"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)
BY, LISA STEWART
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.