By Jack McNeel -- Today correspondent
ARAPAHO, Wyo. - Stanford Addison is a Northern Arapaho with a remarkable story of overcoming tremendous obstacles and having a strong commitment to help young people needing direction.
Addison has created the Heyteyneytah Project, a program on the Wind River Reservation that works with troubled youth to promote respect between all beings. He uses horses to help in the recovery of self-esteem and self-confidence for these young people, most of which come from broken homes or from various institutions and reform schools.
Addison has been around horses all his life and has ''gentled down'' horses most of his adult life for others in order to fund his home and project and keep the kids going. What is most remarkable is that he does this from a wheelchair, the result of an accident 28 years ago that broke his neck and caused permanent paralysis. He remembers that day clearly, of looking up and seeing a herd of horses in the road. ''We couldn't miss them,'' he said. ''No one else was hurt but they found me under the truck. They jacked it up and I was going to slide out, but the jack slipped and the truck fell back down on me. That's when it broke my neck.''
He was able to move on, using his knowledge and incredible instincts and intuition to gentle wild horses. He uses many of those same methods to work with kids through his Heyteyneytah Project.
It's often a matter of working through their emotions. ''What I'm trying to do is [get the kids] to communicate and trust again,'' he said. ''A lot of them are withdrawn. They need to solve the real issue in themselves and work it out. The horse brings it out. When I watch the horse with these boys, it helps to deal with their problems, the situations they've been through in the past. You can't grow if you're holding on to something. I help them let go and talk about it in a way where it isn't going to make them feel bad or make them look bad at their parents.
''I help them deal with those issues to better themselves. We try to break the cycle that got them into the situation they're in and try to show them a more positive way of dealing with hardships. They need to have respect for all living things and other people's personal things, too. They need to respect one another and try to help one another.''
He receives no funding and the accommodations for the kids are meager, but there's always plenty of food, love and direction provided. The kids are there because they want to be, not because they have to be. Many of them are local. Addison commented that it helps the tribes too when the kids come to him because they don't have to send them to a program and pay for the help. Some stay a short while but others remain for many months.
''I take all kids. A kid's a kid. I try to keep it open to whoever needs help. Negative things don't discriminate. They're in every nationality, so I don't discriminate either.'' Last summer, the program had an all-time high of 26 people in the program at one time. Additional bunk space is badly needed, but funds simply haven't allowed it.
Watching him work with horses and kids at the corral soon demonstrated his intuition regarding what each needed. He spoke quietly as he instructed. ''I'm giving him his space to accept me in here. I want him to come to me, to follow me. I want him to relax a little, get a little calm.''
Later, he turned the horse over to Henry, one of the Arapaho boys. ''The one thing you don't want to do is get mad. Don't come in being negative. If you give off good energy, that horse feels it and it responds to it. Just touch is all you're doing. Stay with him, just keep touching. Don't let him take charge.''
Until last year, Addison worked mostly with other people's horses, using his gentling-down technique to develop horses that trust and respect their owners and make good riding horses. That income kept his operation going while his own herd increased. He now has 80 purebred Arabians of his own, which he's in the process of gentling, and he plans to sell some for needed income. ''Right now, I'm horse poor,'' he laughed. ''I've got too many horses to feed.''
Addison's devotion to horses and kids is genuine. He's proof that good can come from tragedy.