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Military Kids Comforted By Rescued Horses In Ramona

10-year-old Annalynn Brooks pets a horse at Blue Apple Ranch in Ramona on Thu...

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Above: 10-year-old Annalynn Brooks pets a horse at Blue Apple Ranch in Ramona on Thursday, June 21, 2018.

Life can be difficult for young students when one of their parents is serving in the military overseas. But on Thursday, a couple dozen military kids spent the day with some special therapists in Ramona: rescued horses.

“I feel like my dad’s here with me because he has always wanted to do things like this,” said 10-year-old Annalynn Brooks. Her dad, Chris Brooks, is in the Navy and has been serving in Iraq for the past three months. Brooks says she’s always wanted to ride a horse, and so has her dad.

“I miss my dad a lot, even though I know he’s going to be home pretty soon,” Brooks said. “We only have about four months left.”

Video by Katie Schoolov

Brooks is going into 5th grade at Hancock Elementary in Tierrasanta. Hancock has one of the highest percentage of military families in San Diego Unified School District. Of the approximately 700 students, staff member Sara Barnes says 96 percent of them are from military families, and about a third have a parent deployed.

“Bringing the students here to the ranch, when they have extra stuff to do that can get them out of the house, where they’re not surrounded by the reminder of the missing parent, it gives them a positive, fun day that they can really enjoy and really make memories with, that makes the deployment cycle positive,” Barnes said.

“When our students’ parents are deployed, we can see changes in them. Sometimes it’s a drop in grades or lower attendance, a change in personality often,” Barnes said.

Much of Hancock Elementary staff know how to spot these warning signs because they’re also from military families. For example, Barnes’ husband is in the Navy. Hancock Elementary has military life counselors and group meetings to help students with deployed parents.

And this year, the Toby Wells YMCA got involved.

“They’ve provided so much to our school. Coming in and reading to the kids, offering programs like this. We had a BMX event that they put on,” Barnes said. “They did a giant turkey dinner for the school. It was one of the best turnouts we had. We probably served 300 families dinner, and they gave them groceries.”

Adrienne Holmes is the executive director of the Toby Wells Foundation, which she helped start in 2001 after the death of her brother. She said the foundation bought Blue Apple Ranch in 2009, to rescue and rehabilitate animals.

Now, Holmes said their 87 rescued horses — and chickens, goats, sheep, steer, dogs and cats - help others in need.

“It’s almost like our rescue animals connect with children in need, and they have that special bond. It’s almost like an emotional therapy. It’s kind of like a therapy dog or other service animal,” Holmes said. “And we’ve seen a lot of emotional benefit in the children, and frankly in the horses as well."

Blue Apple Ranch in Ramona runs field trips like this all summer long, and they do an internship program for foster teens from October to May.

Hancock Elementary’s Barnes said that Thursday’s field trip, the first of its kind for Hancock Elementary students, has been beneficial. The students rotated through four activities: a tractor-pulled wagon ride, making electrolyte-infused popsicles for the horses, designing a hat, and riding the rescued horses.

“Horses are therapeutic. Being around them, they’re just majestic, and it’s calming and it’s fun,” Barnes said. “They’re on the horses riding, and it’s rhythmic and it does, it offers a type of therapy.”

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Grace Barnes and Heidi Bossart snuggle a miniature horse at Blue Apple Ranch in Ramona on Thursday, June 21, 2018.

Barnes works a lot with 10-year-old Brooks because she’ll be on her 5th grade Safety Patrol traffic control team next year. She says Brooks is a star student.

“She’s always pleasant, and lovely and respectful. She comes in and just brightens up your day.”

Barnes met Brooks’ dad right before he deployed.

“Very friendly, wonderful, happy guy. I can see where she gets her personality from.”

For Brooks, the day at Blue Apple Ranch was amazing.

“I’ve never been on a real horse that’s super big like this one, so it was a lot of fun and it was really exciting,” she said. “It keeps your mind off of missing him. And my dad, I know he’s been wanting to ride a horse, so it feels like it’s kind of special that he kind of gets to because he’s so close.”

And the next time they talk on FaceTime, which they do at least once a day, Brooks plans to tell her dad exactly how it feels to ride a horse.

A group of Hancock Elementary School kids got a special treat at summer camp this year: they spent the day with rescued horses at Blue Apple Ranch in Ramona.

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