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Horses provide therapy for troubled youth
First Published Jun 13 2013 07:51 pm • Last Updated Jun 13 2013 07:54 pm

GOODING, Idaho » Jordan Oneida Orozco slowly approached the horse warming itself in the late afternoon sun, its head hung low, eyes draped by long lashes. He started to slip a purple rope halter over its nose, but the horse turned away and the rope went limp.

Jordan might not have known it, but this simple task revealed a great deal to trained observers. Did he ask for help? Do family members try to fix his problem? If so, what were the dynamics?

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This was the first of his 16 sessions with Idaho Horse Therapy Inc.

Jordan smiled shyly and fiddled with the rope, not quite making sense of the loops, before equine specialist Johnny Urrutia stepped in to lend advice.

"He was really worried and scared," Urrutia later noted. "He was afraid of making a mistake. He asked, ‘Is it going to hurt?’ He was already planning on getting hurt."

On paper, the 13-year-old appeared to be a violent, troubled child: On probation a second time, now with three charges and one pending. Hospitalized twice and medicated since age 5. In counseling for years.

"I’ve literally tried everything," said his mother, Lacey Oneida, from classes for parents with angry children and those with mental illnesses to reading "The Explosive Child."

"I did everything that people suggested to me. I literally took everything from him, including his clothes, his bed ... he had to earn it back. Four months ago, he got (accused of) attempted arson, and I took everything away."

Nothing worked until Jordan started weekly visits to Urrutia’s ranch between Gooding and Shoshone.

Equine therapy is the best thing that has happened to him, Oneida said, largely because he is with a positive male role model.

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Urrutia "treats him like a human, like a little man. He lets Jordan find the solution and doesn’t tell him, ‘That’s wrong.’"

When Jordan complained that his arm was tired from holding the rope, Urrutia had him do 10 pushups before each session to build his strength.

When the boy wouldn’t make eye contact while Urrutia was explaining something, Urrutia stopped talking until he did.

And for an hour or so each week over the past five months, Jordan not only learned how to work and care for a horse, but also got to interact with a good man and gain confidence in equine therapy and in himself.


In the arena, Jordan was quiet and timid, even when the horse wouldn’t back up because it had fallen asleep. It might have been because his trigger points hadn’t been pushed yet or because rather than being corrected, he was guided by Urrutia’s gentle voice.

"Where are you looking?" Urrutia asked, leaning against a green gate.

Jordan’s goal was to get the horse to walk backwards to the rear of the barn. He applied a little pressure to the halter, pushing forward slightly with his left leg, and the horse stepped back.

"There you go, you’re doing good, relaxing, keep it right there," Urrutia said. "Nice you’re recognizing that he’s starting to move. Keep focused."

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