Horses Saved My Life: Morning Star Youth Ranch

“Horses saved my life,” exclaims Tammy Lawson, a long-term volunteer at Morning Star Youth Ranch ministry in Paso Robles, California. She goes on to say, “Many of these kids are in crisis.”

Therefore, this ministry connects kids in crisis with a horse and a human while covering them in humble prayer. Most of the horses were also in crisis when they first came into the program. The fusion of the two natures has resulted in healing for kids and equines alike.

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Horses Teach Kids to Just say NO to Bullying

“Most of these kids experience bullying to some degree,” Tammy continued. Purposely, Morning Star Youth Ranch emphasizes leadership skills, with the horse as the key teacher. “When they learn to stop and redirect a 1,000 lb horse coming toward them, they learn the key elements of learning to stop the bullies,” explains Tammy.

These lessons are learned through ground work, understanding body language and leading horses through an obstacle course. “The kid learns who they are in turn. They start to see their worth,” expressed Tammy with tears in her eyes.

Morning Star Youth Ranch: A Safe Meeting Place

A Morning Star Youth Ranch participant was asked where she wanted to meet her new adoptive parents. Her answer came quickly, the place where she felt the safest, with her beloved Teaspoon the miniature horse by her side.

Arrangements were made for the Adoptive parents to meet their new daughter at Morning Star Youth Ranch. The precious, yet nervous, young girl went about her usual routine of getting Teaspoon ready for a session. When the adoptive parents arrived, she was prompted to simply tell them all about Teaspoon.

So, off the foursome strode, talking and interacting, all learning about one another. Upon returning the sweet girl put her hand in Director, Diane’s hand and said, “I think I just met my new parents!”

Non-verbal Kid Finds Something to Talk About

As the youngest member of a large family this youngster just let others do the talking for him. After a few sessions at Morning Start Youth Ranch this young, very quiet boy got to ride an Appaloosa named, “Fire”.

That moment changed everything for this him. When he finished his first riding session he ran to his mother and exclaimed, “I rode FIRE!” His mother reported that he talked all the way home about his experience, and has just kept on talking.

Meet the Morning Star Ranch Rescue Horses

Horses, due to their sensitivity and unique ability to reflect attitudes and respond to subtle or aggressive behaviors from humans, make wonderful therapy partners. Many of us, in our own journey with horses, have most likely experienced the power of a horse understanding our emotions and actions.

The horses at Morning Star Youth Ranch provide the feedback these kids need to grow, become confident and to understand the unique gifts and abilities God has placed in them. Come meet the crew:

Fancy, who is the mother of twins Olive and Branch. Neither of her two foals were expected live, yet Tammy trusted in God’s provision and here they are!


Kody is a favorite horse to ride.


Gracie is the newest member and is working into the program.


Daisy is also on her own journey of healing.


Halo, such a stunning mare who teaches the importance of being Calm-Assertive.


Whisper, with her sensitive nature, is one to teach subtle communication.

Dazzle and Hope the two adorable mini horses.

The Morning Star Youth Ranch Ministry Program

“We have more kids than volunteers,” comments, Director Diane O’Dell. The kids they do serve come through word-of-mouth, referrals from CASA or the Foster Care System, also some are referred by teachers. All participants come free of charge and there is something for everyone. The parent/guardians are required to stay and interact with Morning Star Youth Ranch greeters, and witness the activities their child engages in. Siblings take part in other activities too. A Lending Library puts resources in the Parent/Guardians hand and there is always a listening ear.

Volunteers Tammy, Linda, Barbara and Diane

Each session runs for 90 minutes. The participants meet up with his or her volunteer mentor for the day and the first task is choosing the chore they will do together. From there the kid chooses art or games or horses. Each mentor stays with the child for the whole session, interacting and offering encouragement. Many kids have never used a rake, a shovel, or a broom, almost all have never put a halter on a horse or used building tools. Yet, here they use at least one of these tools each session. Character building is a key component of everything the kids do.

Linda in her art center

Second Tier: Morning Star Riders

A second tier of the program is in the works. Morning Star Riders is a longer session, two and a half hours. Consequently, It focuses on growing riding skills while continuing with Bible study, adding horse homework and more responsibilities at the ranch. Morning Star Riders are hand-selected based on proficiency with the lower-level instruction and demonstrating self-responsibility and a willingness to grow.

Horses Saved My Life

“Horses saved my life,” this sentiment Tammy expresses drives the purpose behind every activity. How many horse people can say that? Probably most of us. We all know that if we come to the barn with an attitude, our horse senses it and is less willing. On the other hand, the total acceptance for who we are is also received through our horses. If we’re honest, we can also say, “Horses saved my life.” That is one reason Tammy has been an integral part of this ministry for many years and is now the house resident, because horses saved her life.

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Waiting on God’s Provision

“God has provided everything,” says Diane who listened to God’s call on her heart to start the ministry after reading the book, “Hope Rising” by Kim Meeder. Whether the need is a tractor, hay, tack, volunteers, maintenance, buildings, obstacles, praying for every need while waiting for God’s provision, in His perfect timing is just what they do. Diane affirms, “Everything has been prayed for and He has provided.”

The most pressing on-going need is money for hay and for volunteers. Looking to help or get involved? Go to the How to help section of the Morning Star Youth Ranch website. Come share your own “Horses Saved my Life” story.

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Photo credit: Sharon Jantzen Photos

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