Alums Become Ranchers to Share God's Love
| by Kristen Johnson firstname.lastname@example.org
Because we serve an endlessly creative God, there are endless ways we can serve Him. Brian and Joy Miller’s service takes place on a ranch.
Brian, who graduated from MNU in 1995, and Joy, a 1999 graduate, own and operate the New Horizon Ranch located about 30 miles south of Olathe in Rantoul, Kansas.
This is not your average ranch, offering riding lessons for all. No, New Horizon Ranch is a therapeutic horseback riding center that offers lessons to anyone with a disability: cognitive, physical, or emotional.
The ranch offers a number of programs including riding and horsemanship, character development and psychotherapy. Aside from riding instructors, they employ a full time licensed teacher and a mental health professional.
The Millers did not begin with a dream to open a therapeutic horse ranch. The decision to open the ranch was a process and a journey, completely orchestrated by God.
While studying at MNU, Joy was positive she was called to missions. In her mind that meant overseas missions. When she and Brian met at MNU, he was not as sure of God’s plan for his life. But the two of them, as a young married couple, sought the Lord and interviewed for an overseas ministry position. Neither one felt God’s peace in that situation.
Around this time they found a piece of property that they sensed God wanted them to buy. It was strange timing since they were going to be missionaries, but they went for it. That was in 1998. Little did they know what God had planned.
In 2000 the couple purchased their first horses. It was at a horse expo shortly after, Joy says, that God revealed His plan. She watched a demonstration of therapeutic riding. She heard a story of a little girl who could not walk, but through hippotherapy (the use of horseback riding as a therapeutic or rehabilitative treatment) the girl was able to do tricks while riding a horse. Joy felt God’s call and knew she wanted to be involved in something similar.
“My heart was pricked. I prayed about it a lot,” Joy reflected If Jesus was here, and had our property, and had these horses, then He would use them to serve ‘the least of these.’”
Brian was not instantly on board. He thought Joy had told him a great story, but he just hadn’t experienced God’s call yet. That would come a little later.
A friend of Brian’s asked if he would help lead some horses for some kids with disabilities. Brian agreed, thinking he was just going to help lead a short pony ride. He noticed a 12-year-old girl off by herself. She seemed to be in her own world, making strange gestures and noises. Brian thought, “There is no way she will ride. This will not be safe; this is crazy.” But they put the girl on a horse and immediately, her gesturing and her noises stopped. Her body went still. They asked the girl if she could pet her horse. Brian watched her little hand tremble as she reached out to pet the horse’s neck. He saw her sunglasses slide down her face, and noticed tears streaming down her cheeks.
“From that point in time, after witnessing it myself and hearing about it from Joy, I was really convinced. I wanted something to do with that. That was my buy-in!” Brian explained.
It turned out God did want the Millers to be missionaries. He just wanted them to stay in Kansas, right where He planted them.
On a daily basis, the couple and their two children, Sarah (15) and Stetson (10), tend 26 horses. During the day, they host some veteran and senior citizen riders, as well as youth from special agencies like Kids TLC in Olathe. In the afternoon they offer riding lessons for students with disabilities.
One major goal of the ranch is to promote the independence of each rider. Each student plays a role in saddling and grooming their horse, eventually learning to get the horse ready by themselves.
“We push the riders to their most independent points,” Joy says. “They experience that responsibility which carries over into so many other areas of life.”
Each summer the ranch also offers riding camps for children of all ages and abilities. The goal of these camps is to promote teamwork, build confidence and self-esteem, as well as to teach horseback riding.
Since New Horizon’s opening in 2007, the Millers have run the ranch, offering lessons only from March till November because of winter weather. But all that is about to change. God gave the Millers a dream for more. An indoor arena is currently being built with the help of major donations. This facility will allow the ministry to continue all year-long
“In the past, we’ve had to cancel about 35% of our activities based on weather,” Brian says. “Cancelling often affects our budget, but it also affects the learning of our kids. Missing a lesson causes them to regress. Plus, the new arena will allow us to expand into different areas of service.”
The work of God has been so evident in the lives of Brian and Joy and in the operation of New Horizon Ranch. From the improvements in the lives of clients to God’s hand in the fundraising and finances, the stories are many and miraculous. Like Betsy, a rider’s mom who says her son, once fearful of animals, is now calm around the horses. She calls the ranch a haven. Then there is the rider who says the ranch has totally changed her life and that now she is completing her dreams.
The couple credits MNU with planting and nurturing the seeds for a life of service.
“To learn, to serve, to be---that’s who we are now,” stated Joy as she echoed the MNU motto. “My professors guided me into putting aside a ‘professional career’ and to begin thinking, ‘maybe we’re not called to the normal life.”
Joy said she will always remember her global missions class which helped her become more people-oriented rather than project-oriented. For Brian, it was on an MNU mission trip to Albania that he heard the voice of God telling him, “This is how you love people. That is your job.”
With God’s guidance, the two have found a way to use their unique gifts, their time and their home to serve Him. It is their job, their life and their calling.