Understated elegance came to mind when I arrived at Fulshear Ranch Academy. I had visions of seeing a traditional western ranch, complete with Quarter Horses and local cowhands. Instead, I found the ranch looked more like a Kentucky estate on a quiet country road surrounded by Live Oaks, Willows and Pecan trees. My vision of Quarter Horses quickly ended when I saw the warm bloods out of Germany geared for dressage, with beautiful stables and a covered riding arena with mirrors. These were some of the most beautiful horses I have ever seen.
In addition to dressage, the horses are used for equine therapy to help the young women develop communication skills. The residents also participate in cleaning the stables to develop work ethic and enjoy building relationships with the horses. Program Director Scott Hess, MA, LMFT, has years of experience working in equine therapy and was in fact the first person I had the opportunity to experience equine therapy with years ago.
Fulshear Ranch Academy is a holistically oriented therapeutic community that assists young women, ages 18-26, with learning about themselves and their potential. The program teaches them the necessary life skills and insights to utilize their full potential.
The program offers a three-phase, year-long program that consists of Life Skills, Education, Nature-Based Skills, Equine Skills, Holistic Health, Therapy and Career Training. The four month time period of each phase offers the young women individualized movement through transitional phases of personal growth.
During Phase One, the young women participate in household and ranch chores, plan and prepare their meals and care for the horses. As they learn to nurture and take care of themselves, they also learn how to take care of their community as a whole. They participate in strength training, self defense classes, nutrition classes, yoga and meditation. They also participate in academic classes geared to their needs, and experiential classes, such as Equine Skills and Nature-Based Skills. Therapy includes group and individual sessions that address specific topics, as well as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Evenings allow the young women time to do chores, homework, or choose private time to work on personal projects, journal or read. Weekend activities provide exciting adventures both on and off the ranch.
Phase Two provides the young women with semi-independent living. Students have the opportunity to obtain an internship in an area of expressed passion, and pursue education at another level by obtaining their GED through Adult Education or by attending college classes at nearby Wharton County Junior College. During this phase, the young women still participate in groups and outings while continuing their holistic track via strength training, yoga, meditation or another practice that helps to heal the body, mind and spirit.
In the third phase, or transitional phase, students live, work and study independently in the town of Richmond. A staff mentor assists the young women on a daily basis and they receive weekly visits from the Therapeutic Director. They are encouraged to take complete responsibility for themselves, with no structure imposed on them. However, they are required to work part-time and attend classes at Wharton County Junior College which is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Though Fulshear Ranch Academy just opened this past year, it has developed quite rapidly. In addition to the stables, it consists of an office building, which houses administration and therapists, an education center with classrooms and fitness area, and a home for the first phase residents. Fulshear is in the process of building new homes for future phases.
My arrival after a few days of rainy weather created a need to drive to the new home in a four wheel drive vehicle as they were in the process of constructing new roads to the home. I was a bit muddy, but that Texas sand dries fairly rapidly. As Hess explained the planned development and landscaping, it seemed overwhelming. However, he said there are many young women in the program with a passion and love for these types of projects.
After learning more about the program, I discovered that passions of both students and staff are a driving force in the program. The hope is to discover the passions of the residents in order for them to develop focus in their lives. Some passions will become a career and others will serve as hobbies for each young woman. In addition, Fulshear Ranch Academy looks for employees that have some type of passion they can teach and share with the others. Thus, the program is ever evolving and takes on the look of the passions expressed by both staff and students. This makes for a beautiful blend for program residents and personnel.
This developing program seems appropriate for young women who are searching for stability in their lives and would like a boost from some great people to help them discover themselves and learn to live life to the fullest. The expectation is that these young women will finish the year with new direction and headed for a life of fulfillment.