Probation Partnership: Horses Helping to Heal

Posted On: October 30, 2019
Posted By: Probation,

The Otter Tail County Probation Advisory Committee took their annual tour of offsite facilities where county residents are often referred. Michael Schommer, the new probation director, lead the tour to highlight some of the program options available for the department. The group toured Heartland Girls Ranch and 24 bed facility in Benson and New Visions Center in Alexandria.

The Probation Advisory Committee is made up of one citizen member from each of the five County Commissioner’s districts and the Otter Tail County Attorney. The Advisory Committee reviews the Otter Tail County Probation activities for the development, implementation and operation of programs and services. Mark Dokken, Mike Windey, and Randy Synstelien represented the advisory board on the tour. County Commissioner Betty Murphy, Seventh Judicial District Court Judge Sharon Benson, her law clerk, Jim Morrison, University of Minnesota Extension Office Regional Director Ben Anderson, Fergus Falls Area Learning Center Director Kristin Tuel, Frazee High School Principal Anna Potvin participate in the tour. Otter Tail County was represented by Assistant County Attorneys Katie Schur and Danielle Hofman, Human Services Director Deb Sjostrom, Public Health Director Jody Lien, Social Services Supervisor Margaret Williams, Director of Probation Michael Schommer, Probation Agents Robert Emerson and Luke Johnston, and Probation Support Staff Amy Kampa all participated in the experiential tour.

Heartland Girls Ranch in Benson provides therapeutic horse programming in “a safe and supportive environment that empowers girls to experience success and write a new story for themselves.”   The group visited the Hearts for Freedom program which serves girls ages 12-21 who have been sexually trafficked.  It is one of few programs in the state that provides such services and housing to serve exploited youth. The group toured the living areas as well as the barns, where they learned about the unique equine therapy program.  Each girl in the program is paired with her own horse that she cares for as she learns many skills associated with equine care. The program tries to show girls what “horses can teach us about ourselves.”

Photo: Courtesy of Heartland Girls Ranch

“Heartland Girls Ranch delivers an invaluable partnership for Otter Tail County.  Their firm, yet supportive approach provides the structure many of our juveniles need and desire.  Their compassionate staff and unique therapy approach ignite positive change in our juveniles.  These juveniles can work with staff to transfer their newly learned skills back to their home environment where they may become healthy, productive members of our community,” said Schommer.  “Otter Tail County will continue to strengthen this partnership to bring additional services to our community, as we strive to assist every client to live their best life here.”

The program accepts referrals from Otter Tail County. Commissioner Betty Murphy thanked Heartland Girls Ranch CEO Jeannie Thompson and Program Director Lori Roemen for their efforts in helping our troubled youth.  Please visit the Heartland Girls Ranch website for more information about the programs:

The group also toured the New Visions Center in Alexandria, which is part of the Thrive Behavior Network, a residential treatment program for adults with co-occurring needs. The program offers individualized treatment for those suffering from chemical use. The program is client centered and designed according to the client’s needs. Human Services Director, Deb Sjostrom, inquired about New Visions Center’s client-centered approach to recovery.  Treatment Director Doug Paulson discussed the possibility of providing outpatient chemical dependency programming for juveniles at their Transformative Recovery Center in Fergus Falls.

Schommer stressed the importance of the client-centered approach, “New Visions Center’s client-centered approach to substance use disorder applies the latest evidence-based practice in working with this struggling population.  They empower our mutual clients to overcome their addiction, reaching for attainable goals to build confidence on their road to recovery.”

The tour showcased innovative programs that Otter Tail County partners with to provide the best care possible to its clients. The advisory board and probation staff work to collaborate with many such programs to enrich the lives of those they serve through such programs.

“On behalf of the Heartland Girls’ Ranch, it was an honor to host a tour with the Otter Tail County Probation,” said Thompson. “We provide services for teenage girls throughout the state of Minnesota and I believe it is crucial for our partners to have a clear understanding of the services that we provide.  Gaining this understanding will better assist placing agencies when communicating with girls and families about the recommendations that are made for placement.”

Please visit the Otter Tail County Probation Department’s web page for information on the many services provided:


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