Rehabilitated horses help children overcome trauma at Juan Diez Rancheros in Davenport

Published: Jul. 11, 2019 at 9:19 PM CDT
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Intuition is a whisper that requires listening with every bit of your being.

“When I was four I climbed up over a fence and grabbed the horse and smiled like I had zero fear. There was a connection because innately I just understood what a prey animal needed to feel safe and what I could do to be sensitive to the fact that their body language and their eyes are communicating,” says founder of

She keeps a framed photo of that very moment in her office at the ranch.

While many of us are taught to quiet that whisper. Michelle Allison choose to hone hers.

“Most people just have them (horses) do whatever they want and I'm saying hey let’s do this as a partnership,” says Allison.

Since the age of ten she says she's been acquiring horses others didn't want.

“Some of them came from situations where they were malnutrition and there were sicknesses and they were struggling, physically and mentally. And some came and it was all mental, startled easily, and anxious, easily startled, just really having difficulty staying calm,” says Allison.

And she says people would give them their horses because the horses weren’t responding the way they wanted.

“So I got these horses for free and worked with them and learned through their behavior how to make them feel safe again in a relationship with people and (then) find homes for them,” says Allison.

She did this for herself while working in marketing, but all that changed when she heard a story about equine therapy on the radio.

Allison says she heard about a place in Oregon that was using rehabilitated horses to help children work through trauma. Allison quit her high paying job to do the same thing here in the Quad Cities for children in the area.

“There’s tapestry going on behind the scenes for every single person. And if we don’t say yes to the part we play, we don't get to be that intersection where someone get to have a chance at hope for the rest of their lives,” says Allison.

And that’s why she launched Juan Diez Rancheros ten years ago. Children are referred to her and she works alongside a counselor to help the children through their trauma.

In the most severe cases “not only (are the children) nonverbal but they're completely unable to have contact with any other living creature. They're so afraid of the consequence of connection so by working with horses that were the same way. I know the tiny steps it can take to learn how to trust their fear and conquer and control it rather than let it control them,” says Allison.

The kids are encouraged to interact with the horses, not to ride them. And she waits for moments or body language, or intuition.

“In that moment they saw how their thoughts affected that horse and it changed when their thoughts changed,” says Allison.

The child’s counselor will take the child to the side to make sure they are able to internalize the connection that was just made. Allison says a connection is usually made within five sessions. She also limits the number of sessions per child to five because she runs the ranch completely by herself, and doing so allows her to “see more kids and get more in rotation.”

The program is completely free to children and Allison says she’s helped more than 500 kids in a decade. But the ranch is not free to run.

“I make less than 300 dollars a week, so it has to be a passion,” says Allison.

Juan Diez Rancheros relies on the community to serve the children in the area.