"I would like to add a note about SD as her trainer. When she first came to me about riding horses, I asked her if she had any prior experience in riding horses. “Oh yes”, was her answer. Her grandfather had horses and she rode them sometimes. Well, when she began coming the first thing we talked about was safety, how to properly halter a horse, how the stalls were to be cleaned and other small but important training techniques. Finally the day came when we were training on how to mount a horse. When she got in the saddle, she was scared, but she had the desire to overcome and rode the horse around the round pen. Today, you would never know she was the same girl. She has learned to take control of herself and the horse. She is developing into quite the young lady. She likes to help work with the new girls that become involved in the Whispering Canyons horsemanship training. Through her experiences she is becoming quite a young leader. I expect she will go a long way in showmanship and showing horses in other events. I enjoy working with her, what a winning desire she has developed from the shy standoffish little girl that she once was."


- Merrill Gould (Trainer)


"R has a mild case of Tourrette's Syndrome and ADD. This program is helping her to focus and pay attention better than she ever has before, because she has to in order to keep riding. My daughter also has a social anxiety disorder, but she is learning how to overcome that as well because of Merrill's program. She has to speak up and talk to the girls, Merrill, Steve, and the trainers in order to ask questions and find out what she needs to do. I am looking forward to seeing what the future holds for my daughter as a result of this program and am eternally grateful for finding it."


- Angela (R's mom)


"MJ became involved with Whispering Canyons about a year and a half ago and during that time she has experienced many life changing benefits. Her study habits have improved and her self-esteem has increased allowing her to talk to people more freely. Another thing that has changed in her is that she is happy and willing to do her chores at home because she has learned that she can and should be a big part of things in the world, like a family and society. Whispering Canyons teaches the girls that they need to all look out for each other and help each other while they care for the horses, clean the stalls, and happily encourage each other in their efforts to learn more about horsemanship. Training with Merrill, the other trainers, and the other girls, has been a challenging and inspiring thing in her life. As a parent, I can see that the influence of Whispering Canyons is something that would be hard to acquire anywhere else and the things she has learned during her time at the Foundation will be carried with here throughout her lifetime. She is reaching her potential with the help of the Foundation and we are so grateful for the sacrifices of time and money that trainers and donors make to help these girls become great women. Thank you to all who help make the Whispering Canyons happen."


                                                                                                            -Amy (MJ's mom)


Daily regimen: groom, feed, muck stall, ride, ride, ride. While it might sound like a dude ranch, this is the routine a select group of local teenage girls take part in daily. These girls are part of Whispering Canyons Foundation, a local nonprofit established to make a difference in the lives of young women.
On a recent afternoon several teen girls and their horses circle the pasture, an older gentleman walks around working with each of them on different horsemanship skillsMerrill Gould, or Grandpa as the girls sometimes affectionately refer to him, is the head trainer and president of Whispering Canyons Foundation. The program helps under-privileged teenage girls learn horsemanship skills and in turn provides the participants an opportunity to develop personal and life skills that will benefit them as they grow.  
The teens who participate in Gould’s program have varying challenges such as social issues with peers, struggles with family interactions, and problems with their school studies. As they begin to develop relationships with their horses, the other girls and Gould, improvements are seen in many different areas of their lives. Merrill has seen these improvements first hand “as one girl begins to create confidence,” he explains, “she begins to socialize with the other girls, forming bonds and that in turn, starts social skills. Then along comes improvement in school and grades, taking more responsibility at home as well as opening up the channels of communication with family members and others.  In our case this all begins with a horse and something to love and bond with.”
One of the goals the girls work towards is preparing to compete in upcoming horse shows and participate in training camps.  With events such as dressage, barrel racing, pole bending, western pleasure, and trail, the girls are always learning and working towards something. The Golden Hoofbeats, the 4-H club associated with the foundation, gives the girls opportunities to ride on Wednesday nights at the Cache County fairgrounds with other horse clubs as well as work with other trainers or instructors that the county horse council brings in. Merrill feels that more exposure to different teaching techniques helps the girls grow in their horsemanship skills and their horses to learn as well.  
When asked why Gould would take the time to mentor these girls, he notes that the change he sees in the girls is incredible. “It is interesting to watch the girls change, all because they have a horse to bond with. In our program, a girl is assigned a horse and that horse is like it is her own.” Responsibility is something that is heavily stressed in the program, Merrill explains, “each girl knows that on a daily basis she needs to clean its stall, groom, feed, and ride thus doing all the things as if it was her very own.  This creates responsibility and helps their confidence which leads to emotional growth.”
Gould, 72, of Logan, has always had an interest in horses. Over the years and into retirement his love of horses grew as did the number of horses in his care.  What started almost six years ago with a teenage girl wanting to learn how to ride a horse has now developed into a growing program that serves underprivileged teens.
The goal of Whispering Canyons Foundation is to teach teens not only how to ride horses but also to help them build strong moral principles. Merrill is pleased with the direction that the foundation is headed and even more pleased in the girls who are a part of Whispering Canyons. “Sometimes I think things are going slow, but then something or somebody confirms what I have been teaching them, I see the light switch come on and know that I can continue to the next phase with teaching.  I'm here to help these girls and their horses reach their potential and be prepared to cope with problems and life.”






A typical day at Whispering Canyons includes a group of lively pre-teen and teenage girls heading to a ranch west of Logan after school to clean out the stalls, brush down horses and saddle up for horsemanship lessons provided by foundation president and head trainer Merrill Gould.


Gould started giving Western horsemanship lessons five years ago to a friend’s daughter when he saw that she needed “something more in her life,” according to his wife, Sharon Gould. The girl helped take care of Merrill’s horses, and he saw the impact it made in her life. Soon, she was bringing a few friends along for lessons, and it eventually turned into Whispering Canyons, a program designed to help girls who are troubled or underprivileged.


“He’s got a heart of gold, he really does,” said Lindy Hochstettler, whose daughter Autumn recently joined.


Each girl is given a horse to take care of. They come every day after school and on Saturdays. The horsemanship lessons, often geared toward 4-H competitions, build their confidence and patience, Hochstettler said. Training also helps those who are shy to be more social. Additionally, Merrill teaches the girls life lessons.

“What we try to do here is start out with very small principles because it’s the little things that get involved with the big things,” Merrill said.


Hochstettler said her daughter Autumn is happier and has something to look forward to every day now that she’s in the program. Autumn was never into sports or clubs, but loves animals and especially horses. When they looked into joining a 4-H horse club, they were dismayed to find out they had to own a horse, which was beyond their financial capability.


The 4-H office recommended Lindy call Merrill to see if he had room for Autumn in his program. Since then, Autumn and her horse have bonded and Autumn looks forward to going to the ranch each day.


The connection between the horses and the girls is something to see, Lindy

 said. “They’re really bonded to them. When the girls walk in, their ears perk up. It’s really cute.”


The girls are often so dedicated that they can be seen walking down the road to the ranch even during school vacations, said Heather Burt, a board member whose daughter also is part of the program.


“They love it, that’s the thing,” Burt said.


The foundation requires parents and the girls to sign paperwork to commit to the program, but some girls do drop out when they get older and develop other interests, Burt said.


Most people hear about the foundation by word of mouth, according to Burt. The board has to be selective when taking applications to ensure the girls with the greatest need that can handle the program are chosen. The foundation takes girls from many different situations, such as those who are in broken homes or just cannot afford to own a horse. There is currently a wait list to get in.


The foundation can only take as many girls as it can provide horses for, according to Amy Coppieters, the foundation’s treasurer. Her daughter is also a program participant. Some people have donated horses, but the board often discovers donated horses are not suited for the program. Whispering Canyons is not a horse rescue, she added.


However, the program still relies heavily on community support, Coppieters said. Without donations of volunteer time, money and supplies, the foundation would not be what it is today, nor what it hopes to continue to be in the future, she said.

The program attracts volunteers from the community and USU and accepts those of all skill levels, Coppieters said. The parents try to get involved with they can, and a number of them are now on the board of directors.


Steve Bowen, the foundation’s vice president, became involved because he lives down the street from where the program used to be housed. He has always loved horses but never owned one, and when he found he had spare time, he started helping Merrill.

“I have seen a big change in the girls in the two-and-a-half years since I’ve been in this program,” Bowen said.


Recently, Whispering Canyons became a 501c nonprofit to qualify for grants and make it easier to raise money, Coppieters said. Merrill and the board members contribute as much of their own resources as they are able to ensure the girls do not have to pay if they are unable and can continue doing what they love.


Print | Sitemap

© Whispering Canyons
1015 S 1000 W, Logan, UT 84321