Shadow Ranch is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life of kids and adults with disabilities and/or debilitating situations in their lives and to making a positive difference in the lives of our staff, volunteers and community.
Shadow Ranch Therapeutic Riding Center is a nonprofit equestrian center helping children and adults with disabilities in Sulphur Springs, TX. It came into being through the movement of the Holy Spirit.
Six years ago (2007) I became friends with Pam, co founder of Shadow Ranch. As with most of my friends, occasionally they'd hear me speak about a “pipe dream” I had. She in particular would always ask why it had to be a pipe dream. My answer was always: “It’s too hard and I would have to give up everything.” Understand that my everything wasn’t really that much, a less than $30K a year job, an apartment and a decent car, but I was very comfortable and loving my life.
On the third time mentioning my dream, she slaps the table between us and asks rather forcefully, “Why does it have to be a pipe dream?” I just kind of sat there with my mouth open; I think I may have mumbled that I couldn’t do it alone. A couple weeks later I took her to a therapy center in my home town where she watched a class and talked to one of the parents. With tears of joy in her eyes, my dream became hers.
But still, it’s hard. We would have to give up everything.
On most Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings we attended church services where we listened to amazing music and had the opportunity to share joys and pain with our church family. It seemed like most every sermon would include a message about giving more of yourself and helping others, especially for those who are marginalized.
Since I worked in Dallas about 5 minutes from where we attended services I had an opportunity to take part in classes. On one occasion our topic was in reference to “Everyone is meant to do something.” Some are meant to be President of the U.S.A., some are supposed to help others one by one, and some are meant to start organizations.” When the teacher said the last part I felt as if she was looking right at me and boring a hole straight into my soul for God to enter and get some work done. From there Shadow Ranch was no longer a “pipe dream.” It became a goal.
But still, it’s hard. We’d have to give up everything and where do we go from here?
I already had done the demographics and knew where Shadow Ranch needed to be.
We named it Shadow Ranch with 2 different thoughts in mind:
- Most times people with disabilities are marginalized and “kept in the shadows.” Our goal was to help bring some of them into the light.
- We believe with all our hearts we would be working under the shadow of the cross.
I made contact with Margo, a wonderful woman from Windridge Therapeutic Equestrian Center outside Longview. As part of their business plan they helped mentor founders of new therapy centers. She said I could come out on my days off, sleep in the barn, and she would teach me everything she knows. This included day to day activities, land management and everything in between.
become a part of it nor did they know anyone that would. It would be too hard and take up too much time.
As my immediate supervisor at work was also my friend, he knew about my dream. His wife agreed to serve one term for our founding board. With excitement all we needed was 2 more members. I started talking to others and found 2 that agreed to serve.
The next hurdle was..me. How is “Miss Stable” that spent 18 years in the military, always had at least one job, sometimes 2 or 3, and never had to ask for anything going to give up that security and pride? Well God said, “Poof!” The manager of the place I had been working for nine years came to me, teary eyed two weeks before Thanksgiving. He had to make a decision. In the 30 years of its existence, Metro had never had to lay off anyone. Now he had to either layoff their highest paid hourly (me) or 2 other people. Knowing that the two other people had families and were the sole bread winners, I let him off the hook. The day after Thanksgiving there was a big, sad party where we all said our goodbyes and I received my last real paycheck.
Now God said, “What’s your excuse, Marion?” That night I called Margo and the next Monday I started being a sponge at Windridge. I spent 5 days a week there for 9 months.
My Pastor says, “God calls and sends He also sustains.” My Grandpa used to say “God moves mountains, but He expects you to bring a shovel.” I think they’re both right.
The cost of living for families is high. Throw in a disability and maintaining a decent quality of life makes that cost skyrocket. It’s not just the staggering medical expenses either. Think about all the little things you may have to constantly replace because your child with Autism or Bi-polar disorder keeps breaking them through no fault of their own. Like the metal handle that flushes the toilet, or what about having to drive a gas guzzler because the wheelchair won’t fit in a compact car.
99% of therapeutic riding centers nationwide are nonprofit, because most insurance companies don’t pay and most of these families simply cannot afford the additional expense, Shadow Ranch will NOT turn anyone away because they can’t afford to pay, not now, not ever, “it’s a God thing.” That means we had to become a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, another hurdle.
This hurdle was a mountain known as the IRS. The application itself is over 30 pages and if you don’t answer each question precisely, it can take months or even years to get approval. Pam and I downloaded the application, said a prayer and started working on it. I even had a lay minister pray with me. The first thing we had to do was create the Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws, get board approval and send them to the state for certification. We got that accomplished then started answering questions. Over the next few weeks, while waiting for the state certification, we answered the questions, and then put it aside. The next weekend we looked it over again, made some changes, and then put it aside again. We took it to the board for them to review, then to a CPA to check the numbers and made adjustments. When the certifications were in, we looked it over one more time, said another prayer then sent it in the mail. The IRS charges $750 for this process and the check must be mailed with the application. When they receive the check, they send you notification of receipt and the waiting game begins. 2 weeks later, we received a letter from the IRS. To our amazement, God had moved this mountain! It was our tax exemption letter received in 14 days. That’s unheard of! The IRS? Fourteen days? Tell me that wasn’t God!
After that everything was starting to fall in place and I finished being a sponge. God softened the heart of someone who was dead set against leasing and allowed us to begin operations on leased property while we tried to raise funds to purchase.
We began operations on May 18, 2010. Our first rider was a young man who had just had a cancerous brain tumor removed. He regained his ability to walk in a barn with the help of a horse named Bronson. When his doctor proclaimed him cancer free, the second call his mother made was to Shadow Ranch. Austin still rides with us; he ends each class by doing a victory lap with his arms stretched toward heaven while standing in his stirrups.
We have grown from 5 riders in our pilot program to 17 in this summer session. This year we also began offering a type of counseling called Equine-assisted Psychotherapy that utilizes human - animal interaction without actually riding. Non-violent offenders can work off their community service hours here and many keep coming back as volunteers. All told, we affect the lives of over 30 families in this community every week in a positive way, God’s way. God teaches us with a gentle nudge through love and faith.
The first 2 years our budget was less than $25,000 a year; as we grow so must our budget. In our third year and with the purchasing of the property we’re currently leasing and having to hire 2 part time instructors, our budget was less than $60,000 for the year. Now in our forth year, with a couple more horses and a total of 5 part-time employees our budget is around $125,000. Who says you have to be rich to make a difference in people’s lives?
It has been hard and we have had to give up a lot. We’ve shed blood, sweat and tears. We’ve withstood record breaking cold and snow as well as a historical drought and heat without monetary pay. However, the joy we have shared is priceless. Not long ago, a 6 foot tall burly man came to the ranch, and asked me what we had done to his son. I admit I was a little nervous at first. When he told me his son’s name, I saw the tears in his eyes and I knew what he was talking about. A little over a year ago, his son came to us as a troubled young man to work out community service. He was taking a scary path, failing in school and getting involved with a local gang and drugs. After working with us and taking part in some of our classes he had turned his life around. We were invited to sit with his family during his son’s graduation this year. What kind of value can you place on that? We thank God for guiding and teaching us the value of working under the shadow of the cross.
Marion J. Cox
Executive Director and Co-Founder
Shadow Ranch Therapeutic Riding Center, Inc