the lesson Libby looks for ways to connect with the child or adult and makes sure he or she connects with the horse. “The horses can tell me if a student is struggling with something that day,” Libby remarks. When she senses this, Libby talks with the student to find out what might be bothering him or her. She also welcomes the horses to be involved in responding to the struggling student. This is where the ministry begins.
Velvet Noses Horse Ministry
“Everything we do is faith-based,” explains Libby. “We focus on providing encouragement and building one other up. We look for what is good, true and praiseworthy. I just love all these different kids and the cute things they have to say.” Libby is thankful for each opportunity she is given to share what God has done for both her and her husband Mike.
It’s Not Just for the People
Many of the horses who find themselves pampered and loved by the students at Velvet Noses are horses who need to be re-homed. They stay at Velvet Noses as foster horses. The handling and riding done in the program helps make the horse suitable for a new home. Fostering and re-homing horses is a natural offshoot of the Velvet Noses Horse Ministry. “We have been blessed with fostering several horses and re-homing them to good home,” remarks Libby.
Helpers and Riders Make the Program
Libby has drawn a tight circle of helpers and friends around her to help make Velvet Noses work. Ideally, she plans for one mentor to one horse to one student. Currently, she has 50 student participants in the Velvet Noses program. Some of the older students like, Sophia, share their knowledge with the less experienced students. Sophia also works with the young horses who come into the program. When students need to move on in their riding pursuits Libby directs them to specific local trainers for whatever discipline the student is drawn to. The end result is that many kids are being introduced to and taught to appreciate what horses bring to our lives.
The helpers, although coming to give, actually find they are the receivers. One such helper shared her testimony with me. Kaylyn and her husband Robert were struggling with the aftermath of their son, Andrew, taking his life. Although she was in counseling, she felt she needed Equine Therapy as horses were a part of her childhood back in Nebraska. However, finding a program for adults was challenging.
One day on a walk at the beach her friend told her about Velvet Noses. This seemed like a great place to start so Kaylyn Hudson came to help. “I couldn’t even speak a sentence when I first came here,” exclaimed Kaylyn. “I started by doing some chores, feeding the horses and getting them ready for lessons.”
Slowly, through Libby’s love and connecting with the horses, Kaylyn began to heal. “This place changed my life!” exclaims Kaylyn. Today, Kaylyn speaks of her experience still with a sense of loss, yet, demonstrates healing and is taking great strides towards getting back into the classroom as a teacher. One such step is being a teacher of these kids on horseback as she is now growing and giving as a Velvet Noses mentor.
Vision is Expanding
Velvet Noses is bursting at the seams with horses, kids, adults and helpers. People in the community are becoming more interested in horses as a means for getting outside and away from isolation. The backyard that used to house two horses now has seven. The only arena for the riding lessons is a round pen. A small pasture has a trail obstacle course and trail rides around the neighborhood get the horses and students into a new setting. “If one of our horses poops in the street, we make sure we go back and pick up the manure,” relates Libby to emphasize the value of being good neighbors.
Mike and Libby are actively searching for a larger place for this ministry. They are considering all options from leasing a larger place to actually moving to more acreage. Although a small fee is charged for each lesson, Libby does not want the cost keeping students from participating in the program. So, donations are always appreciated. In addition, Libby says, ”We are looking to partner with like-minded folks to share in our mission. We would love to have a trainer to help with our young fostered babies.” Velvet Noses Horse Ministry is changing lives one human and one horse at a time.
Photo credit: Sharon Jantzen Photos
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