Dan and Marie LaRock are celebrating the five-year anniversary of Rock Ranch, the charitable organization they co-founded after years of dreaming and planning. Founded in 2016 in Hills, Rock Ranch provides horsemanship training, riding lessons, senior programming and mental health counseling in a natural, faith-filled setting.
Marie was born and raised on a farm near Hills in Rock County; her grandfather, a horseman, instilled in Marie a love for horses early on.
“Growing up in southwest Minnesota was a treasure, really. The people, communities, and environment are just different,” Marie said.
As a speech language pathologist in various school systems across southwest Minnesota, Marie often dreamt about how she could help kids and families while sharing her love for horses. She wondered, “What can I do in this world to help people?” Her calling became louder as their own children got older. Dan felt the power of Marie’s calling and encouraged her to pursue her dreams.
Providing a joyful, safe, inclusive space for kids, families and seniors is a priority at Rock Ranch. The ranch offers three programs: RideRockRanch, SeniorSaddles and Equine Assisted Therapy (EAP). These programs encourage physical, cognitive, emotional, social, and spiritual growth – all which Dan and Marie believe are necessary for an individual to thrive.
“It’s so easy to be still when you’re on a horse. With horses, there are unspoken rhythms that opens spaces to allow for help,” Marie said. Thriving individuals means healthy families and communities.
“Southwest Minnesota is full of communities who truly understand how to support one another. When you fall, there are many hands reaching to pull you up. There’s no better place to live,” Dan added.
Since opening in 2016, the ranch has grown tremendously. Not only does Rock Ranch have many loyal volunteers, but they employ five part-time mental health professionals, a barn manager, and an office and operations manager.
“We knew that we wanted to provide permanent, valuable jobs in addition to our service programs,” Dan said.
In 2020, Marie had the opportunity of a lifetime to build an indoor arena based on the services Rock Ranch provides. The arena allows for riding no matter what Minnesota has in store for weather, while allowing in natural light and the feeling of connecting with the outdoors. The building was a response to the waiting lists of people who wanted to come and experience Rock Ranch.
“The riding program exploded right away, but we wanted to be intentional about reaching the mental health professionals and offering equine assisted therapy. It’s okay to not be okay, and to a place to support that is important to us,” Dan said.
The LaRocks care deeply about the impact Rock Ranch has had and will continue to have on southwestern Minnesota. That’s why they established the Rock Ranch Joy of Horsemanship Endowment Fund at Southwest Initiative Foundation. SWIF helped the LaRocks create this named, charitable fund that is permanently endowed to ensure that the ranch can continue to serve kids, families and seniors well into the future.
Dan and Marie are also committed to supporting the broader mission of Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF) with their annual Growing Home Circle gift. Dan commented, “SWIF supports people who need it and is also an economic engine. SWIF strives to pour good in the southwest part of the state and serves that need to stimulate growth.”
What does the next five years hold for the LaRocks and Rock Ranch? They plan on fine tuning the programs they currently offer and becoming a leader in the equine assisted therapy space, both in research and partnerships. Many other programs look to Rock Ranch as a model for EAP, and publishing a curriculum so that their services can be replicated is also on Marie’s to-do list.
“It was never about me,” Marie said. “We exist to help to help other people in our communities.”
“We’re mining for joy. We choose to be joyful, and Rock Ranch is here to help spread that message.” Dan LaRock
Interested in creating a fund to support a cause you care about? Tell us your idea and goals, and we’ll find the right match for you. Contact us at 800-594-9480 or [email protected].