HARRISBURG — “C’mon, Roy. Move! Please!” she pleaded with the old horse. The young girl tries tugging hard on the reins but Roy is simply much too big a beast for her to move. Then she shifts her tactic and starts petting him behind the ears and cooing sweet encouragements. After a few minutes of this she convinces Roy to turn around in circles until eventually the old, stubborn horse decides that it may not be such a bad idea to go for a stroll with the exuberant young girl. The look of pride and pleasure that flashes across her face is unmistakable.
The sign out front reads: “Coyote Hill: A Place to Be a Child.” Coyote Hill is a professional home just outside Harrisburg for abused and neglected children established 17 years ago by Larry McDaniel and his wife, who had a lifelong desire to help children. Not long thereafter she passed away of cancer, but Larry kept the place thriving and growing. Today the home sits on more than 150 acres of idyllic countryside property set up to make the lives of its residents fun and positive. Coyote Hill serves as home to about 20 children amongst three different houses on the property at any given time. The foster home could accommodate higher numbers, but the focus is on quality relationship building rather than quantity. “We anticipate good things for the kids,” McDaniel said. “We’re excited about the future. I tell the kids that there’s nothing we can do about the past, but we can work with the future.”
One way McDaniel and the other professionals at Coyote Hill work at relationship building is through a technique known as horse therapy where children learn to work and handle horses on their own with the guidance of a therapy professional. “The horses are participants in helping us give examples to show the kids. They model all kinds of different behavior that we have in real life with the kids,” McDaniel said. “The kids can watch them and with a little instruction they see that there are things that the horses are going through and dealing with that they (the kids) have to deal with as well in the home setting or with their biological parents. Like when Roy was stubborn today and didn’t want to move. There are all kinds of teaching moments like that.”