Barbara Knudsen had a dream more than 25 years ago involving a horse, disabled rider, and the healing that took place partnering with a horse. She moved to Beavercreek in 1999 to start a horse therapy program. “It was a dream I’d had since I was in my 20s. Loved Beavercreek, the name, the location and the charm,” said Barb. With childhood memories of the horse that helped her, she began a life journey toward the creation of the place we call Big Star Ranch.
For several years, she volunteered in therapeutic riding programs watching in amazement as disabled children took their first steps after riding, children with autism spoke their first words, and children with cerebral palsy giggled while their trusty horse was trotting them around the arena. Barbara found horses could provide another form of therapy, the kind that helps to heal a broken heart. With that in mind, she set out to find a way to provide a different kind of therapy program: the kind that would benefit the hearts of both the humans and the horses. “This is what Big Star Ranch is all about. Working with horses, learning their language and developing a relationship through mutual respect and trust can enrich the life of anyone,” she said.
Big Star Ranch was founded in 2007 offering special horse experiences to children and adults who have experienced trauma, have behavioral challenges, and/or are in the foster care program. Her specially trained herd of “horse therapists” help students overcome their grief, face their fears, build self-confidence, learn to trust, foster a sense of responsibility and develop problem solving skills. She started with four therapy horses/ponies and a handful of students. “A therapy horse is a very special animal,” said Barb. “They need to be patient and kind, slow to react yet responsive. We have an amazing herd of horses at Big Star Ranch. Each horse has had special training and each one has their own story and history. Their training and history have molded their unique personalities over time and instilled them with the gifts for working with our students.”
Big Star works with families who need relationship healing, and reunification. Sessions are private and drop-ins are not allowed. Parents of all kinds – from grandparents and single parents to foster parents – have learned from the HEART series (Human/Equine Awareness and Relationship Training) where they incorporate “Collaborative Problem Solving” techniques with the horse experiences. Students are encouraged to get to know each horse as an individual, and learn to be safe among the herd. By learning the language of the horse, the students become more aware of what’s going on around them and how they affect others.
The ranch achieved nonprofit status in 2009, which allowed Big Star to grow with donations from the community to support students who could not afford services, and helped Big Star grow its herd, as well. Today Big Star is home to eight horses – Jasmine, May, Sierra, Sir Lancelot, Molly, Zena, Buddy and Sondance – who help students on a journey toward reaching their potential. Barbara is Certified Horsemanship instructor, belongs to the Clackamas Youth Service Provider Network and American Quarter Horse Association, and is currently in process of becoming Eagala certified as an Equine Specialist.
She welcomes opportunities to collaborate with other local vendors, service providers, local churches, mental health professionals, and other agencies to find ways to help children who could benefit from this service.