Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Jocelyn Rowley

When horses are healers


Courtesy Photo

The Colorado Therapeutic Riding Center provides equine-assisted activities and therapies to riders with special needs.

It isn’t exactly Hogwarts, but there’s something magical about Colorado Therapeutic Riding Center, located just east of Niwot at 11968 Mineral Road. For nearly four decades, the CTRC has been providing equine-assisted activities (EAAT) and therapies to people with disabilities, and sometimes the results are nothing short of extraordinary, according to executive director Michele Bruhn.

“Horses are very empowering. People can spend time with a horse, and they don’t feel judged. If someone has a disability, the horse doesn’t know, so if a child or an adult in a wheelchair comes in, now they’re the tallest person in the room. So when you’re looking at self-esteem or anything surrounding sense of self, then it’s incredibly empowering for each individual.”

Broadly, EAAT refers to a range of services designed to address special needs through ongoing interaction with horses in an equine environment. According to the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International, riding and caring for horses provides both physical and emotional benefits, and is an appropriate therapy  for a wide range of conditions, including cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, and attention deficit disorder.

The CTRC specializes in two specific forms of EAAT: hippotherapy and therapeutic riding. Hippotherapy is conducted in a one-on-one session by a licensed physical, occupational or speech therapist, who also must obtain a credential from the American Hippotherapy Association. Often, the therapeutic goal of the treatment is to improve “overall balance, strength, muscle control and tone, motor development and coordination.”

Therapeutic riding, on the other hand, is led by non-medical instructors, often in a group setting, and emphasizes learning to control the horse rather than any specific physical milestone.

“The relationship that can occur between a rider and their horse can help a rider overcome debilitating fears,” reads a passage on the CTRC website describing the practice. “As a rider learns that they can have control of a horse, they can begin to learn that they can take control of themselves as well. Trust, impulse control, self-confidence, relationship building and natural consequences are all among the lessons learned.”

The CTRC is both the oldest and largest equine therapeutic center in the state, with 1,000 volunteers and a herd of 25+ “equine therapists” serving 500 riders per year. Unsurprisingly, operating and staffing it can’t be done on the cheap, so community support is essential.  

“Our volunteers are the true lifeblood of the organization, and we have networks in the community,” Bruhn said. “Without community support, we would definitely not be here.”

Aside from volunteering, supporters can donate money or materials to help keep the center up and running for its clients.

“Care for the horses is always a huge need. There’s hay, feed, farriers, chiropractors, vaccinations, vet bills, you name it,” she said.

Courtesy Photo

When horses are healers

Next year, the CTRC will be celebrating 40 years of making a difference in the lives of children and adults with special needs through equine-assisted activities and therapies. For Bruhn and her staff, the challenge is on to make the next 40 years just as special.

“There’s magic that happens here, whether that’s for our volunteers, for the riders, for our staff, or for our families. It’s to see people smiling who don’t usually smile in their day-to-day life; to see people socialize, and to see friendships form. The community here is incredible, and it’s what keeps people and makes people stay.”  

The Colorado Therapeutic Riding Center will be collecting the proceeds from the tip jar at Rock & Rails on June 27.  For more information about the center, its services, or how to get involved, visit http://www.ctrcinc.org



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