By Jessianne Wright
EBS Contributor

BOZEMAN – There’s just something about a horse. Their soft eyes, honest character, even their sheer size, all contribute to their positive impact on humans, according to Darcy Minter, the founder of Bozeman’s Windhorse Equine Learning assisted therapy center.

“Working with horses is such a confidence builder because these animals are big and they can be really intimidating,” she said. “Horses are transparent. You can be yourself.”

Windhorse provides an array of programming for youth between ages 8 and 18, offering six-week sessions throughout the school year. The center also holds a number of summer camps each year, through partnerships with Montana State University, YMCA and Big Sky Youth Empowerment.

“We are teaching skills. Horsemanship of course, but also we’re teaching skills like leadership, responsibility and trust,” Minter said.

Any child is welcome at Windhorse, she added, saying that horses can be particularly helpful for kids experiencing high anxiety.

During most programming, kids will have the opportunity to work with a horse on the ground and eventually ride. After several sessions addressing safe conduct around a horse, kids begin learning how to properly catch, groom and lead a horse.

From there, the kids learn how to work a horse on the ground by lunging, or sending the horse around them with a long lead rope. In the more advanced levels, kids also ride horseback.

“Horses are just another way of helping kids,” Minter said. “They get [assigned] a horse and it’s like a switch turns on. … We see the transformation begin very quickly, but over the six weeks it’s really exciting to see the kids come into themselves.”

Through fundraising efforts and donations, Windhorse is able to offer scholarships for approximately half of the youth in the program.

On Sept. 8, the equine center will hold the first annual Kick up your Heels for Kids barn dance benefit at Foster Creek Farms in Belgrade.

This family-friendly event, which begins at 4 p.m., will include dance lessons by Big Sky Ballroom and an open dance floor complete with tunes from the country and western band www.Twang. An enchilada dinner will be provided by Food for Thought catering, and a live and silent auction will finish off the night.

Visit windhorseequinelearning.org to learn more or to purchase tickets.