Winston Churchill advised parents who were raising boys to give them a horse. Churchill is famously credited with saying, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” Today, Churchill’s words find relevance and application for the young men at Salem4Youth, a boarding school ministry for young men aged 12-18. Salem4Youth incorporates academic learning and vocational skill training like learning to work with horses on a farm in Flanagan, Illinois.
The young men who find their way to Salem4Youth have found a second chance. Seth Warner, Equine Program Manager, says, “It’s the best last chance some kids will ever get.” Most of the young men have become unmanageable for their parents and struggle with issues like drug addiction, truancy, criminal activity, anger, or violent behavior. At Salem4Youth, they find a new way to cope with negative behavior while they learn a new skill.
Among the vocational programs offered at the farm, the equine program offers young men the opportunity to learn to care for and ride a horse. Seth Warner, the program manager, came to Salem4Youth four years ago from his job as a farrier, trimming and shoeing horses’ hooves. His lifelong passion for horses coupled with his counseling degree found the perfect marriage in his role. Now, he counsels the boys informally in the horse barn and on the trail, whenever a need arises. Seth explains that the lessons learned through the equine program pertain to life as well as horses, “Horses are honest. They don’t deal well with either anger or fear. They bring out the best and worst in us.”
The boys in the equine program spend months preparing for an open horse show held at the farm each June. Most of them participate in halter and showmanship classes, walk-trot, western pleasure, and the trail class. In the afternoon, the boys participate in gaming classes including barrels, poles, keyhole, and potato race. Since they all come to the farm as a beginner, their participation in the horse show helps them to develop mental discipline and perseverance in difficult circumstances. One young student who had come to the farm struggling with anger had to share a horse with another student, demonstrating growth and maturity.
Another student faced a challenge during the show when his horse wouldn’t perform any of the obstacles in the trail class, and he wanted to quit. Seth let him get off of the horse and walk away, but later, the student came back and wanted to finish the competition. Later, he won the potato race and received a trophy. Seth reflects that winning that trophy was a big moment for the student and showed that he had learned emotional control and perseverance.
At Salem4Youth, young men are receiving a second chance, new skills, and, sometimes, a horse of their own to take home.