Bethany’s Gait Ranch fosters relationships and healing between horses and military, veterans, and first responders and their families
By Hilary Dartt
After 15 years, Cristi Rose is still blown away by the way horses and humans can help each other like no one else can.
“I had to learn to get out of the horses’ way. They have a sixth sense about when someone is hurting.”
Through her organization, Bethany’s Gait Ranch, a 501(c)3 non-profit, Cristi rescues horses and then brings them together with active duty and reserve military, veterans, first responders (including law enforcement, firefighters, medical personnel, pastors and clergy), and their families.
The goal: to foster “a bond that can’t be replicated anywhere,” one that provides healing for the animals and the people.
How it started
Cristi grew up around horses. When she was a child, her rodeo cowboy uncle spoiled her with lots of horse time during summers. In the early 90s, Cristi, a single mom at the time, was volunteering at a youth ranch when she met Bethany, a five-year-old foster child.
“She and I just really bonded,” Cristi said. “God put it on my heart. I knew someday I would create a program that was all about kids.”
Shortly after that, she met and married, Hoke, a Marine Corps Lt. Colonel. A year later, they decided it was time to start a program for foster children like Bethany. Over time, the program evolved: in 2011, Cristi and Hoke added an equine facilitated learning program specifically for military and veterans. Hoke retired in 2012, and in 2013, they moved to the Prescott area and began serving first responders as well.
Bethany’s Gait Ranch a 5.5-acre ranch in Chino Valley. It’s home to 10 horses total, 7 of them rescues, two goats, and four dogs. The property comprises a main pasture (where the herd turns out during the day), a roping-sized arena, a barn, and a “goatel.”
“We’re as much about the horses as we are about the people,” said Cristi.
The horses Cristi and Hoke rescue come to stay for life, and receive all the individualized care they need.
The program’s evolution
Although Bethany’s Gait Ranch originally offered Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (in which a therapist would join the session), Cristi said clients said they didn’t want the therapy part of it … “they just wanted to come be with the horses.”
With that in mind, Cristi and two partners created a unique coaching method, Equine Facilitated Coaching & Wellness (EFCW), which focuses on equine communication and natural horsemanship techniques.
“It allows the horse to do the work,” Cristi explained.
How it works: Using a blend of horse communication techniques and herd dynamics, EFCW strengthens families and teams, builds strong leaderships skills, promotes healthy boundaries and demonstrates how healthy relationships work.
Bethany’s Gait Ranch offers two programs:
The Mustang to Wrangler Program, for children and adults. During each eight-week session, a participant (the mustang) is matched with a mentor (the wrangler—typically a first responder, veteran, or local horse person) and a horse. The wrangler teaches the mustang “horsemanship from the ground up.”
“They come out at the end knowing how to take care of a horse,” Cristi said, “and what happens in the process is that they create a bond with the horse and the mentor. It has amazing therapeutic value.”
Mustangs also create bonds with other participants of the program, with whom they have something in common, being from first-responder and military/veteran households.
Resilience Unleashed, a three-day retreat for active duty/reserve military, veterans, and first responders. Combining equine-assisted learning with classroom time and recreational activities, the program aims to provide attendees with tools and a support network to be more resilient and a better husband, father, and/or co-worker.
A new focus
In 2016, Cristi’s best friend Delissa was shot and killed by her combat veteran husband. Again, God gave Cristi a message: to give meaning to Delissa’s death.
She launched Lissa’s Legacy, a program to provide resources to the wives of military members, veterans, and first responders, to give them what they need to support their husbands while ensuring the well-being of themselves and their children.
“I have such a passion for this,” Cristi said. “Especially for the wives, because I’ve lived that.”
Lissa’s Legacy includes several programs:
In-Person Retreats. Lissa’s Legacy offers two types of three-day retreats: Altogether Beautiful retreats and annual conferences for wives (to help wives better understand their husbands while ensuring their well-being and that of their children), and Beautiful Resilience marriage retreats, to help couples reconnect and strengthen their relationships.
Online Programs. Accessible to women all over the world (which is particularly important for the wives of active-duty military personnel who move often), online programs include weekly Bible Study and a quarterly Coffee, Chat & Learn.
Learn more at https://bethanysgait.org/our-programs/.
Soon, Cristi said, Bethany’s Gait and Lissa’s Legacy will offer additional programs for veterans and first responders, headed up by a Navy veteran who recently joined the team.
Making a difference
“Seeing how, when horses and clients come together, the difference they make for each other,” Cristi said, is especially fulfilling. So is hearing from past clients, who share with Cristi what a difference Bethany’s Gait made in their lives.
As a military wife herself, Cristi said, she feels like she’s living her purpose: “I get as much out of this as any of the clients.”
Learn more at https://bethanysgait.org.