By Troy Anderson
Nita Horn has dreamed of horses for as long as she can remember.
She and her sister would play with plastic farm animals when they were girls, and Nita was drawn to the white pony.
“I don’t know how long I’ve had this love in my heart for horses,” says Nita, author of the new book No Fences: It Started with a Plastic Pony and co-founder of the Whispering Ponies Ranch Retreat Center. “It’s just always been there.”
Similarly, Dr. Thomas R. Horn— the international bestselling co-author of Petrus Romanus: The Final Pope is Here, Exo-Vaticana and On the Path of the Immortals – came to understand why God placed a love for horses in his wife’s heart during their years working to transform Oregon’s Camp Davidson into a premier Assemblies of God youth camp.
At the camp, Horn was so inspired by how staff used therapy animals to help abused children that he and his wife decided they wanted to do something similar when they “retired.”
So the Horns – best known for creating the top ranked internet news service Raiders News Update in the late 1980s and recently launching the popular SkyWatch TV television ministry – decided seven years ago to invest their life savings in a 150-acre (now 286 acres!) ranch in Missouri to serve as a healing retreat center and headquarters for SkyWatch TV.
“After watching these little kids get healed (at Camp Davidson), we decided we were going to move somewhere where we could buy land and turn it into a retreat facility,” says Dr. Horn, chief executive officer of SkyWatch TV. “I thought, ‘I’m going to build an enterprise between Defender Publishing, and now Defender Films and SkyWatch TV, which I can take revenue out of to provide a retreat facility for these types of restorative ministries at no cost.”
The ranch and its burgeoning population of miniature horses is a dream come true for Nita.
“I’ve always loved horses, ever since I was a little girl,” Nita says. “When we came here, I invested in a handful of big riding horses. I was with a friend one day and she wanted me to ride her horse. I got on, he bucked me off and I was laid up for six months.
“It scared me bad so I sold all my big horses because I didn’t want anyone in my family to get hurt and I didn’t want to get hurt again because I was in so much pain. In the meantime, we bought a miniature horse for the kids to play with. I discovered along the way that they can pull carts and you can do other things with these little ones so I bought myself a team of miniature horses.”
A Giant Leap of Faith
The opening of the Whispering Ponies Ranch Retreat Center comes as the Horns recently launched SkyWatch TV to share the gospel with millions of people through a “new and unique paradigm in Christian broadcasting,” along with the publication of the first print issue of SkyWatch Magazine. The SkyWatch TV programs are broadcast on the Christian Television Network, PTL Network, DirectTV, DISH Network and a growing number of Christian television networks. The shows are also available on ROKU, YouTube and at www.SkyWatchTV.com.
This “giant leap of faith” involved the purchase of the ranch, construction of a large arena (a commercial training facility that can substitute as a multipurpose building and auditorium) and other facilities, and conversion of a nearby commercial facility into the SkyWatch TV broadcast studio. They’ve also hired additional staff, including SkyWatch TV show host Derek Gilbert and his wife Sharon, and Horn’s co-author Chris Putnam. The ranch also includes horse-driving and riding paths, prayer-walking trails, a large pond where children and adults can fish, and more. In the near future, the Horns plan to put in a swimming pool for guests and a small RV park for volunteer workers at the ranch.
Paul McGuire, an internationally-recognized prophecy expert, Fox News, CNN and History Channel commentator and the co-author of more than two dozen books such as The Babylon Code: Solving the Bible’s Greatest End-Times Mystery and A Prophecy of the Future of America: 2016-2017, said during a tour of the ranch that he was very inspired by the “powerful media operation” of SkyWatch TV and the vision for the Whispering Ponies Ranch Retreat Center.
“We were driving around and (Nita) was sharing with us about her ministry, the Whispering Ponies, and I thought, ‘That’s incredible—horses and healing people and their vision of bringing abused children here for healing,” McGuire said. “I realized this is a husband and wife team—they are still married and still love one another—and that God is using them in slightly different ways. They complement one another, yet they have different burdens and callings.”
A Journey of Healing
The highlight of the ranch is the therapeutic miniature horses that provide children and adults encouragement and inspiration. Nita has embarked on her own journey of healing while caring for the horses. It turns out one of their first miniature horses had suffered abuse at the hands of a previous owner while one of the first horses born at the ranch has only known loving care.
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“When I was looking at them one day, I considered the differences between them,” Nita says, recalling domestic turmoil in her childhood and the tragic death of her father and sister in a car accident in 1971. “This little pony only knew love and this one didn’t, and the difference in the outcome (in their lives) has to do with how much love they are shown and how they receive it. It made me realize … that God has so much that He wants me to know—so much He has for me in my life.
“I’m looking at Tink and I’m like, ‘I just want you to be a little horse. I just want you to enjoy the farm. You’re not going to be hurt. I’m applying all that to myself, except God is speaking to me—the way I would speak to her. How much more does God the Father have for us? It made me realize that … everybody needs that one thing that they are here to do—the purpose that God has put them here for.”
As a result, Nita says Tink has contributed to her own healing “because for some reason that’s the avenue that God chose to speak to me.”
“She has changed my life. So, if she can do that for me, we want to multiply that. My husband is in this with me because we’ve seen the effects it’s had on me and others,” she says.
When completed, the Whispering Ponies Ranch Retreat Center will be a place where children and adults can come at no cost for restorative ministries and where all amenities — from food services and lodging to expert recreational and counseling staff—will be available for free. The Horns envision it as a safe and inspirational environment where people can be restored, or just relax for a few days to get refreshed. Groups will be able to use the facility as well for marriage retreats, writers’ breakaways, youth camps and so on.
The heart and vision for the facility, though, is to “focus mainly on those who have somehow been hurt, abandoned, disabled, or abused,” Dr. Horn says.
“We are so serious about this retreat that we’ve already taken a giant step of faith and hired some of the qualified staff,” Dr. Horn wrote in recent letter to ministry supporters. “We’re even getting specially trained animals that are ‘therapy certified’ and used in this type of ministry. We are praying that others will catch the vision for the retreat center and the scale of the gospel broadcasting media outlet (television, book and print magazine and e-publications, retreat and conference ministries, etc.) … and come forward to help us fund the remaining equipment, building, and additional staff needs.”
God Whispers other Plans
The story behind the vision for the ranch began when Dr. Horn “retired” following a 25-year stint as an Assemblies of God pastor. Thanks to popularity of the Raiders News Network, along with a string of bestselling books, Dr. Horn says he and Nita planned to retire in the early 2000s, but God had other plans.
Assemblies of God officials contacted him, asking whether he would help turn around Camp Davidson, a popular AG youth camp that was in danger of closing following two decades of deferred maintenance.
“Camp Davidson had been their star camping facility,” Dr. Horn says. “They said, ‘It’s going to take a lot of fundraising. We’re going to build a bunch of new facilities, but we believe we can make this a premium youth camp again.’”
Initially, Dr. Horn told them that he wasn’t interested, but a question Nita asked him prompted him to reconsider.
“She said, ‘Do you mean you won’t even pray about it? God has blessed us financially and you could do this,’ So, I was up all night. I couldn’t even sleep—just all night having this Jacob wrestling with God moment. By the next morning, I very grudgingly emailed (them) and said, ‘Look, I don’t want this job. But if you can’t find somebody else then I will help you until can find someone to do it.’ Well, I knew the minute I sent that email that they were going to stop looking.”
During the ensuing seven years, Dr. Horn and Nita worked to help transform the camp. They raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from various foundations. They helped build a large lodge with a 25-foot high climbing wall inside, along with a skateboarding park, 25 new cabins and a dining facility and restaurant.
“We were crazy successful — the way God blessed us,” he says. “There were 16 denominations that were using Camp Davidson, along with the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and the Future Farmers of America.”
During those years, “some of the biggest names in Christianity,” including many well-known youth pastors, came and spoke at the camp, Dr. Horn says.
“I have been around so long that the whole celebrity thing didn’t affect me at all,” he says. “I wouldn’t even walk across the campus to shake hands with somebody. But there was one thing that got me every single time. There were these special camps called Royal Family KIDS Camps.”
The camps are for foster children, youth who have been physically, psychologically and sexually abused.
“They would bring these kids in and you’d see these kids coming in like hardened criminals—very self-defensive, very inverted and damaged,” Dr. Horn says. “I would watch these kids. They used therapy animals with some of them. The point of a therapy animal is that a child will instinctively trust a little pony, or a little dog, or something that shows them affection.
“They use these animals to start to get them to open back up again. It’s a tool—a very effective, powerful tool to bring a kid back to the point where they start trusting again. I mean I didn’t care about the big-name speakers, but watching these little kids get healed—I’m telling you every time it got to me. So I decided I’m going to retire, but when I do I’m going to go somewhere where I can buy land that I can turn into a retreat facility, and then I’m going to become the benefactor for those types of groups.”
Dr. Horn and Nita are taking what they learned with the success of Camp Davidson and applying it to the Whispering Ponies Ranch. Eventually, they would like to create a charitable trust to ensure the ministry’s continuity.
“I’d love to have a charitable board and be able to go on television, raise funds and then turn around and donate 100 percent of it,” Dr. Horn says. “Defender Publishing is a for-profit corporation and it’s going to support this, the administrative costs and everything else. So this really is the dream of how I want to spend the rest of my life.
“The Lord has blessed us, I know people and I think I can build an enterprise that benefits groups that haven’t been so blessed, but that have real causes that need funding, and that’s what I want to be able to do.”
As Free as the Wind
Meanwhile, Nita and her team of miniature horses continue visiting children and adults. They are growing together, learning why God put together this unique ministry.
A few years ago, while caring for the horses, Nita opened the gate to the bottom of three fields on the ranch, a field untouched by the horses.
“We had a drought one year and the horses had eaten all the grass,” Nita says. “The ground needed to have a break so I thought: ‘I’m going to open up that bottom field.’ And when I did, Tink was watching me. As soon as she saw me grab the latch, she started toward me. So I thought, ‘I’m going to stand right smack in the middle of this gateway. I’m not going to touch her.’”
When Tink got there, Nita told her: “If you want to get past me, you’ve got to walk past me.”
“She just came right up. As soon as she got past, she bolted, and when she did all the rest of the herd looked up and saw Tink running across this field—as free as the wind. They took after her. And the Lord said, ‘Here she is running around, all across the field, acres of free land, and she’s just running and running, and kicking up her heels, and you’ve got to understand: This is a mare who’s been damaged.’
“All the other horses started following her—not the lead horse—they were following her. She was the one leading, and the Lord said, ‘Look at how they are following her. If I can do this for a horse, I can so do this for you.’ That blew me away. The Lord spoke to me and told me that he has something for me and it has to do with these animals. That was a few years ago, and I’m still doing what I do, and we’re getting closer.”
To find out more about the Whispering Ponies Ranch Retreat Center watch this week’s special program below.