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Schools, Programs, & Visit Reports - Nov, 1990 Issue 

Skyland Ranch
(206) 793-0486
Goldbar, Washington
Owners: David & Kris Pitkin
Lon Woodbury's Visit: November 1-2, 1990

The basic description of Skyland Ranch is, a horse ranch for teenagers with drug/alcohol or other behavior problems. There are two complimentary aspects to the ranch. One part is a dude ranch where the public can rent riding horses for everything from a one hour ride along the bordering Skykomish river to overnight trips into the bordering wilderness area. The other part is a program designed to help children learn how to take control of their lives in a responsible and constructive manner.

The form is that of a dude ranch with each child having responsibility for taking care of a horse, as well as doing his or her share of chores and work around the ranch. Within that context, privileges and responsibilities are earned, and there is a powerful positive peer pressure among the average of 15 boys and girls. Each child has ample opportunity to express what he or she is feeling or thinking through low confrontation group meetings three times a week, along with one on one sessions as needed with David or Kris. When a child turns to negative thoughts or behavior, the other kids are quick to call them on it and David or Kris are quick to intervene and get on top of it. The children attend the local public school, and those with drug background are required to attend AA meetings regularly.

There is a strong sense of family, and home, and mutual support. Basic cleanliness is important, but if you are looking for immaculate grounds and fastidiously groomed horses, you will be disappointed. It looks like a typical working western horse ranch, mud and all.

They have their share of successes with children, and at a tuition of $725 a month, they can legitimately claim to be one of the best bargains in the country. The Pitkins have resisted increasing their tuition because it is very important to them to be able to serve middle class families. The income from the dude ranch enables them to keep the tuition low if they watch their budget.

No one has analyzed why the ranch is successful with kids with problems, but there are several elements I saw that seem important in explaining their success. 1.) It is small enough to have a sense of being a home and family. David and Kris are also able to be close to each child. 2.) Each child having to become intimate with and responsible for their horse utilizes children's natural love of animals, and teaches them the necessity of being responsible. 3.) The everyday contact with the outdoors is ideal for teaching the child that some things have to be accommodated to. 4.) The Pitkins are capable of looking past appearances and seeing and dealing with what the child is really doing, in a firm and loving manner (It's hard to snow them). 5.) A structure where responsible behavior is obvious and rewarded. 6.) The culture is that of a positive peer pressure. 7.) The children are helped and encouraged to express their true feelings, and honesty pays. And, 8.) Learning to deal with the public as part of the ranch business helps them "own" the ranch and keeps them from being isolated from the mainstream of society.

Copyright 1990, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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