Farm Horizons, June 2018

‘Hope Rides’ on with mentorship programs for horse and rider

By Nancy Dashwood
Staff Writer

Just as not all learning takes place in a classroom, there is some healing and personal growth that occurs outside of a treatment center.

Hope Rides is a non-profit organization based in Mayer that offers mentoring programs for anyone who has ever wanted to be around horses.

Its mission goes beyond interaction, though.

Vollie Heitkamp, along with her husband, Chris, started the ranch in 2007 with the purpose of providing mentorship opportunities for youth, a home for rescued equine, a chance for communities and families to grow, and ultimately, hope for the future.

Vollie’s love for horses and people goes back as far as she can remember, but it wasn’t until 2006 that she thought about combining the two as a career.

“I have always had a fundamental belief that everyone has gifts and skills, and that part of our human responsibility is to figure out what those gifts and skills are, and to put them to use in the world for a great good purpose,” she stated.

Vollie had been working in the consumer goods industry more than 10 years ago when she felt a stirring in her heart for change, a sensation she credits to being an act of God.

“I began to seek the Lord’s face for what He wanted in my life,” she commented, “and how my life could be used to fully align with His will and to bring glory to Him.”

Change doesn’t come with uncertainty, however; and it was that fear that Vollie had to cast aside.

“Part of what God had to deal with was my heart,” she said, “and helping me grow to a place where my heart was surrendered to Him and fully prepared to walk a new road that would require total submission, faith, trust, and obedience.”

Although Hope Rides is not associated with any particular denomination, the Heitkamps have built the ranch upon Judeo-Christian values, which include demonstrating a humble, active love toward others.

One of the ways it does this is by providing opportunities for growth and healing for individuals who are at-risk, struggling, disadvantaged, or displaced.

“It is a great privilege to be allowed into very personal spaces in people’s lives as they navigate the various trials and tribulations life has to offer,” Vollie noted on her website, adding that she is grateful to be able to serve in this way.

The people who stop in are not the only ones being served, however. Some of the horses at Hope Rides are a rescue mission, with the objective being to care for, “rewire,” and rehabilitate them.

In the same way that these animals came from backgrounds of being unwanted and broken, Vollie said that many of the youth and families who utilize the ranch have also had similar experiences.

Because of this, a special understanding can develop between the two, and at a depth no one else may be able to reach.

“It is through the mutual brokenness that a relationship is born,” Vollie added, “making restoration and healing possible.”

Session Program – hope, healing, encouragement

One of the programs offered at Hope Rides is the Session Program. In thinking about how to best mentor children, the Heitkamps wanted to provide an opportunity where youth can come as they are and experience healing, hope, and encouragement in a safe environment.

Each session is uniquely orchestrated to best fit the child’s needs, which may include crafts, games, working with or riding the horses, doing woodwork, or other activities.

The sessions typically last 90 minutes, with 30 minutes of small-group activities, and 60 minutes of one-on-one time between the child, a Hope Rides leader, and a horse.

“The leaders of Hope Rides work hard to pair kids with an activity or horse that will encourage them forward toward hope and personal growth,” Vollie noted.

There is no cost to participate in the Session Program.

S.H.I.N.E. – Serve Him in Never Ending Eagerness

The Hope Rides S.H.I.N.E. program – Serve Him in Never Ending Eagerness – is geared toward expanding youths’ horse care and barn management skills while experiencing personal growth in relationship to Jesus Christ.

S.H.I.N.E. students, ages 9 to 18, meet weekly. During this time, participants have Biblically-based character and life lesson sessions, and learn the basics of horse anatomy, vet/farrier care, and other skills. The students also learn how to harness their gifts in a way that serves others.

There is no participation fee for this program.

“All of this is tied into developing a deeper understanding of the horse, ourselves, and others, and how it mirrors and reflects [our understanding] with the Lord,” Vollie explained.

H.O.P.E. – Horses Offering Personal Empowerment

Created in order to meet the interest displayed by professional organizations and community groups, the Horses Offering Personal Empowerment (H.O.P.E.) program is an opportunity for adults to interact with horses as they develop personal growth, team building, and leadership skills.

One of the primary ways the horses contribute to this process is by acting as a mirror. They do this by dramatically reacting to the body language of the individual they are interacting with.

“Their unbiased mirror is capable of teaching us a great deal about ourselves, and the effect we have on the communities we live, work, and play in,” Vollie explained.

This program is open to groups, families, and individuals.

For more information about how the H.O.P.E. program works, visit

Private riding lessons and scheduling

Simply want to learn how to ride? Hope Rides offers that, too. Set up as 60-minute private sessions, students learn the basics of proper horsemanship such as tacking and untacking, grooming, and riding.

Lessons are continuous throughout the year, with the goal being to equip riders with the skills needed to ride independently and have an understanding of the mechanics involved.

To inquire about lessons, or any of the other programs offered, visit, email, or call (612)-310-6350.

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