Hope through horses: For nearly a decade, QC native helps kids overcome trauma


“I had a lot of anger in me,” says Isabelle Vasquez. 

“I guess I know where it came from but it’s not really something I want to talk about.” 

After years of bouncing from counselor to counselor, a 15-year-old Vasquez found herself at a small ranch tucked away in Davenport. 

“There was just something there that I felt like I needed to be around,” says Vasquez. 

She found herself in the hands of Michelle Allison and her rescued horses, who had experienced their own trauma. 

“She was very quiet– Almost to the point of nonverbal, really. I mean she just didn’t want to engage, didn’t want to make eye contact, didn’t want to touch the horses. She was very timid and quiet,” says Allison when describing her first encounter with Vasquez. 

Soon, the teen who couldn’t shake her trauma found a way to take the reigns. 

“My life started changing ever since,” Vasquez says.  

And she remembers the moment that started. 

“When we were walking down the driveway with the horse, you had to have confidence, I guess, that’s a big struggle with me, too,” she says.  

“Being able to see her not believing herself,” recalls Allison watching Vasquez try to walk her horse.

“She kept telling me to stop thinking about the negative thoughts and think about what you want her to do,”  remembers Vasquez. 

And things clicked. 

“It made her stop and slow down her thoughts enough to know that they were actually not just secret things, they impacted her relationships and her successes,” says Allison. 

A breakthrough for the now 18-year-old that hundreds have experienced at Juan Diez Rancheros. 

“Ever since I’ve came here and realized that these horses are a reflection of how your life is, it kind of turned everything around,” says Vasquez.

A connection changing lives across the Quad Cities. 

“It’s almost like through this process she’s embraced life and who she is today, which is successful, outgoing, she graduated from high school early, she has a job– Life is good for her,” says Allison. 

Allison is starting her ninth year at Juan Diez Rancheros this week. 

She thanks the city of Davenport for allowing her to use the space next to Fejervary Park. Allison operates as an independent contractor with the city for that land.

She does not charge her clients for therapy services and relies on donations to keep her ranch and program running. If you’d like to find out more, click here

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