CHEYENNE RIVER RESERVATION, S.D. - Christian Widow has adopted a wild horse and will train that horse as part of a program at his school designed to provide youth with direction and responsibility in their lives.
Christian, a sophomore at Takini School on the Cheyenne River Reservation, and nine other students will work with wild horses - animals that have had little or no contact with people.
''I like working with them [horses]; they are very neat, a neat creature. When I'm working with them, it's like I'm in a different place. It's just me and the horse, the whole time,'' Christian said.
Takini School is located in an isolated area of the Cheyenne River Reservation and there is little for young people to occupy themselves with.
Ten wild horses were acquired by Takini School - part of a wild herd that is on the Cheyenne River Reservation - but have outgrown the pastures and are in jeopardy of starvation. The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe tried to acquire more land, but the deals fell through. As a result, most of the wild horses are now up for adoption.
Ted Knife Jr., CRST council representative for District 2, said that Takini School was the first to acquire wild horses. Other reservation districts have expressed a desire to adopt some horses as well.
The horses, descendants of the original herds brought to this country by the Spanish, were acquired from the Virginia Range in Nevada in 2001.
The original 82 head grew to a herd of 300, much larger than the pasture could sustain.
The 10 horses adopted by Takini School are yearlings and will require a lot of groundwork before anyone can ride them. Knife said Phillip Whiteman Jr., Northern Cheyenne, will work with the students and horses to teach them the traditional methods of training horses and to use a method Whiteman has developed, the medicine wheel model to natural horsemanship.
''I don't know a lot about it, but I do know how horses think now. I know that they think, not about talking, but with sign and body language,'' Christian said of Whiteman's approach.
The purpose of matching kids to horses is to turn them away from drugs, alcohol and other self-destructive behaviors, and provide them something to do outside of school that will help develop responsibility and direction.
''I hope to use Phillip's program across the reservation. I use his method on my own children,'' Knife said.
When the students finish the school year with ground training for their horse, the horse will be theirs. They are not expected to ride the yearling this year, but the horse will be trained and the students will learn to communicate with horses and people. They'll also learn about themselves.
In one training session, Whiteman told the students that what they learn from the horses can be translated to everyday life; it can be applied to the classroom, social life, on the athletic courts and fields and with their families.
Whiteman tells his students that the horse is a circular thinker, as are American Indian people, and that the horse will look for the center of the circle to balance himself. He said the students will learn how to balance themselves from that circle.
''This will teach us patience and responsibility, and how to be focused,'' said Kiko Mendoza, a junior at Takini School who is in the program.
Mendoza has been riding since he was 3 years old.
Taten Charging Cloud also has a wild horse to train. He said he has been riding a few years, but had never ridden a mustang. Charging Cloud has one horse at home that is trained to ride.
''I have learned how to communicate with horses, and with other people,'' Charging Cloud said.
Both young men said they hoped that more students would get involved with the program because it will give kids something to do on weekends and after school so they will not get into trouble.
The Takini program was started with 10 horses; but someday, Doug Widow, drug and alcohol counselor for Takini School, said it could grow to 40 or 50. He said a survey of students showed interest in this program.
''The reason why the horsemanship is a success is that a lot of young people who are growing up have no direction; the horses will give them an opportunity to find a direction,'' Widow said.
Christian Widow, a bull rider in high school rodeo, said that someday he wants to ride bulls professionally and also wants to be a motivational speaker.
''It [the horse] could help a lot, especially guys my age who are into drugs and gang banging. It's affecting the little guys. Some kids see me working with horses and now they are dressing cowboy.
''It makes me feel good about myself, at least those little guys will have a chance at life in a positive way,'' Christian said.
Takini School is asking for donations of hay or money to buy hay for the horses that are in dire need of food. Hay is at a premium in the Plains, where drought has reduced the hay crops for a number of years. To donate to the program, call Doug Widow at (605) 538-4399, ext. 234.