I am thankful

A horse named Mouse

Written by Julie Schillings | Photography Provided by Jennifer Gatre

Gratitude flows freely during good times, and sentiments are frequently shared around the Thanksgiving dinner table. The truth is, gratefulness can be transformational during life’s challenges as well. Meet a girl, a horse named Mouse and witness an unconventional love story.

Ten years ago Karla Switzer was a 15-year-old teenager living at Rainbow Ranch in Augusta, Kansas with her adoptive parents, Jeff and Robin, and 15 children. Karla was seeking a purpose, and a horse named Mouse desperately needed a home. Karla bought the six-year-old wild and very pregnant mare for $10 from a Kansas kill pen. Together they would change each other’s lives.

Living at 80-acre Rainbow Ranch with her twin brother, Karla was a former foster child and one of 15 adopted children who were home-schooled and taught the value of faith and family in a loving, structured setting. Daily chores, Bible studies and school work were the cornerstones of the family’s schedule. The children fed the horses, buffalo and other livestock as a part of their daily contributions.

Karla found a kindred spirit in her adopted horse and dedicated nearly every free moment to learning about Mouse. Since the age of 18, Karla has made horse training her full-time job. As a student Karla has studied a wide range of equestrian disciplines including reining, Roman riding, ranch horse, trick riding, colt starting and liberty. Liberty is one of the only equestrian arts where the horse can choose to leave. It requires a love and trust that is rarely experienced between horses and humans.

Karla believes that horses found the best in her and focuses on bringing out the best in them. "My philosophy of horsemanship comes from learning all I can from as many sources as I can,” said Karla, “Ultimately, I filter all of the knowledge through one question: Is it best for the horse?"

Now, married and living in the heart of horse country, Lexington, Kentucky, Karla has fulfilled her dream of becoming a full-time horse trainer. She works with colts, shows reining and ranch horses and performs as a trick rider at events across the country. An award winning equestrian, Karla has studied from the country’s leading trainers.

Attitude of gratitude

“I am thankful for so, so much,” Karla shared. “First, I am thankful that God gave me the opportunity to be adopted. Who knew that an unwanted child was capable of living such a wonderful life? God did!”

Karla credits her family for their love and support, “I can’t imagine growing up without my mom and dad loving me the way they do.” Finally, Karla expressed gratitude for the day that her beloved horse, Mouse, came into her life and eventually launched her career.

Pay it forward

Karla, Mouse and a team of entertainers are coming to Wichita for four exclusive performances at the Kansas Star Arena Nov. 27–29. “Celebrate! A Christmas Thrill Show” features world-class aerialists, stunts on horseback and a live Nativity scene. More than 30 animals will entertain families and share the magic of Christmas.

Performing across the country, Karla recognized the opportunity to utilize her talents to support families in the Wichita area, and the concept of creating a special show was launched as fundraiser for Make Life Better Together Foundation.

Modeled after Rainbow Ranch’s homestead environment, Make Life Better Together Foundation will fund Hope Grown Ranch a new residential ranch for youth who are aging out of the foster care system. Founder Stacy Gash recognized an opportunity to collaborate with local experts to meet a need for at-risk teens. Residents will have access to an online school to finish their GED, and they will build a toolbox filled with business training, work skills and income-generating projects grown from seed to shelf.

Scheduled to open in January 2021 on the former site of Rainbow Ranch, Hope Grown Ranch will also offer retreats for families where they can reconnect through outdoor activities at the ranch. A key program at the ranch will include brain mapping for the participants, allowing an individual to identify their strengths and deficiencies. Stacy is excited to bring together a host of local talents. “With a collaborative force, experts in equine therapy and brain balance will all come together at Hope Grown Ranch to serve the physical, social and emotional needs of our residents and guests,” explained Stacy.

Stacy’s introduction to the complexities of the brain began when her husband had a near fatal car accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury. The techniques of brain integration therapy implemented by professionals gave her family much needed hope.

Equine therapy is another valuable tool for residents at Hope Grown Ranch. “Spending time with horses has a calming effect,” explained Stacy, “Research proves that touching a horse absorbs sadness and soothes fears.”

Stacy shared that Hope Grown Ranch will be a place where people can heal through experiences and brain balance while avoiding the dangers of commonly prescribed opioids.

When Karla learned about the mission of Hope Grown Ranch, she was eager to participate in a fundraiser. Show producer Jennifer Gatrel said, “Karla’s real life story is one of faith, love and perseverance. When things are most difficult is when Karla finds her strength.”

Count your blessings

“God has allowed me to touch the lives of others through my training and friendships,” said Karla. “My story proves to never underestimate the impact that one unwanted or unplanned baby can have in this world.”

Celebrate! A Christmas Thrill Show

Kansas Star Arena
Nov. 27–29
Benefitting Make Life Better Together Foundation
Tickets available online kansasstarcasino.com/events

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