Not Horsin’ AROUND |

Not Horsin’ AROUND

Mary Sullivan is leading JJ, the therapy horse on a trail ride at YMCA/Snow Mountain Ranch. Skyler Heroux, 17, a MPHS senior this year.
Cindy Kleh / Special to the Sky-Hi News |

The mission of the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD) is to enable the human spirit through therapeutic sports and recreation, and this enrichment goes both ways – to the participants who suffer physical and cognitive challenges, and the volunteers who step up to help them achieve their dreams of becoming adventurous and athletic.

“I feel like a better person on the drive home,” said Mary Sullivan, a new volunteer who started with the Therapeutic Riding Center in June. “I learn more there in three hours than I could anywhere else! It’s so powerful and humbling at the same time – to all be part of a team that is making it happen!”

Sullivan and her husband purchased a condo in Granby Ranch, and she decided to volunteer at the riding center, located at YMCA/Snow Mountain Ranch, to get more involved with children and horses and to meet people in her new community. The bonus for her was being an active part of special, positive events – sometimes even miracles – that unfold there daily.

“This young boy the other day decided he didn’t want anything to do with the big horse he was assigned,” recalled Sullivan. “I guess you could say that he was having an ‘episode.’ His caregiver took him inside the yurt to talk to him, and he came back in about 10 minutes and went up to Blackie and started brushing him. It was just magic! Then she asked him if he wanted to sit on Blackie, and he did!”

Sullivan was also impressed with the staff that has helped her learn new horse skills. “They blew me away! I learned how to tie a slip-knot from a woman who had only one arm!”

The Therapeutic Riding Center is in need of more volunteers this summer because they’ve been hit with a double whammy of an increase in the number of programs and the addition of winter riding at Straawberry Creek Ranch. The number of participants in each of those programs has also risen. Volunteers should be at least 16 (unless they have prior horse experience), and be prepared to do anything around the riding center that needs doing – that could be grooming and tacking, or teaching those skills to students and other volunteers; or it could be side-walking – walking closely beside the therapy horse and student to make sure they are secure and balanced in the saddle.

What to Expect

Lessons are usually 90 minutes, with volunteer shifts lasting 2.5 hours to all day (signup is online). Lessons include a trail ride through meadows of wildflowers and young trees on the YMCA property. Volunteers do not ride the horses, but they learn how to:

Go into a corral and put a halter on a specific horse needed for a lesson;

Groom and tack that horse correctly;

Use correct horse and tack terminology;

Lead and side-walk during a lesson;

Pitch in on various chores around the riding center, such as “mucking” (the never-ending cleanup of horse manure from the ring and corral).

Skyler Heroux will be a senior next fall at Middle Park High School, and he must complete 40 hours of community service to graduate. He decided to get his hours out of the way this summer by volunteering at the Therapeutic Riding Center.

“I chose the riding center because it was a unique way for me to earn my community service hours and get to know a part of my hometown culture at the same time. Honestly, I was a little anxious around the horses at first, because I knew next to nothing about them. But after just a day, I learned what beautiful and loving animals they are. I didn’t know how enjoyable it would be until I got there and got thrown in the loop. It is my first year with NSCD, but it’s definitely not my last.”

Nicole Robinson has been the Director at the Therapeutic Riding Center for three years, and she truly enjoys her job. “I work for smiles … those are the tips I receive every day. I love the horses, but it’s the participants that really make my day,” she said. “We have a strong community of staff, volunteers, participants, and their families, and we are all working toward a common goal.”

Equine-assisted therapy, or hippotherapy, offers many benefits to the rider whether he/she is disabled or not, including increased muscle strength and flexibility, as well as improved posture. Grooming and directing a 2000-pound animal also gives the rider more self-confidence and better self-esteem. Sometimes, just sitting on a horse will inspire kids and adults who do not talk much to become engaged and talkative. Some even hug and thank their horse for the ride. According to Robinson, there is one 18-year-old young man that has been coming to the riding center for years. The mechanics of horseback riding make it possible for him to stand up and walk a few steps – something that physical therapy and massage had not been able to achieve.

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