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Coldwater nonprofit gives horses and people a fresh start at life

Coldwater nonprofit gives horses and people a fresh start at life. (WWMT / Franque Thompson)

Horses and people have a second chance at life thanks to the help of a nonprofit in Coldwater.

The Hidden Ponds Horse Rescue offers training to troubled youth, while grooming abused horses back to health.

Jeff Friend, the owner of Hidden Ponds Horse Rescue, started the organization in 2013 with 16 troubled teen boys who were failing school. By taking care of the abused horses, Friend said the group of boys raised their grades and graduated high school.

“The best thing is to watch their grades go up. We’ve seen kids come out of here that are now in the military, we’ve had kids here that are going to college now that would not have,” Friend said.

More than 300 students enrolled in programs at Hidden Ponds last year. One of the students enrolled in all six of the organization’s programs.

Tristan Stockford. 18, said he faced many hardships growing up in Florida and moving to Michigan.

“I was dealing with family problems,” Stockford said. “I was a big problem child. I was really into brawling and fighting, just getting into a bunch of trouble.”

Stockford’s troubled path led him to Hidden Ponds, where the nonprofits motto is, “Where horses and people have a second chance.”

"First thing I thought was ‘Wow, I can actually be around people that are kind of like me. I’m not really an outcast,’” he said.

The organization currently has 16 horses rescued from abusive situations, with the assistance of area Animal Services and Enforcement agencies, Michigan State Police, area Sheriff’s Offices, attorneys and veterinarians. Students groom, ride and train them back to health. Stockford said the programs are helping his personal transformation.

“I’ve gone from what a lot of adults would call a delinquent to a young man,” said Stockford. “Taught me a lot about discipline, treating people right with respect and I actually take those and use them in my daily life.”

“They’ve taken a horse from nothing that was doomed to go to slaughter or die to bring it back to life. At the same time you see their life gained through it. You watch their confidence build,” said Friend.

Along with working with horses, Friend said the programs also include courses on life skills, like respect, loyalty, honor and trust. All six programs are taught in an eight-week session. He said Hidden Ponds also offers opportunities for all people looking for a different form of therapy.

“We had a young girl here three years ago from the Battle Creek area—never spoken a word in her life. The first word she spoke was the word ‘orse’ and by the end of the summer she had a vocabulary of over 70 words,” said Friend.

Hidden Ponds stretches across nearly 80 acres of land, with several trails, three ponds and private picnic areas. The owner is encouraging more parents to join their student during at least one program. He said he would mostly like to see more fathers.

“In three years we’ve seen over 600 kids come through here and we’ve only seen six dads. Most of the time it’s mothers. It’s time das step up to the plate again,” said Friend.

The non-profit is welcoming volunteers and donations as the organization grows with the need. Hidden Ponds is also hosting a fundraiser July 27, featuring national award-winning singer and horseback rider Tommy Brandt.

“If every one of us would just take one day and just help one person then we’ve accomplished more than most.” Friend said.

Hidden Ponds also offers trail rides by appointment. Anyone interested can contact Friend at 517-278-2360 or friendjl@cbpu.com.

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