Some readers of this important news story may be aware that not long ago, SkyWatch TV produced a program describing a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to purchase a large trackless train for the Whispering Ponies Ranch (where children rescued from trafficking and other abuses spend the summer in restorative therapy camps). According to the manufacturer, the Walt Disney corporation had paid $250,000.00 to have the train factory-made—including specialized equipment installations meeting wheelchair standards for the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)—only to discover most of their Millennial Generation employees could not drive a standard transmission. So, they quickly traded that train back in for an automatic transmission, which provided a very limited-time opportunity for us to buy the like-new train at a huge discount. We barely got it in time, as other bidders tried to secure the specialty vehicle right out from under us.
Why did we need this train and how will it be used?
Every year, more than 3.2 million children in America are sex-trafficked, abused, abandoned, or neglected. But there is hope for many of these victims through the partnership that Whispering Ponies Ranch (WPR) holds with YOU and the Royal Family Kids Camps (RFKC) and Teen Reach organizations. Since 1985, RFKC has been offering week-long specialized restoration camps and follow-up mentoring specifically designed to restore children of abuse who have become wards of the state. In the past, some kids could not benefit from these special services due to the cost-preventative nature of per-child campgrounds’ expenses. But AT WPR, ALL AMENITIES—from food services and lodging to expert recreational and counseling staff—ARE PROVIDED AT NO COST, which means no child ever has to be turned away. We can only do this because of our supporters, Pony Sponsors, and VIP members (the best people on earth!) who work directly with WPR’s healing ministry by contributing to the operating and construction costs of the retreat facility. This includes the care of these life-changing therapy animals—their foods, veterinary needs, farrier, and more—as well as ongoing construction and maintenance expenses.
As far as how the new Choo-Choo will feature in therapeutic ministry, consider this: Trains play a part in the collective Western culture’s psyche as the icon of yesteryear’s “white picket fence” happiness. From Alvin and the Chipmunks’ Christmas song that petitions for “a train that loops the loop,” to the wooden trains depicted in children’s playrooms in Norman Rockwell-style classic paintings, to nostalgic memories of our ancestors’ travel in the age of Agatha Christie novels: trains “speak to” something deep, beautiful, timeless, and real within this human experience called “life.”
But one area that trains are considered to be infinitely more useful than to merely draw a smile to one’s face is in their therapeutic benefits.
First, they offer the practical purpose of moving kids and counselors from one part of the 280-acre ranch to other areas of the property. Along the way, trains provide a rhythm that appeals to children—especially those diagnosed with autism, learning disabilities, or that have been abused. In a similar vein as a heartbeat noise machine placed in the crib of newborn babies, taking them back to the comfort and security of the womb, the “chugga chugga” tempo of a train on the move reaches deep into the human consciousness, reminding us that even while chaos dominates our environment, something out there is dependably steady.
While speaking of the noise they produce, the squealing screech of train brakes are not as overwhelming or frightening to young people as we might imagine. Quite to the contrary, many children who would otherwise be taken off-guard by a person’s shout, gunfire, the din of a rowdy crowd, or other such examples, there is a deep and intrinsic understanding within most of us that a train means us no personal harm, as long as we stay off the tracks. We see something intimidatingly large headed our way—bigger than a charging bull or the largest tyrant at school—but we don’t fear it intends us personal harm as it can’t leave the pathway its been assigned to. For those youth that have a hard time connecting to fellow humans, a train can hold an almost majestic presence that skids against the rails from far off, alerting us of its arrival, holding to the beat of its engine…
And promising us a destination, if we can only bring ourselves to trust it.
This could be why studies from 2002 and 2007 show that the Thomas the Tank Engine franchise appeals to “many elements autistic people cherish, like predictability, easy differentiation and well-regulated senses.”1 Toddlers and young children who are not on the spectrum are also taken by this Thomas character in ways that are surprisingly related to human relationships.
Another article relates this phenomenon to something ironically similar to what we’ve attempted to do with our miniature horses and zoo-babies at the ranch. As children and teens emerging from abusive situations into the foster care system are visiting our facilities, they find a nonjudgmental, unprejudicial, agenda-free, warm, and loving fuzzy nose belonging to a four-legged and instant friend greeting them straight off the bus. Youngsters don’t need to first ask this therapy pony (or one of WPR’s petting zoo animals) whether it is watching and waiting for the child to make a mistake to “justify” their inflicted hurt or abandonment. (And, as it should be stated on the record, there is no such thing as “justification” behind the abuse or neglect of a human being…ever.) Simply put: A well-trained animal who is used to interacting with youth of all sorts is not even capable of interacting with a human (regardless of age) with the same preconceived prejudice or schemes as another person. Thomas the Tank Engine, as a character and as a concept, produces a similar warmth and security: “Scientists studying cross-cultural communication found that the friendships that occur between the trains [on the show] help to elevate the emotional intelligence of the viewer by showing them a safe representation of this type of [healthy] kinship absent from any societal or cultural imperatives.”2
But, according to health-and-science magazine Fatherly, in an article called, “The Science Behind Kids’ Obsession With Trains: It’s More than Just Thomas the Tank Engine,” it’s not just a cartoon franchise, as the title makes clear. After studying the innate attraction of both children and monkeys in 2014, scientists discovered the universal train “obsession” was related to—of all things—an “evolutionary need.” Playing with trains “helps a child understand…spatial reasoning.”3 In other words, regardless of one’s belief about evolution or Creationism, professionals and experts in the field of human psychological development are becoming increasingly aware that trains (and similar locomotives) are not just a nostalgic nod to some bygone era of travel. Further comprehension of the very universe we live in, how it operates, what occurs in the complicated realms of physics, and what an observer can take away from watching a train function in its own scheduled setting where all movements are predictable—these factors and countless others all play a part in the science behind why trains are a comfort. So true is this statement that multiple counselling and psychiatric health organizations have utilized trains in their own therapeutic tools and/or curriculum—such as the “World of Trains” card deck, advertised by therapeutic resource center, Story and Therapy, to be “a comprehensive guidebook for therapists…designed for facilitating, enriching, and supporting therapeutic work with children in settings of individual therapy, group therapy, and family therapy.”4
Wow. It’s almost as if the very Creator of the universe had something in mind when He inspired this invention through such brilliant minds as Richard Trevithick (who invented the then-modern steam-powered locomotive in the early nineteenth century).
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW VIDEO:
WATCH! THANKS TO THE FRIENDS OF THE CHILDREN—SEE THE THERAPY TRAIN’S MAIDEN DRIVE AT WHISPERING PONIES RANCH!
Okay, some of you may not yet be convinced. We could cite dozens of similar articles on the draw that trains have for the majority of children and the role they have played in healthy emotional, psychological, and mental development throughout time (seriously, look it up; there are plenty)…but without undermining this important aspect, we believe we know what our readers are most interested in hearing, and it is to that focus we now shift. Let me get a little more personal on this using Disneyland as an example.
When a youth boards the Disneyland Railroad (DRR) at the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California, it is for far more than reaching another territory of attractions and rides. Readers who have personally experienced the DRR will recall that it is a ride, and one that reaches the most epic proportions. Though its central purpose is to transport visitors from one “land” to another on the park map to avoid lengthy travel by foot, certain Disneyland attractions are only available through the DRR encounter including: lively animatronics, Native American chiefs on horseback, “rugged landscapes inspired by…the Mississippi, the Columbia, the Missouri and the Rio Grande [rivers]…indigenous rock formations, wildlife and picturesque waterfalls…legendary dioramas of the Grand Canyon and Primeval World—Land of the Dinosaurs, where…thrilling prehistoric…dinosaurs come to life,”5 and many other features.
To give an example of how the DRR outperforms other rides in its vicinity, the average Disneyland, Anaheim ride duration is between one and six minutes long, while the time spent waiting in line in the busier seasons is within the thirty-to-ninety-minute range (not considering more recent attractions that can produce up to two-hour wait times when the crowd bottlenecks at something new). More impressively, the DRR lasts between eighteen and twenty-two minutes (depending on the season and driver) once boarded, while the average wait time is guessed to be thirteen minutes at the entrance gate and only around thirty minutes throughout peak seasons, as its seating compartments can accommodate larger crowds.6
Simply put: “It’s more bang for your buck.”
When the children and teens at Whispering Ponies Ranch board the WPR EXPRESS Train, they will be embarking upon a legitimate, Walt Disney theme park locomotive (as shared on the previous episode of SkyWatch Television below). The ride doesn’t cost a thing; the duration is as lengthy as it needs to be for attendants to grasp the full experience; and there are no waiting lines…ever.
Foster children and teens will never forget their trip through WPR’s own “Disneyland” level railroad experience. Leaving the trauma of their past behind as they hear the friendly “ALL ABOARD!” from their neighborhood train conductor, they will rally at the entrance site of a new Train Station and embark upon a journey through a time of our country’s innocence. Boys and girls will gape out the windows and, instead of viewing Disney’s Land of the Dinosaurs, they will journey through the sights and sounds of the Old West, complete with performance and puppet stages, animatronics, true-to-form tipis built by Native Americans, Oregon Trail-style wagons, blacksmiths, trading post merchants, a Mexican Village, Diamond’s Mine, Gemma’s Exchange (where kids get free inspirational gifts), and many more eye-grabbing characteristics in a setting mirroring early America.
And, best of all, God, Himself, is the main character on this train…
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WATCH ORIGINAL TRAIN BROADCAST HERE!
Previously in this article, we touched on only the tiniest case that could be made for how and why trains can be therapeutic for a person’s psychology and wellness. But apart from what the experts in the field say about these vehicles in general, ours connects on a deeper level than any other, including America’s beloved Thomas the Tank Engine. Our train—within the context of our trust-building ministry that cultivates new, healthy relationships between rescued kids and foster youth, their camp counselors, and our staff—becomes a spiritually therapeutic tool. It doesn’t just promise a new physical destination to another attraction on a park map or merely fascinate. It instills a deep sense of camaraderie amidst its riders that have been developing a close-knit bond since the arrival of our precious guests at the beginning of the week. Far more than the DRR’s “Land of the Dinosaurs,” our trip through the past visually reminds these kiddos of a simpler time in our history, when a sturdy handshake between two “good ol’ boys” was as genuine and binding as any contract today, promises made were promises kept, faith was the transformation of the heart instead of a Sunday-morning meeting, and God was the sole provider of one’s next meal.
Simply put: “It’s more bang for your buck.”
So, you may ask:
Did God inspire the invention of trains?
There’s no doubt in my mind. Let’s give credit where credit is due.
Did God have “therapy” in mind when He did?
Again, there’s no doubt. Expert research shows ample evidence of this as a matter of cold, hard fact—much more than that which we can cover in an article of this size. Yet for all the case studies in relation to this area of fascination, we believe ours will leave an unforgettable, godly impression within the minds of its riders.
Could God use the WPR EXPRESS Train at WPR for such a deep, meaningful, and ministerial purpose?
It’s meat for the soul, yes. Trains represent many things for many people, but the WPR EXPRESS reminds us that God has promised us a destination, if we can only bring ourselves to trust it.
WHAT’S COMING NEXT TO WHISPERING PONIES RANCH, AND HOW CAN YOU BE A PART OF IT?
Now that we have secured the train (the last large piece of equipment WPR needs), we hope to move on to the construction of a Train Station, a mock Train Refueling Depot, and the larger development of Pony Gulch that will include an old-west Church and “Hotel” with VIP housing for additional adult guests (to facilitate cost-free Spring and Fall retreats for adult survivors of trafficking, which will not conflict with our top priority—the summer kids therapy camps) as well as an actual movie set for an original family series comparable to the old Gospel Bill show of the 80s (but without the guns) that we hope to launch in 2024 (more info on this coming soon).
If all goes well this coming year, there will even be a Telegraph Office at the Train Station where a Samuel Morse-type key and ticker-tape will be “clicking” out morse codes the kids will hear. They will then learn that these coded communications are broadcasting special Bible messages over the property, which will blanket the area around the Train Station and Telegraph Office with verses such as Matthew 19:14 “…SUFFER LITTLE CHILDREN TO COME UNTO ME, AND FORBID THEM NOT: FOR OF SUCH IS THE KINGDOM OF GOD” [CLICK BELOW TO HEAR MT. 19:14 IN MORSE CODE].
Finally, as many of you know, we personally have tried to lead by example by pouring our life savings (Tom, Nita, and family) into developing the land, buildings, and provisions to build WPR and to make it available free of cost to save and heal these kids and future adults. This is a need we believe not only to be biblically mandated but the measure by which Jesus Christ is going to judge us all (see Matthew 25:31–46). Yet we are admittedly running low on personal monies, and frankly are at a point now more than ever where we need ministry friends like YOU to help us with finishing and funding the ongoing unique, Gospel-centered works of SkyWatch TV and WPR. If you’ve seen recent headlines, you know that church attendance is dramatically in decline, paganism is growing like wildfire, giving to charities has dwindled, and a full-on assault on traditional and biblical values—which we once taught children—has suddenly risen nationwide. The world has never needed this ministry more than they do now. This is where the VIP FOUNDERS GROUP, PONY SPONORS, and FRIENDS OF THE CHILDREN DONORS comes in, and why I am personally inviting YOU to be part of it.
How does it work?
Every donation of any size for this cause goes 100% to the Whispering Ponies Ranch. And for every person that donates $1,000 or more annually—either by sponsoring a therapy horse or simply donating $1,000 (a one-time donation)—you will also:
- BE COUNTED AMONG THE VIP FOUNDERS GROUP AND RECEIVE A $300.00 VOUCHER TO BE USED IN OUR ONLINE STORE for books, movies and more.
- RECEIVE A PERSONALIZED COPY OF THE UPCOMING MAJOR PRODUCTION DOCUMENTARY “RESCUE US” WHEN IT IS RELEASED EARLY IN 2023.
- AND, WHILE SUPPLIES LAST, we will send you the DELUXE HARDBACK COLLECTOR’S EDITION OF THE DEFENDER BIBLE WITH EXPANDED APOCRYPHA!
- BEST OF ALL: You will know that you are fulfilling the mission of Jesus and healing lives for GOOD!
Whatever you can do to help is meaningful, and we want to thank you, our visionary donors, in advance for bringing this dream into reality and to keeping it moving forward.
So, the final question is: Will you be “ALL ABOARD” in helping us cross the finish line on the final Whispering Ponies Ranch tasks?
We hope and pray that you will, and we thank you in advance for the children!
And with that, it could be the angels will say of YOU, TOO! “Your praying and your giving have come up as a memorial before God” (Acts 10:31). JUST IMAGINE WHAT THAT COULD MEAN FOR YOU!
Your friends in Christ, for His mission,
Tom and Nita Horn
1Ward-Sinclair, James, “Why Do Autistic People Love Trains?” Autistic and Unapologetic, last accessed December 13, 2022, https://autisticandunapologetic.com/2020/02/16/why-do-autistic-people-love-trains/.
2Bowen, Cat, “Choo Choo, Here’s Why Your Kid Absolutely Loses Their Mind At The Sight Of A Train,” Romper, March 25, 2019, last accessed December 13, 2022, https://www.romper.com/p/why-do-toddlers-love-trains-the-science-behind-their-obsession-16981211; emphasis added.
3Oliver, Mark, “The Science Behind Kids’ Obsession With Trains: It’s More than Just Thomas the Tank Engine,” Fatherly, November 30, 2022, last accessed December 13, 2022, https://www.fatherly.com/health/science-kids-train-obsession.
4“World of Trains” resource deck description, Story & Therapy, last accessed December 13, 2022, https://www.storyandtherapy.com/world-of-trains.
5“Disneyland Railroad,” Disneyland Official Website, last accessed December 14, 2022, https://disneyland.disney.go.com/attractions/disneyland/disneyland-railroad/.
6These averages were compiled using information published through both official reporting sites such as Thrill Data as well as unofficial feedback online from patrons visiting the Anaheim location in the past few years. For statistics regarding wait times and ride duration for the Disneyland Railroad as recently as November of 2022, see: “Disneyland Railroad Trends,” Thrill Data, last accessed December 14, 2022, https://www.thrill-data.com/waits/attraction/disneyland/disneylandrailroad/#:~:text=More%20Disneyland%20Railroad%20Graphs&text=This%20graph%20shows%20the%20possible,for%2010%20minutes%20or%20more.