Wild Souls Ranch

Show Date: 
Friday, September 22, 2023

[The following is a machine-derived transcript that has been lightly edited for clarity.]

Chessy Jones: Hi, I'm Chessy Jones, a social worker at Wild Souls Ranch. Let me show you around the ranch... 

…We'll start here. This is the round pen, where we conduct many of our sessions. Then we have the arena. Over here is another session space for obstacle courses, trotting, or loping, and these are two of our main spaces.

…This is Colton, our pig. He really enjoys snacks and receives them from the garden, a favorite activity for some of our clients. Colton has strong opinions and doesn't like to be moved or told what to do.

Keith Flamer: I understand.

Chessy Jones: Yes, indeed. He knows the snack times too, as if he has a built-in clock. He'll show up at certain session times, like he's aware it's 4:00, time to visit the gardens. 

Now, let's head into the barn. We use it for accommodating injured or special attention-needing horses.

This barn offers a social space, allowing horses to see everyone. While we keep our herd on the smaller side we avoid overworking any of our horses since they, too, need breaks. Sometimes our equine specialists advocate for the horses, ensuring they're not burnt out, and if they are, we give them some time off. Horses also get their downtime, as they do a lot for our youth.Tom Jackson: I'm guessing feed and veterinary services are provided somehow. Where do you dispose of all that manure?

Chessy Jones: We have a designated area out front for the community to pick up compost. Some people come by for their gardens.

Tom Jackson: You probably didn't know, but we both have horses.

Chessy Jones: Oh, really? That’s so cool! Yeah? That's the logistics of horse care. You wonder, "How do you do that?" At one point, we even had someone assess our soil to see what minerals our horses need support with. 

Alright, let's move into the barn.

…This is the barn. When our youth arrive, they come straight in. We offer them a snack and a drink, we do a check-in, and see how they're feeling that day. There's also a kitten...

Tom Jackson: Oh, yes, sleeping.

Chessy Jones: Yeah, that's Frank. This is where we keep our head stalls, saddles, and pads.

Tom Jackson: I suppose quite a few people donate saddles and things, and then you refurbish them?

Chessy Jones: Yes, that's correct. Most of our saddles were bought, and we recently ensured we had a saddle for each horse. We buy them and, if they no longer fit our herd, we resell them. We have one horse without a saddle because he's too round. We use a vaulting saddle on him. 

We don't always ride in our sessions; sometimes we focus on groundwork, art, or emotional processing.

Keith Flamer: Yeah, that makes sense.

Chessy Jones: They're excellent at revealing our stories. Now, let's move to the manger. This is our wall of boots. Many of our kids come straight from school, so we often offer them a pair of boots if they need one. Dusting the boots is a common chore for the kids, promoting responsibility and ownership of the space.

Keith Flamer: Can I bring my boots over?

Chessy Jones: No, you can't, but I can recommend some good leather cleaner!

Keith Flamer: Alright!

Tom Jackson: I bet your Marine boots are shiny.

Keith Flamer: That's a good impression to have. [laughter]

Chessy Jones: And now, this is the manger. We have the mares on one side and the gentlemen on the other. It's a great space for horses to hang out when they first arrive and a great way to get to know them.

If you'd like, I could introduce you to some of the horses.

Keith Flamer: We'd love that!

Chessy Jones: Great. Let's start with Juniper. She's experienced in therapeutic learning and really connects with the kids. She requires clear communication and can be quite animated. 

Next, meet Jolene or Jojo. She's one of our newer session horses, and integrating her into the herd took some time.

Keith Flamer: I imagine you bring in horses with trust issues regarding humans.

Chessy Jones: Indeed. Like the kids, our horses have their own stories and histories. Some have experienced trauma themselves. 

Meet Goose, who's given birth to Addy recently. Goose also performs tricks with the kids, boosting their confidence.

Keith Flamer: This is wonderful.

Chessy Jones: And this is Tuff, our oldest program horse. He's incredibly gentle and works well with anyone who's scared of horses. He's bombproof.

Keith Flamer: He seems like a gentle soul.

Chessy Jones: He is. And finally, here's Jesse. He's a quarter horse. He's a little sassy but very expressive. He has a lot to say. He and Juniper are like our power couple.

Keith Flamer: Oh, wow.

Chessy Jones: So, those are some of our horses.

Keith Flamer: This has been an incredible experience, Chessy. Thanks for showing us around.

Chessy Jones: You're welcome. It's great to have you here and to share the ranch with you.

[music interlude]

So we facilitate equine-assisted learning. Equine-assisted learning is a therapeutic way of learning about yourself through horses, a way of healing. The horses create this beautiful space for people to explore their own stories. Horses will reflect your emotions back to you. Essentially, you can't fool a horse, so if you're calm, the horse will reflect being calm back to you.

If you're dysregulated, even if you're hiding it really well, you can't hide it from a horse. So the horse just demands transparency. There's just a way where people are always putting our human emotions and our stories onto the horses. It's just something that people just naturally do. You don't really have to teach it. So in that way, we can explore people's stories.

Chessy Jones: That can feel a little less personal maybe, and you learn ways to heal through that.

Keith Flamer: Actually, you just answered my question, okay? Because I was about to ask - why horses? Yeah, I think we know the answer, but…

Chessy Jones: Horses, they're big, so that can be intimidating to some people, but they're prey animals. So horses speak fluently in energy. They can feel your energy. They can actually feel your heartbeat from eight feet away. They will read energy and heartbeats to kind of know if, like, ‘Are you going to attack me or are you safe?’ So if you want to interact with a horse, you need to be able to be safe around them if you want to be able to access them.

And that is all due to the fact that they're prey animals.

Tom Jackson: How did you learn that?

Chessy Jones: Well, I grew up riding horses, but as a kid it just felt natural. As an adult, I came back to riding horses and I was actually, like, really scared. I just remember like, ‘Oh, this is like one thing I can't fake my way through.’ Like the horse is not going to tolerate….  I can tell that I'm really nervous on the inside.

And so I kept riding, but I was really nervous. And then I was working in different mental health backgrounds and I've learned a lot more about horses since working here.

Keith Flamer: I'm a parent, and I wish I knew what Wild Souls was when my kids were smaller. Well, how do parents find out about you and how do parents access what you give?

Chessy Jones: Well, we have a really amazing social media presence, and that's a really great place to start, as well as our website. Our website will have directions on how to access our services or how to make contact. We have a really small waitlist right now that we move through pretty quickly, and that's how we're able to start kids with services.

But if anybody has any questions about it, I would suggest going to either our Instagram, our Facebook, or our website. 

So during a session, sessions are typically one hour and they start with the kid walking into the barn, and we offer them a snack, and we sit down and we do a check-in and then we do about 15 minutes of a chore, and that so that they can get back to the ranch and it helps them feel responsibility and ownership over the space.

And then we'll move into our horse activity. And our horse activity could be on the ground doing groundwork. It could be in the barn, it could be on horseback. And that's where the real meat of our session is. And then at the end, we usually offer one more snack and do a check-out and see if they want to talk about anything that happened with the horses.

And that's what a typical session is like.

Keith Flamer: So an hour, 2 hours, an hour and a half?

Chessy Jones: Typically, it's one hour. And typically, the kids either come once a week or once every other week.

Keith Flamer: How many kids do you think come in annually?

Chessy Jones: Annually? I think currently we see about 50 kids a month right now. 

The one kid that stands out, she's been coming to the ranch for like over a year. She was working a lot on finding her voice and her confidence and self-worth. And she just like when she first started coming here, she's really quiet. She didn’ty really respond to questions.

She was really shut down, just really spaced out, you'd kind of like wave your hand in front of her face, like, ‘Hey, you know, you there?”, you know? And then fast forward six months later and you're asking her to wait their ‘talking turn’, you know, like with peers. So it's just really cool to see her find her voice.

Keith Flamer: You know, what's wonderful about our conversation is we can tell that this is not just a job for you, right? This is a big part of who you are. So we appreciate you sharing that.

Chessy Jones: Yeah, totally. Thank you.

Tom Jackson: Talking about our clients and things that occur on the ranch - let's share a little bit more about what a typical client might look like.

Chessy Jones: So we serve at-risk youth. We serve children in the foster system and we serve adoptive youth. Really, the only criteria for our clients is that your youth has experienced trauma, and we have different programs that we take kids through. We offer Wraparound services, which serve adopted youth who are potentially at risk of losing placement. And then we also have a general program where we serve the community.

A lot of our clients in that category are just clients who have experienced trauma, and then we have contracts with different entities in the county as well.

Keith Flamer: So what do you mean by having the services that are Wraparound? What does that mean?

Chessy Jones: ‘Wraparound services’is a federally funded program that serves children who are adopted out of the foster system with multiple diagnoses. Essentially, it's money that helps fund and support these children because a lot of these children were really hard to place because of complex trauma and they're multiple diagnoses. So we come in and we utilize the wraparound services or we utilize the wrap funding, and we wrap the family and we have a contracted team of therapists. MFT is occupational therapists that support the family outside of the ranch, and then we support the family with our equine sessions as well as transportation, and then plugging the family into natural supports in the community.

Keith Flamer: So to tell us the stories of your volunteers or your or the other folks that work here.

Chessy Jones: I feel like everybody kind of has their own epic story of how they stumbled upon this place. For me, I found out about Wild Souls Ranch long before I ever worked here and like I was interested in it for my son. And that's how I first heard about it. And I was brought here by a contracted worker who's a mom friend of mine that I met when my son was little.

One of our really awesome social workers. She started working here as a volunteer when she was really young. I think she was like 17, and she just found out about the mission and was just really passionate and offered to volunteer and then she just like, never quit. Like she was just always kind of like worked her way up to a social work position and she's gone to school while she's worked here.

And I think she's been here for seven years. So she's just really dedicated to it.

[gnawing sounds]

Tom Jackson: Disco’s chewing on the leash… while while Disco Chews on release, we're with Chessy Jones here at Wild Souls Ranch and yes, Disco is chewing on the leash.

Chessy Jones: And so it's a brand new leash, too!

Tom Jackson: $15 down the tube…

Chessy Jones: Yeah, $6. Winco!

Keith Flamer: But it sounds as though the folks that work here are just like you in terms of having a passion for what you're doing.

Chessy Jones: Yeah. 

Keith Flamer: Everybody says it's just not a job. It's something else.

Chessy Jones: Yeah, everybody that works here either came to it because they were passionate about horses or came to it because they were passionate about working with at risk youth. So I think everybody here is an advocate, whether they first became an advocate for horses or first became an advocate for youth. So yeah.

Tom Jackson: You were talking about the things that you do with the clients. How do you know you've made a difference? What do you see from day one with a client to win? Well, months later or years later, how do you know you're making that difference?

Chessy Jones: That is so hard to figure out. Actually, we've attempted ways to measure it. Each client, when they come to work with us, their caretaker and sometimes them and us, we sit down and we do an intake and we go through their history and we set some goals. Usually it's about like 3 to 4 goals for each kid and their goals, like emotional regulation or frustration tolerance or self-worth and confidence.

And so those goals are what govern our sessions here. And those like a difference in those goals is how we kind of measure if we made a difference or not. Watching a kid find their voice after being like quiet for a long time, or maybe a kid who's able to advocate for themselves for the first time, like even if it's like, ‘No, I don't want to ride that horse’. Or like, ‘No, I don't want like the orange crayon’. It can be really small. But this is a safe space to explore that.

Tom Jackson: It definitely feels that way. We also noticed, Keith and I, as we walked around because we have horses, as you know, all the other animals that happen to be here on the ranch. Can you tell a little story about, one, the animals that are on the ranch? And there's one really particular one that just seems to do whatever he wants to do whenever and wherever he wants to do it.

Chessy Jones: Oh, I think you’re talking about Colton.

Keith Flamer: Colton? Yeah, that's it!

Chessy Jones:Colton is our he was supposed to be like a mini pig. And as you guys, well.

Keith Flamer: He's no longer mini!

Chessy Jones: He's very much not Mini! And he was actually bought with the intention of making him, like a therapy pig that could like go and visit people and, like, bring joy, but turns out he does not like going anywhere. He does not go in cars. Well, he screams the whole time if you try to pick him up or if you put him in a kennel and try to wheel it anywhere.

So that was a no-go. Colton used to have a best friend named Dandy The Sheep and Dandy was really timid and scared of the children, so it wasn't really a good fit. So Dandy is now in a herd with other sheep and Colton just walks around and does his own thing. We have to keep a gate on the garden because if Colton gets into the garden, he will eat literally everything in the garden and he will dig up everything.

And then he has like these special little relationships with some of the children that come. And there's one child in particular who loves to make him snacks and Colton knows what time of the week that child comes. And he's always in the barn waiting for him, waiting for his snack. And it brings this child a lot of joy too.

Keith Flamer: Of course.

Chessy Jones: Colton has a neighbor friend who, every morning, Colton goes down to the fence down here by our pasture, and the neighbor friend comes over and slips some some garden snacks over the fence for him. So now Colton hangs out in that spot all day. Very hopefully.

Keith Flamer: And you also have other animals here.

Chessy Jones: We do. We have four goats. We have Rupert and Muffin and then Karen and Kevin. Karen is the littlest girl and she has a very large social bubble space. And Muffin and Rupert have no social or no bubble. They will be right in your space. But they're a fun way for kids to learn to because a lot of kids really relate with Karen and her.

And also too, like some of the kids who are scared of the horses, the goats can be a really good since they’re smaller. And you know, they are friendly and curious and it's also another chore for the kids to help take care of the help take care of the goats to use.

Keith Flamer: You also have some donkeys.

Chessy Jones: Oh, we do. We have Merle Haggard and Dolly Parton.

Keith Flamer: How did you come up with those names?

Chessy Jones: I wasn't there for the process. Well, Dolly got named Dolly because we already had Merle, and she just felt like a Dolly. And then Merle has a best friend horse named Canté and they hang out together all the time. But Merle is like a really charismatic donkey, and everybody really likes Merle. So Dolly has to be with Merle.

The horse has to be with Merle. Sometimes Pony the Pony has to be with Merle. So he's just kind of got Mayor Energy, you know? And he's also one of the creatures that, if a kid's scared of a horse, they could start with Merle because he's really curious. He's sweet, he's much smaller. And then Merle has a cart that he pulls too.

Keith Flamer: I saw him when I was coming in. 

Chessy Jones: So and sometimes you'll see us at events with Merle and his cart, and we'll offer cart rides to the community in exchange for donations, or just in a way to kind of get our name out there. So Merle is a bit of a celebrity here in Fortuna. [laughter]

Tom Jackson: I forgot to ask, how many horses do you have?

Chessy Jones: I believe we have 17 horses or 17 equine.

Tom Jackson: We probably shouldn’t use up all the radio time naming them all.

Chessy Jones: Yeah. We didn’t even get to half of them, too!

Tom Jackson: Name one or two with the most personality.

Chessy Jones: Canté is my heart horse and Canté has a lot of personality. He's thoughtful, he's emotional, he's kind of reserved. He works really well with kids that are on the spectrum. He is just like, absolutely amazing at meeting them where they're at. He has very little expectation of anybody, but he is really sensitive.

Tom Jackson: Just like Keith Flamer. [laughs]

Keith Flamer: Very sensitive. Yes, I yeah, I know.

Tom Jackson: I couldn’t pass that up and hopefully that gets edited out. [laughter]

Keith Flamer: Actually, I want to keep that!

Chessy Jones: Another horse with a big personality would be Tinder Tinder has a really big personality. 

He's one of our younger horses. He's beautiful and he's red and he's very curious and I kind of describe him as like a lap dog. He wants to be right in your space and so he is a horse that we will use when we're working on frustration tolerance if we want to, like, get a kid good and mad. And so then we'll put them in with Tinder, because Tinder is not going to move anywhere unless you really mean it. Like if you want him to move around or you want him to get out of your space, you have to really believe it. 

I had a session with him once and he was just like, ‘I don't believe you’! I was just so upset with him - I still am lowkey a little upset with him. But yeah, you have to really mean it. So he has a really big personality and he's also a mouth scientist, so he’s the one who will take that your hat off of your head while you're walking by. Oh, and I have to follow up with one more to Tuff.

Chessy Jones: There’s Mac, he's our Palomino horse. He loves coffee.

Keith Flamer: Coffee?

Chessy Jones: Yes.

Keith Flamer: Would you say that one more time?

Chessy Jones: Coffee with sugar in it, yeah.

Keith Flamer: Now that's more like me. Yeah.

Chessy Jones: Obviously, we don't give our horses caffeine or offer them coffee, but there's been quite a few times where Mac stuck his head over people's shoulders and drank out of their coffee cup when they weren't looking real.

Keith Flamer: Oh, that's wonderful.

Chessy Jones: And when I first started here, I would spill coffee on myself all the time. And so I think I smelled like coffee a lot. And stuff was really nice to me. And I think that had a lot to do with that.

Keith Flamer: Great story.

Tom Jackson: Chessy, as I sit here and I look out the window, it is clear to me that this place not only has a spirituality to it, but a calmness, a gentleness - and I can see why Wild Souls Ranch is so important to the kids that you serve. I see the success and the role that you play in most of that.

And so on behalf of Keith and I thank you, Chessy Jones,  social worker at Wild Souls Ranch, thank you very much. Thanks for your time.

Keith Flamer: I so enjoyed our conversation.

Chessy Jones: Oh, this was really nice!