Sexual Abuse and the Story of DJ

Sexual Abuse and the story of DJ is part of a series of videos. Visit our YouTube Channel for more in this series: OXBOW ACADEMY YOUTUBE. Please call us on our new phone number: 855-676-4272

Many of our young men who come to Oxbow Academy have been sexually abused or have experienced sexual trauma. The story of DJ, our rescued horse closely parallels the recovery and healing process that many of the boys experience as they progress through treatment at Oxbow. Our specialized approach to helping boys heal who struggle with sexual issues is demonstrated here using Equine Therapy.
When Brita led the horse out of the trailer I was astounded. I had never seen such a weak, mangy looking animal in my life. I couldn’t believe the horse was able to stand on his own.  His ribs stuck out and his coat was in patches. There were scars all over his body.

“He actually looks better today,” Brita said. “We’ve spent the weekend giving him hay and grass and his belly’s a little rounder.” I wondered how a horse could possibly look worse.

Brita and Tony North are the equine directors at Oxbow Academy, a residential treatment center for teen boys who struggled with sexual abuse, sexual trauma, or sexual addictions. The Norths answered an ad for a horse that “needed a little work.” What they found was a horse that was practically starving. Born in a freezing Utah December, the horse was orphaned at four months. Since then it had been abused and neglected, pushed away from food and water by the other horses in the herd. Brita worried that if they agreed to take the animal it would die during the three hour drive back to Oxbow.  Tony was skeptical the poor horse could be rehabilitated.  By the time the three of them arrived back at Oxbow, the Norths had come up with a plan.

In the treatment team meeting Brita told her colleagues about the animal’s history and noted, “He’s got a lot in common with some of our boys. What we if we gave them a chance to help him recover?”

Todd Spaulding and Gregg Lott, Oxbow therapists, were immediately on board. Both had students they felt could benefit from the rehabilitation project.

And so, on a sunny summer morning, the wobbly, weak horse moves slowly toward the Oxbow corral. I am pretty sure the horse will fall over dead on the spot. Brita is slow and gentle. Every move is deliberate because, as she says, “I really don’t know what to expect from him. Everything is new to him.”

In a few minutes Gregg and Todd, along with students David and James, arrive. Todd has explained a little about the horse to the boys on the drive over. I think even they are surprised at how bad the horse looks. They begin very carefully brushing the horse. He’s never seen or felt a brush. His hide is raw in some places, scarred in others, and somewhat normal looking in still others. There are some spots he simply will not allow anyone to touch.

Brtia tries to coax him to take a few bites from a bucket filled with a special mix of vitamin enriched grain.  He needs the extra nutrition to begin to heal.  But the grain holds no appeal for him. He doesn’t know what it is.  Instead, he’s eyeing the weeds that ring the round corral. It’s all he’s ever known.

David and James, both adopted, have decided the horse needs a name. What was his old name? It doesn’t matter, they decide. His new name will be “DJ,” in honor of both of them. He looks pretty bad, Todd notes. That doesn’t matter either, they say. He’s their horse now. They love him. Todd and Gregg begin turning the conversation to talk of the boys’ own abuse. They talk about their adoptions and how much their adoptive mothers love them.  They talk about scars and healing. They talk about reaching out and taking the help that’s being offered to them – the bucket of grain in their own lives.

More than an hour later the boys are headed back to the dorms with plans of what they’ll need to do next to help DJ gain strength. I am headed to the car wondering how a beat up paint horse could have that much effect on two teenaged boys.  There are no guarantees any of them will be able to overcome their pasts. But all of them are worth the try.

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