Horizon Ranch, a real working ranch in Nevada, was created to provide those opportunities to young men.
For one of the owners of Horizon Ranch, Jacob Jensen, the memories of growing up on a farm in southern Nevada are priceless. "I always had chores to do on the farm--cleaning ditches, feeding horses, plowing fields, etc.," he says. "But every day during the summer when my chores were done, my brothers and I would run down to the river and spend the afternoon catching catfish. I have lots of memories on that river. I feel sorry for kids who grow up in the city because they just don't get those kinds of experiences."
According to Dr. Leonard Sax, boy's lack of outdoor activity is taking its toll on more than just childhood memories. "Fully one third of men ages 22-34 are still living at home with their parents," he says in Boys Adrift - The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men. Dr. Sax shows that boys are not doing as well in school, and girls are outnumbering boys in undergraduate institutions three to two. His research demonstrates that some video games affect the same part of the brain as cocaine does and lead to loss of drive and disengagement from the real world. He also suggests that many boys are being medicated for Attention Deficit Disorder when they really just need to be allowed to express themselves in more physical ways.
"I worry when I see kids spending most of their free time in front of the TV or the computer," says Karen Jensen, Horizon Ranch proprietor. "They lack opportunities to learn practical skills and build their self-esteem. The boys at Horizon Ranch spend most of their time actively doing things. They get to work with their hands, learn those skills, and accomplish something."
Elder L. Tom Perry pointed out the importance of physical fitness in "Raising the Bar." (General Conference, October 2007). "One of the questions on the missionary recommendation forms asks if you 'can work 12 to 15 hours per day, walk 6 to 8 miles per day, ride a bicycle 10 to 15 miles per day, and climb stairs daily.' Missionary work is hard, and full-time missionaries must be in good physical condition to serve."
Jared Hollingshead, a director at Horizon Ranch, saw the benefits of an active life during his own mission. "I grew up on a dairy farm in central Utah," he says. "Starting at age eight, I took turns with my brother milking the 70 milk cows. Milking happened twice a day at 3:30 AM and 3:00 PM. Even though I wasn't ever thrilled to go, not going was not an option. Later, when I served a mission, I was so grateful I had learned how to work. I saw companions and other missionaries wasting time, loafing around, and wasting the best opportunities of their lives, because they didn't have a work ethic. Having a strong work ethic is paramount to succeeding in anything--whether it be school, career, family--it all depends on how hard you work at it. We really stress learning how to work at Horizon Ranch."
The ranch provides young men with opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and learn skills such as outdoor cooking, wilderness survival, basic mechanics, and gardening. They participate in leatherwork, obstacle courses, and athletics. The daily schedule is designed to teach discipline, hard work, and responsibility, and includes firesides, scripture study, and religious meetings. Young men spend several weeks on a real working ranch working with animals and earning merit badges.
Unlike troubled youth camps or youth-at-risk programs, Horizon Ranch is a program for LDS boys ages 12-17 who do not have criminal backgrounds or substance abuse problems, but are looking for some new experiences outside "city life." The ranch is located in rural southern Nevada and the program runs during the summer months.