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Melissa Loeschen

Melissa Loeschen

My name is Melissa Loeschen, I am 26 years old, and reside on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in Central South Dakota.  

I grew up in small-town Iowa, with a family background in Agriculture. I always had a love for horses, but didn’t really make my journey into the horse world until 2013. In 2011, I volunteered as a Special Olympics Riding Instructor, and that was when I knew where my true passion lied. I wanted to be able to help as many youth as possible, through thoughtful interactions with horses.

Jumping into my collegiate career, I pursued a Bachelor’s Degree in Agriculture science with a double minor in Animal and Equine Sciences at South Dakota State University. The end of my freshmen year, I made my way further into the beautiful landscapes of South Dakota, onto the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. There, I continued my education as an intern at The DX Ranch, also home to DX Beef and Project H3LP!. Within the first few hours of my arrival, I knew that was where I wanted to call home. My time on the ranch was spent under the guidance of Zach Ducheneaux, Jenn Zeller, Kelsey Scott, and the rest of the family, learning the ins and outs of the ranching lifestyle and land stewardship, but focusing the majority of my time around Horsemanship.

Prior to my internship at The DX Ranch, I had very little riding/horse experience. My riding experience was week-long horse camps or riding the neighbors horses in an area that was just big enough to walk a circle a few times. Needless to say, I was a green rider. There were hills to overcome; with gaining confidence in all areas of horsemanship being the number one need. Learning something fairly new is exhilarating, frustrating, satisfying, and everything else in between; I experienced this first hand in my new venture at the DX Ranch. It was a whole new world I was stepping into, but I’m thankful to have had the teachers that I did. My first day in the saddle, I was uncomfortable posting a trot. By the end of my 8 weeks, I was able to rope and drag calves, and confidentially ride one of the stud ranch horses at a full out run. I remember thinking, “This…this is where I belong.”

Fast forward a couple years to summer of 2017: I graduated college, and the ranch still couldn’t seem to shake me loose. and they shook HARD. Fortunately for me, they actually offered me the opportunity to become the Youth Director for the ranch’s non-profit organization, Project H3LP!, and of course, I didn’t even give it a second thought. Project H3LP! is a 501 c3 non-profit organization created from influence of the late Wayne and Regina Ducheneaux (Granny and Poppy). Unfortunately, I wasn’t around before Poppy had passed, but was able to adopt Granny for the last 5 years of her time earthside. Although I never met Poppy, I can feel his teachings and presence on the ranch through shared stories and memories by his loved ones. Granny and Poppy raised their children to always look at the world with a sense of community and public service to empower and inspire people, and H3LP others. Through H3LPing others, we can create stable foundations that are the key component to our lives, which is also our (Project H3LP’s) mission.

Starting out as the Youth Director, I can assure you, I had no clue how or what I was going to teach, or how I could make a difference in a child’s life. Was I going to be able to fulfill the mission of creating stable foundations? What strategies would I  use? I didn’t know anything about creating a curriculum, let alone, adding horses into the mix. As I continue to grow in this new role, I realized it wasn’t about the “lesson plans”, the “curriculum”, or knowing exactly what I was going to do that day when youth arrived. It was about interacting, observing, empathizing, and listening to what they had to say and being present in their lives as someone they could trust. It was about creating those stable foundations through friendship that was going to lead into every other aspect of their lives and help them continue to grow. H3LPing youth grow in their lives, has translated to my own horsemanship and “lifemanship”.

It is my hope that I, just as Lee Smith and many other great horsewoman, can inspire and help guide many others, not only in their horsemanship, but also their lifemanship journey. I am grateful to be given this opportunity as the 2022 Horsemanship Fellowship recipient and want to thank the Art of the Cowgirl team for working tirelessly to put on an event that inspires women across the nation in the Agriculture industry, of all ages. 

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