Sunday, 23 September 2018

Equines plus kids equals Blazing Hope

Mar/Apr 2018


 

 

 

Mike Howard has a lengthy history of ministry in the Treasure Valley. Now 70, he's serving others through Blazing Hope Youth Family Ranch in Caldwell.

By Gaye Bunderson

Michael Oris Howard has been known during his adult life as Pastor Howard, church leader; Michael Howard, newspaper columnist; and Mike Howard, director of the God and Country Rally in Nampa for 10­12 years. But now, he has a nickname and a ministry he never imagined he'd have: “Mr. Mike” runs the Blazing Hope Youth Family Ranch in Caldwell.

Put him in a corral with a group of horse riding youngsters and despite all the other hats he's worn, Howard looks happy and right at home in his cowboy hat and dusty boots.

As he takes a short break from watching youngsters get on and off gentle horses, he walks up to the corral fence, peers over it, and both asks and answers his own question. “You want to know how did the ranch get started? God did it,” he said.

He explained he went through a personal crisis and found himself starting over financially. For a short time, he left the ministry and started selling cars. At the same time, he took up an interest in horses; he wanted to board horses on a piece of rented property. In about 2004, he got a couple of horses and a couple of volunteer helpers — a Nampa Christian Schools student named Megan and a disabled veteran and close friend, Bob Simmons, both of whom mucked stalls and helped Howard learn all he could about caring for horses.

Word got around about his new endeavor, and before he knew it, he was back in ministry — this time, not behind a pulpit but on a ranch.

“In 2005, a Christian family gave us this property we're on now and invested $275,000,” he said. “They wish to remain anonymous.”

The location of Blazing Hope Youth Family Ranch is 26512 Farmway Road. A small sign hangs near a barn, telling visitors they've arrived, but the sounds of horses and happy young people really announce the spot.

“Pretty much everything is donated. That grass that came today was donated,” Howard said.

All the children ride for free, but donations are accepted.

“I teach the kids how to ride horses, and I teach them the good old American work ethic. They all work,” said Howard, now 70.

Every child who comes out to Blazing Hope is expected to pitch in with chores, from shoveling manure to feeding the horses. One mother put it best. “You wanna ride, you gotta work,” Tanya Nakamura, mother of 9­-year­-old Emily, said.

Nakamura said her daughter feels energized after coming out to Blazing Hope. Both the work and the horseback riding benefit her.

“Emily loves horses, and it steadies her and calms her,” Nakamura said.

Another mom, Julie Hamilton, said her 15-­year­-old daughter Brooke is also blessed by her experiences at Blazing Hope.

“She gets to spend time with the horses, learn how to work hard, and learn how to work with horses and other people,” Hamilton said. “Mike has been a blessing in our life. My daughter has always loved horses. Out here, they not only get to share their love for Christ, but they learn how to care for horses and get riding lessons. It gives them confidence.”

Howard offers a devotion and praise prior to the riding sessions, but the horse riding is open to all children, regardless of religious affiliation.

The roughly 30 horses at Blazing Hope give rides to 3,500 to 4,000 kids a year. The horses are a mix of donated and rescued horses.

Howard tells a story about an appaloosa named Freckles whose owner in Twin Falls wanted to sell her just to get rid of her. One of the members on Blazing Hope's 501(c)(3) nonprofit board, Lauri Simmons (Bob's wife), called the man who bought Freckles — referred to as the “kill man” for taking horses and selling them to animal factories — and asked if she could buy back the appaloosa. He said yes. He paid $200 for Freckles, but offered to sell her to Simmons for $500.

Simmons took the offer and now Freckles is a regular sight in the Blazing Hope corral.

“I had to see if she was a good children's horse, and she's one of the BEST children's horses,”Howard said.

He works with a new horse for 30 days to determine if it will be kid­-friendly.

Howard is originally from Oklahoma, where he did some horse riding, but he got back up to speed on equestrian skills more recently when a friend, Colleen Bennett, a former high school rodeo barrel racer, “refreshed” him on horsemanship skills.

Howard, who was a pastor for 35 years, including a youth pastor, loves what he does and makes sure the volunteers who assist him feel the same passion for the work.

“We love kids,” he said. Some of the volunteers are actually kids themselves who are proficient in equestrian skills, but most of the volunteers are caring adults.

Children who come out to Blazing Hope include homeschooled kids, kids from the Idaho Learning Center that is affiliated with Cole Valley Christian Schools, teens from Boise Rescue Mission, and many others.

Howard gives thanks and credit to everyone involved in making Blazing Hope Youth FamilyRanch the success it is. “I have amazing volunteers. They make it so I can keep doing this,” he said.

Said Hamilton: “He has a passion for it, that's for sure.”

Blazing Hope Youth Family Ranch is open all year long for kids to come ride horses (unless the weather is unusually  severe). For more information, find Blazing Hope on Facebook or join the closed group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/BlazingHopeYouthFamilyRanch/.

 

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