There has been scuttlebutt being spread about the Charity Hill Ranch in Rapids City. There have been individuals who have attacked the owner's character and ethics. What I have heard directly and indirectly has not been my experience.
A mutual connection made aware of Charity Hill Ranch when I told him about Horses and Heroes. He highly recommended Christine O'Connell and the Charity Hill Ranch. He introduced us and we started talking about using Charity Hill Ranch as the primary location for Horses and Heroes.
I found Chris to be an honest and straight forward person. Nearly immediately she told me of the conflict with the woman, who was to be her partner on a larger ranch closer to Traverse City. Chris said that once the new ranch was established, the partner set out to take control. Chris did not give me the details. I didn't need to know and she refused to speak badly of the other woman. She gave me the option of backing out and recommended several other ranches around the state. If Chris had been the person the other woman had claim, she would not have been as forth right, nor would she have given us the option out.
However, the woman's claims were further proven to be false when the international organization Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (P.A.T.H) gave the ranch their highest rating. P.A.T.H. individually visits, tests, and certifies each of their centers. If Charity Hill Ranch hadn't met the below standards, they would not have be Northern Michigan's only Accredited Premier Center.
P.A.T.H. Code of Conduct
1. The member respects the rights, dignity and well-being of all individuals (human and equine) and promotes well-being for all involved.
1.1 The member shall promote a holistic awareness of body, mind and spirit in equine-assisted activities and therapies for all involved.
1.2 The member shall be responsive to, and mutually supportive of, the individuals served, including families, colleagues and associates.
1.3 The member shall respect the unique nature of each individual and shall be tolerant of, and responsive to, differences. The member shall not discriminate based on age, gender, race, nationality, religion, ethnicity, social or economic status, sexual orientation, health condition or disability.
1.4 The member shall follow equal employment opportunity practices in hiring, assigning, promoting, discharging and compensating staff.
1.5 The member shall maintain in professional confidence participant, volunteer and staff information, observations or evaluations and shall adhere to all legal requirements.
1.6 The member, in community settings, shall use caution in forming dual or multiple relationships with participants or former participants where there is a risk of a conflict of interest. The member, in clinical treatment settings, shall avoid dual relationships when possible. In situations where dual relationships are unavoidable, the member shall be responsible for setting clear, appropriate and sensitive boundaries.
1.7 The member will understand the sensitive nature of physical touch and use it with caution.
The member accepts responsibility for the exercise of sound judgment and professional competence.
2.1 The member shall accurately represent his/her level of expertise, experience, education and actual practice and provide service only to those individuals he/she can competently serve.
2.2 The member shall engage in sound business, employment and administrative practices.
2.4 The member shall engage in continued personal growth, continuing relevant education and professional skill development.
2.5 The member shall recognize and take appropriate action to remedy personal problems and limitations that might cause harm to recipients of service, colleagues or others.
2.6 The member shall demonstrate objectivity and fairness by interacting with individuals in an impartial manner.
2.7 The member shall accept responsibility for the exercise of sound judgment when interacting with individuals and animals.
2.8 The member shall demonstrate openness to, and respect for, other colleagues and professionals.
The member shall respect the integrity and well-being of program equines and animals whether owned, leased or borrowed.
3.1 The member shall recognize and respect the individual character, nature and physical attributes of each program equine.
3.2 The member shall encourage safe and respectful human and equine interactions, placing equines in activities suited to their temperament and physical ability.
3.3 The member shall support the highest standard of care, maintenance and selection for each program equine, understanding and responding to the equine's need for socialization, play, turnout, time off and retirement.
3.4 When equines are borrowed or leased, the same high standards of equine respect, care and maintenance apply.
3.5 The member shall cultivate a barn and practice environment that supports personal and professional development and is compliant with PATH Intl. standards.
The member shall be truthful and fair in representing him- or herself and other members or centers.
4.1 The member shall be responsible for providing each participant with accurate information regarding programs, services, professional training and credentials, as well as possible benefits, outcomes, expected activities, risks and limitations of the service or program.
4.2 The member shall meet commitments to participants, colleagues, equines, agencies, the equine-assisted activities and therapies community and the community at large.
4.3 The member shall use the PATH Intl. logo only in accordance with the PATH Intl. brand policy.
The member shall seek to expand his/her knowledge base related to the field of equine-assisted activities and therapies.
5.1 The member shall maintain a high level of professional competence by continued participation in educational activities that enhance basic knowledge and provide new knowledge.
5.2 The member shall support the sharing and dissemination of information, the provision of training and conducting of research for the benefit of the profession.
5.3 The member shall demonstrate commitment to quality assurance. The member in clinical treatment settings shall engage in providing and receiving individual or peer supervision and/or staffing consultation on a regular basis.
The member shall honor all financial commitments to participants, personnel, vendors, donors, PATH Intl. and others.
6.1 The member shall negotiate and clarify the fee structure and payment policy prior to the initiation of service and charge in a responsible and reasonable manner.
6.2 The member shall not misrepresent in any fashion services rendered or products dispensed.
6.3 The member shall be truthful and fair in representing him- or herself in fundraising activities.
6.4 The member shall honor all debt obligations.
6.5 The member shall maintain membership in PATH Intl. and pay the appropriate fee as determined by the Board of Trustees. Instructors shall remain in good standing with the annual compliance process for instructors
The member shall abide by PATH Intl. Standards and Guidelines and all state, local and federal laws.
The member supports PATH Intl. in its efforts to protect participants, equines, the public and the profession from unethical, incompetent or illegal practice.
8.1 The member shall present this PATH Intl. Code of Ethics to all staff and personnel, outlining their collective obligation to support it and address any questions or concerns pertaining to it.
8.2 The member accepts the responsibility to discuss suspect unethical behavior directly with the parties involved and, if unresolved, to report unethical, incompetent or illegal acts to PATH Intl.
The second challenge to Charity Hill Ranch's reputation came from the man who introduced me to Chris O'Connell. The man sent me an email, stating that he had ended his relationship with the ranch. Of course, I wanted to know why and was told that she was demanding money from him. I called Chris. She explained that they had asked him to sign a boarding contract for his four horses. It would protect everyone, including him and his horses. The agreement also stated that he agreed to pay the boarding fees. He refused to sign and they asked him to move his horses. Asking him to pay for the food and shelter of his horses seemed like a logical and reasonable request. I told him to keep me out of it. Their disagrement had nothing to do with me or my project. When I refused to move Horses and Heroes from Charity Hill Ranch to the ranch he was now supporting, which just happened to be Traverse City Ranch that Chris helped create, he became abusive. He contacted our director, Larry Wilcox and told him that Charity Hill Ranch was being closed, because they were neglecting and abusing the horses. He was also very quick to point out here was another ranch available for the documentary. He also pitched his projects to Larry as alternatives to Horses and Heroes.
Shortly after, he filed abuse and neglect charges with the authorities. He made a point to tell me of his actions as if the accusation was proof of guilt. The next day Chris told me that the authorities had inspected the ranch that day and found his charges totally false. In their report, which is public record, they found the horses to be well cared for and the ranch well maintained. We were out there a week to ten days later to film footage for Horses and Heroes. Our footage proves that all the horses, including his, were well cared for. Although horses can lose weight rapidly, it takes much longer for them to gain weight.
He continued to harass me by email and telephone continued until I blocked him on Facebook and threatened to take legal action.
It took him months and a court order for him to move his horses. Common sense states that if he truly thought they were at risk, he would have immediately moved them. But he did not.
I am writing this posting because these events continue to affect both the Charity Hill Ranch and our documentary, Horses and Heroes. The ranch has lost sponsors and donations that the ranch it needs keep their programs affordable. Investors have shied away from Horses and Heroes, because of the location. I am asking that before you accept the message as truth that you look at the messenger and their motives. Ask yourself: Would an internationally known and respected organization that has been around since 1969 risk their reputation for one small ranch? Wouldn't he have immediately removed his horses if they were in danger?
I'm asking those who read this to help both Charity Hill Ranch and our documentary Horses and Heroes. Please don't let these two self serving people hurt those who are trying to help.
Horses and Heroes is not about pointing fingers or creating a political firestorm. It is a documentary, which will help military personnel and veterans find a new way to cope with the physical and emotional challenges brought into their lives by war. Equine Therapy does not involve drugs nor lying on a couch and spilling their guts. What it does do is help them find new ways to see and react to their emotional triggers. It helps their bodies remember how it used to work. It can't replace what was lost, but it can give them the confidence to see that they are more than the sum of their body parts. Horses and Heroes will give veterans and military personnel the information they need to find alternative healing solutions, which can help prevent another Fort Hood.
To learn more about how Horses and Heroes will be helping veterans please visit our website.