Recently Winston, of @PushUpsNPaws, in Colorado, USA, asked me to visit The Colorado Therapeutic Riding Center (CTRC) and share what I learn with my readers. The CTRC is accredited by the leader in therapeutic riding: PATH Intl. Premier Center Accreditation; and has been operating at the highest level of excellence since 1980, offering distinguished equine assisted therapeutic riding to children and adults with various disabilities. The CTRC is one of the largest therapeutic riding center in the US and provides services to over 700 riders through their various programs by maintaining a dynamic and diverse team of well-trained horses and volunteers.
I see Winston waiting for me, seated next to the big wooden CTRC sign. “Welcome to the Colorado Therapeutic Riding Center, Mattie,” Winston joyfully offers. “My plan is to take you on a short tour and then have Choice, one of the horses, finish the tour of the facility. Usually,” said Winston, “there are no dogs–but we got special permission and everyone is glad that you are here visiting! So happy that you found your way to the grounds. As you know, the CTRC is just outside Longmont and well, is a super special place–it’s the oldest and largest therapeutic riding center in Colorado. I’ve been visiting here for a while with my Mom, who volunteers her time in various ways, mainly helping to train the horses.”
The CTRC has four core programs: Therapeutic Riding, Hippotherapy, All Abilities Integrated Summer Camp and the Mini Trooper project. Each program is special and unique–read more about these incredible programs by clicking on the links provided, as well as some of othe other suplementary programs.
According to the CTRC, horse riding is good for everyone, and therapeautic riding is particularly beneficial for individuals with physical, cognitive and or emotional challenges as the riders relationship and interaction with the movement of the horse stimulates a rider’s muscle, brain and social activity.
While there are a number of individuals that visit the CTRC in order to participate in therapeutic riding, an additional 1000+ individuals are reached through the very special Mini Trooper outreach program. The Mini Trooper program is comprised of miniature horse and outreach volunteers who contribute their time and energy with visitors as well as participate in off-sites with the special needs populations who benefit from the human-animal bond.
Overall, in 2010 the Center provided and astounding 15,500 service hours and nearly 40,000 volunteer hours of service. “It’s a hopping, happy place,” said Winston. As we walk around the grounds it’s clear to see that the volunteers are happy to be here and spread their joy and hope with both the riders and the horses.
“Mattie, let me get you started on the tour of the CTRC. Because Choice, the horse that will show you around the riding areas, is too big to fit in the office and tackroom area. I’ll show you those areas,” said Winston as he grabbed my paw and pulled me over to an area in the office where a variety of helmets where stacked against one of the walls. “This is where all the people who visit the CTRC, the riders, select their helmets. Each rider is assigned a helmet and must wear it in class and anytime they are around a horse–gots to protect da noggins you know,” said Winston as he selected a little helmet and plopped it on my head, pulling it snug around my chin. “Before each riding session begins the instructors select the helmets for the riders, based on the riders physical size, comfort, you know those things that we take for granted but that are pretty important to a good, quality ride. Also,” added Winston as he swept his arms wide, leaning toward an open area, “there is also a waiting area for family members and friends to watch the riders and a nice enjoyable spot for any children to play in. There are all kinds of fun toys, books, videos–and my friends da rocking horses, you know,” said Winston, “for practice riding.” Winston walks me over to the cute rocking horses and we climb up on them and bounce a little bit.
After we finish with our practice riding, Winston walks me around the office and introduces me to some of the great people that help out at the CTRC. I meet some wonderful, dedicated volunteers–you can as well, just check them out here. As we meet and greet some of the volunteers Winston tells me about the Paint the Pony fundraising board. ”Paint the Pony is the annual fundraiser for the CTRC and is intended to raise much needed funds for the various programs and promote awareness of therapeutic riding and the Center,” said Winston as he climbed up on a chair and continued. ”Volunteers, riders, their friends and family, and anyone really, is invited to tell their story about how the CTRC therapeutic riding programs have made a difference in their life–write letters, send emails, create a personalized online fundraising page. People read these contributions and become motivated to help through volunteering and contributions–they become a Paint the Pony Posse member and help pay it forward, they help keep the therapeutic riding programs going!” The CTRC is a 501(c)(3) and all donations are 100% tax deductible. Every cent directly supports the gallant riders, the exceptionally well-trained therapy horses, and the premier programs of the Center. Looking through the Paint the Pony letters I spot Winston’s Mom contribution that she created, the words are just lovely–check it out! By the way, people can make donations besides money. The CTRC welcomes supplies and will take in extra special horses (creating a win-win for both the horses and the riders)–contact the CTRC to learn more.
The Tack Room
Winston and I say our goodbyes to the people in the office and head out to the tack room. The tack room area has it’s own smell–and as a dog, I like it, very horsey. ”Each horse has their own cubby with their own equipment,” said Winston as he walks me through the area, pointing out all the little cubicles and special knick knacks neatly stacked in rows. ”Each horse has their own halter, grooming tools and English and Western saddle pads,” Winston adds as he takes his big paw and pats one of the stored saddles. “Sometimes,” said Winston, “riders will create these lovely hand-drawn pictures or cards that express how much they love their horse, and then they post them up in their horses special area in the tack room.” I walk over to get a closer look at one of the little cards. Their words of endearment are so kind and loving. Winston sees how taken aback I am by this and, as he pats my shoulder, says, “Mattie, my Mom gets so much enjoyment by reading these cards too. She gushes ‘oh, how thoughtful and cute,’ each time she finds a new one posted.” Looking around the tack room I see a lot of equipment and am curious how the CTRC obtains it. “This,” said Winston as he nods his head toward the items in the tack room, “all of the tack for the horses–it’s all donated by kind and caring individuals. There are English and Western saddles that can be used depending on the riders ability; and, each horse is ‘fitted’ for saddles several times a year. It’s kinda like when our Moms go shopping for shoes,” laughs Winston, “you know, gots to make sure the saddle is comfortable for each horse for each special occasion.”
“Well Mattie,” said Winston, “this is where I leave you. I have to get back to the office and my friend Choice, the therapy horse that my Mom works with will show you around. He is mostly used for Hippotherapy.” I walk over to Choice and he bends his head down to say ‘hello’ to me, which is really a gentle warm snort that he blows out of his nostrils. I stand there, nice and calm and take in Choice’s scent, and he takes in mine–and after our brief greeting Choice lays down on the ground and lets me get on his back, then returns back his standing position and we both get ready to see the grounds. “Choice likes you,” says Winston, “he’ll show you more about what he does here at CTRC and finish taking you around the grounds.” Choice turns to head to the open area, and with a gentle gait starts out through the CTRC grounds.
Choice, a Special CTRC Horse
I enjoy my ride with Choice. He settles in to a very smooth, rhythmic trot and I feel very connected to him, like a warm, friendly hand-in-hand walk. Choice takes me by the barn where each horse has their own stall with a run for a little extra space and some exercise room. As we walk by we see the CTRC volunteers helping to clean out the stalls and runs. The CTRC has ‘barn buddies’ (volunteers) that help keep clean the horse’s stalls, and provide the horses their meals, some special grooming and treats. Currently, there are approximately 25 horses on the CTRC property–and while a majority of them are involved in the various programs either directly or through training, there are others that enjoy their days simply grazing and enjoying themselves as the CTRC takes care of their ‘retired’ program horses. Choice and I continue making our way through the CTRC grounds and stop to look at the hay barn, where the horses nibbles are kept. It takes roughly $2,500 a year to feed and take care of one of the CTRC therapy horses–this is why the support of their volunteers and contributors is so helpful and much needed. The cost of the hay is a small price to pay when you consider that a therapeutic horse is worth twice his or her weight in gold to a special needs rider. We continue our tour and Choice takes me in to the grooming area where we see many of the horses getting brushed and saddled before they head out to help with the various CTRC classes.
Choice and I watch the horses as they are led out to their various program areas–we settle in to watch the ones that make their way to the Hippotherapy area. Choice is a Hippotherapy trained horse and is typically in the classes helping with the riders. Hippotherapy fosters improved trunk mobility and strength which in turn affects overall limb function of the rider. A horse’s natural three-dimension movement (lateral bend, flexion/extension and axle rotation) mimics a typical human gait creating gentle rhythmic movements that aides in improving overall balance, strength, muscle control and tone, motor development and coordination of the rider–it actively engages a rider who might otherwise not be able to experience these sensations on their own. The CTRC Hippotherapy lessons are offered once a week for 30 minutes and they consist of a rider’s preparation before mounting, their balance and cognitive work on on a horse, and depending on the individual therapy plan, transitions into functional activity after mounting. For more about the CTRC Hippotherapy program please visit their website by clicking here.
Choice and I make our way over to the outdoor therapeutic riding arena–it’s all clean, with a sandy/gravelly ground for the horses. All of the riders in this area are gently settled on their horse, and securely holding the reins while sitting proudly in their saddles. The horses, beautifully lined up, are helping the riders learn horsemanship–the art of riding a horse, and this activity stimulates the physical, mental and emotional growth of a rider. The riders and the horses form a partnership, where the horse acts as more of the lead and watches over the rider. During therapeutic riding the riders gain a sense of freedom and independence, experience accomplishments, interact socially and learn new skills in a pleasurable environment. As with Hippotherapy, the horses movement simulates a human’s natural gait–helping to improve a riders overall strength and balance; and helps to create emotional connections between the riders and the horses. As I look around the therapeutic riding arena I can see that the horses sense the need for them to be gentle with those riders who have never in their lives experienced the freedom and joy of having independent movement–and they are taking extra special care with these riders.
Choice and I wander into the indoor riding arena where the CTRC classes are taught during the cold, snowy winter months. Choice takes me from one side of the large, expansive building to the other–it’s voluminous and as I “woof, woof, woof” I can hear the echo of my bark throughout the arena. What’s nice about the CTRC’s indoor riding arena is that it’s large enough for both the Hippotherapy and the therapeutic riding classes to be held when its too cold to ride outside. The CTRC runs three sessions each year: spring, summer and fall. In addition to the standard seasonal sessions the CTRC holds an “All Ability” Summer Camp for children of all ages and abilities. The CTRC’s “All Abilities” Summer Camp allows for riders, mostly children, with and without disabilities to enhance their riding skills and learn more about horses in a fun, safe and supportive environment. According to Winston, the Summer Camp is a lively time for the CTRC, with riders, horses and volunteers whooping it up; and the Center creates an opportunity for everyone to participate–to learn more about the Summer Camp session click here.
Walking around the indoor arena I notice a little tiny pony, so sweet and gentle. Choice walks me over to this little horse and Winston, who had walked down from the CTRC office space, watches as I look in to the little pony’s eyes and rub her little face. ”This here,” said Winston as he warmly leans up against the little pony, “is my little friend, Carmella.” Carmella snuggles me with her little horsey nose, and then gently gets up and walks around the arena for some exercise. ”Carmella is a miniature horse, Mattie,” said Winston, “and she participates in the CTRC’s Mini Trooper Program.” The CTRC’s Mini Troopers horses are the backbone of the Center’s community outreach, meeting and greeting people and playing a big role in helping with the well-being of the special needs populations throughout the region. “Carmella,” said Winston, “gets to go to all kinds of places the other horses can’t go to because they are generally too big to visit the people who can’t come to the Center.” Carmella is a registered member of the Delta Society’s Pet Partners program and she gets to go to assisted care facilities, nursing homes, community groups. Carmella, and the Mini Trooper program, serves a much-needed role in the continuation of the pivotal, and often life-altering, human animal bonding.
From 2007-2009 the CTRC and Children’s Hospital in Denver conducted a pilot project that studied the effects of children with autism spectrum disorders participating in therapeutic horse riding. Researchers, project participants and everyone involved in the pilot was so excited when the results showed that the children showed significant improvements in the children’s levels of irritability, lethargy, clinically standard symptomatic behavior and hyperactivity–as well as improvements in levels of expressive language, motor coordination and motor planning of the children involved in the program. Because of the results of this pilot program the research team was awarded a four-year grant through the National Institutes of Nursing Research of the National Institutes of Health. The new session of this project started in March of 2011. For more information on this project please click here.
A Nice Visit
As Winston, Choice and I make our way back to the office, I stop and take a look around the CTRC grounds and consider all of the good that they and the horses do for children. It is amazing when a need and a good mission combine–it’s the little magic that can change the world. I am honored to have been invited to visit the CTRC; and on behalf of The Anipal Times (@AnipalTimes) I would like to thank Winston, of @PushUpsNPaws, for sharing the CTRC with me–as well as Choice, who graciously showed me around the facility. I hope you take some time to read more about the CTRC and spread the word about their Paint the Pony program where donations of all sizes, big and small, can make a world of difference.
Remember to contact me, @MattieDog, with your ideas for The Anipal Times articles! You can email me at: mattiedog AT anipaltimes DOT com or tweet me at: @MattieDog on Twitter.