VENETA, Ore. - When Anna Sawchuck is on a horse, it's not about the speed of the ride or the time she spends there. It's about the change nobody else can see.
"When I heard about big horses, I was so excited because I never rode horses before," Anna said.
At the Mercy Me Ranch in Veneta, the 15-year-old is all smiles, a big change from her life just two years ago.
Just before Anna's 13th birthday, her father died unexpectedly. The tragedy left a hole in Anna's family and a void in her heart.
"After losing my dad, it just didn't feel right," she said.
Anna dealt with the pain by drinking, hanging out with the wrong crowd, and getting in trouble. She put up walls, blocking people out - like her mother, Debi Avey.
"She had got brought home at like 3 o'clock in the morning by the police," Debi recalled. "Those are the kinds of things she was doing. I could see it, and it was tearing me up inside."
Debi turned to Mercy Me Ranch, and the HALO program.
"I tried therapy, psychiatrists and stuff like that," Debi said. "Nothing worked, so I was hoping this would work."
HALO founder Lori Thomas envisioned using horses, faith and friendship to help girls build confidence and work on life issues.
"It just hit home to me that it's the girls without dads, without fathers, that I really wanted to make a difference in their life," Lori said.
Lori and her daughter Aimee combine horse riding and grooming with plenty of time for the girls to bond with each other and open up.
"So that they would know that they're not the only ones going through this, that there are other girls that know exactly what those feelings are and what those emotions are," Lori said.
She shares a deep connection to them as well.
"When I was 13, my father died of cancer, and there wasn't a program like this," she said.
So when she sees girls like Anna slowly but surely turn her life around, it confirms a higher calling.
"I love having that visual of her getting out of the car and the very first time she came to go through our interview process and the minute she touched Juliette, there was just this bond, there was this connection, and there was no doubt in her mind that this was where she needed to come to begin that healing process," Lori said. "I will never forget that. It was amazing."
The HALO program helped Anna find some calm during a stormy season of her life.
"Just being on the horses, it just brings me happiness, and just being on them, is peaceful and stuff, and it just helps me relax," she said.
"She's talking about her dad more, she's back to the same kind of bubbly girl she was a couple of years ago," mom Debi said.
"It's a true confirmation," HALO's Lori Thomas said, "that we're doing what we're supposed to be doing."
For more information about the HALO Program visit Mercy Me Ranch's website.