Laurel Whitford, LMHCt, NCC, MSEd

I have had the opportunity to witness the healing process that Juan Diez Rancheros(JDR) has to offer. I have actively utilized the services at JDR since July of this year. During the biweekly sessions held at Juan Diez Rancheros, I was able see the therapeutic relationship between my client and a horse that has fostered an opportunity for personal growth.

This horse ranch allows for clients who may have internal or external roadblocks to connect with a horse on a deep emotional, mental, physical and spiritual level and begin to shift or erase those roadblocks from their path. With the help of Michele, myself as a therapist and a very wise horse, my client was guided through an equine therapy process that helped reflect her true intentions and feelings. This horse ranch allows for clients to begin or continue to find meaning especially clients who are having or have had difficulty expressing themselves in one on one sessions, are trying to navigate their way in life, are having difficulty connecting to others or may be feeling stuck in life. The horses helped my client tangibly connect feelings with consequences and to set boundaries in a safe and healthy environment.

Without JDR, my client, her family and I may have still feel stuck and frustrated in our therapeutic journey. I will continue to utilize the services JDR has to offer for many years to come!


I want to thank you for all of the positive changes I have seen in Logan since he began meeting with you and Fancy. I have noticed increased confidence and assertiveness in him. He is speaking up when before he would have stayed silent in social situations and interactions with peers.

Others have noticed as well from his daycare provider to neighbors. My once passive and cautious child is now more engaged and stepping outside of his comfort zone. He looks forward to his days at Juan Diez Rancheros, thank you for all that you do!!!


I am Stacy Willet a graduate student at Western Illinois University (WIU).
Completing my last year in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program. I have held many positions working with children since completing my undergrad at WIU in Social Work back in 2008. When I first brought one of the children I was working with to Juan Diez Rancheros, I was not sure what to expect.

To fast forward to the ending result I could not help but to just stand there in amazement as to what I saw unfold over the 5 sessions with Michelle and the horses. The lessons that the children would take away from their experiences at Juan Diez Rancheros are the same concepts that I would work with them on, except this time around it would hit a whole different level of "ahhh ahh moments" for the children. It's like you saw when the light bulb would go off for them and you realize they aren't only listening to what the horses and Michelle would be teaching them but the children would internalize it and "just get it".

As a future therapist, it gave me a whole different level of groundwork to start with that would take maybe months for the child to internalize the understanding or connection of something. I 100% believe this service is overlooked and not appreciated as much as it should be. The best part, as Michelle usually talks about, is that it is the children coming to their own conclusion and nobody is forcing it upon them. Being able to be a part of the experience with a few of the children I have brought to Juan Diez Rancheros is a true blessing and one of the best things I have ever witnessed. I have a true passion in helping children and this is by far an amazing opportunity for children to learn things about themselves that no human being could get them to understand at the level the horses do.


I am a psychotherapist in private practice in Rock Island, IL. I referred two pre-teen sisters who had been coming to my office for around 2 years since disclosing that their brother had sexually abused them for services at Juan Diaz Rancheros. Though they had made lots of progress, they both seemed stuck with different internal and relationship issues. One had a lot of anxiety, and the other's anger often got her into trouble.

When they arrived for their first session with Michele, she explained the whole process to us and their mother, and how a lot of the work would be internal-about what they discovered about themselves and new ways of being. She said the horses would tune into their inner experience and respond to that, and Michele could interpret what the horses were "saying."

My role would be just to watch and not to interact during sessions, then to be available to process the sessions and what they might mean to the girls' lives during counseling sessions in my office on opposite weeks. Then the girls met several horses and chose the horse they felt most connected to. While there were some similarities in the activities Michele engaged the girls in with their horses (separately), it was clear that she was very perceptive of the horses' responses to the girls and in turn, the girls themselves.

She observed and commented on what she saw, and invited the girls to experiment with new ways of being inside themselves that got them the results they were looking for as they tried different ways of working with the horses. It was also clear that the relationship between each girl and her horse developed over the sessions so that they each trusted each other more and themselves, more, too.

Michele was really great at reinforcing for the girls that what they were learning could be used in the rest of their lives; enforcing boundaries, believing in themselves, not fearing failure, and using their internal energy to influence others were amazing lessons that they were not told, but experienced in real time. One more thing I am so grateful for is that Juan Diaz Rancheros provides services free of charge; this family may not have been able to take advantage of this wonderful resource if it had cost money. I sincerely hope that this community will continue to support the magic healing of this place. Thank you Michele, Laverne, and Jesse!

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