Riders with disabilities forge ahead by shear HorsePower
For The Fence Post
A festive ribbon-cutting ceremony on June 20, 2017, will usher in a new era for the longest-running therapeutic riding program in the Castle Rock, Colo., area.
Since 1984, Colorado HorsePower, Inc. (CHP) has provided therapeutic equestrian classes for children and adults with disabilities. The program currently boards its six horses at, and leases facilities from, Meadowbrook Farms, a 104-acre equestrian property.
Owners Mark Renn and Leigh Anderson, who raise Peruvian Paso horses, eventually recognized the need for additional indoor riding space and a viewing area for the 501 ©3 nonprofit. The generous horsemen have happily funded that expansion. Sponsored by the Castle Rock Chamber of Commerce, the free and open-to-the-public celebration will begin at 4 p.m.
The grand reveal will highlight a multi-purpose viewing room/office that vastly upgrades parents’ and caregivers’ comfort levels. Previously, and in any weather, the only place for ‘pedestrians’ to stand during class time was at a gate outside the arena. The sparkling new digs include comfortable seating, a mini-kitchen and adults with disabilities accessible restroom. The latter is also a welcome improvement over the previous adults with disabilities accessible portable toilet.
The office will double as a venue for volunteer orientations and educational programs.
MORE ROOM, MORE RIDERS
Now that 58 feet of riding space has been added to the already 60‘ x 120’ indoor arena, there’s room to conduct two classes simultaneously, thereby allowing more riders to participate.
CHP Board of Directors President Lynette Roff is justifiably proud of her organization’s loyal members. Its dedicated volunteers presently number approximately 60, with equine experience varying from lifetime to none at all. Students range from age 8 to 42, although the youngest ever was only 4 and the oldest 66.
Therapeutic riding is a proven method of increasing riders’ strength, balance, social abilities, self-worth and basic riding skills: whoa, walk-on, and (possibly) independent riding. Each rider is assigned a horse, one headwalker, and, depending on the student’s experience and ability, one or two sidewalkers.
Because program participants are working to overcome physical, mental or emotional challenges (sometimes a combination), CHP volunteers lead equines and assist riders to maintain balance and safely manage their animals.
“CHP has a very great sense of community and family,” Roff said.
She said that each eight-week session of group and private one-hour per week classes concludes with a picnic, complete with a wiener roast in a fire pit.
“Even in a foot of snow one winter.” Roff recalled with a chuckle.
Perhaps the most devoted of all CHP members are the horses. All seem to recognize the need for patience and steadiness. The herd includes Roy, a 16-year-old Standardbred gelding; 33-year-old Quarter Horse mare, Molly; a Peruvian Paso mare, Ariel, 14; the POA (Pony of the Americas) baby of the bunch, Ben, age 12.
One of the most special CHP equines is Whiskey, a gaited, 22-year-old Rocky Mountain Horse donated to the organization in 2009. (The breed is well-known for its smooth, stepping pace/amble or rack/single foot gait.) This calm, steady and sturdy mare is just 15 hands high (60” at her withers) but is very adept at carrying large riders. That can mean a burden of 200 or more pounds for her, plus a cumbersome western saddle, yet Whiskey loyally performs with great tolerance and grace.
JOY OF RIDING
One of her best fans is Christopher, the 20-year-old son of Laura and Brad Ayres. Christopher is always so excited to ride that he often dons his helmet and boots on Wednesday in expectation for that week’s upcoming Saturday class, Roff said.
Born with Fragile X Syndrome, Christopher has experienced many difficulties in his young life. Laura Ayres said that Fragile X is the only genetic form of mental impairment. Symptoms include low I.Q., severe anxiety, ADHD, and low muscle tone. As does her son, other people with the syndrome can be non-verbal and have ears that stick out.
Ayres said that Christopher likes DVDs, his iPad, and eating. Not much else. But love? He loves riding.
In his five years with CHP, his riding level has improved, as has his own core strength, she added. Plus, he’s very communicative on Whiskey by leg pressure and rein contact. He’s always engaged during his rides.
“I think it’s better than any occupational therapy (at school) for him,” Ayres said.
She gave a glowing report of CHP.
“They have a great staff and the volunteers are awesome. They do exactly what each student needs. It’s a wonderful, very family-oriented program. I just love them,” she said
In fact, because the program depends so heavily on its volunteers, CHP breaks from after Thanksgiving to just past New Year’s. That winter holiday lull is a breather for them but tough on the “hot to trot” riders.
“We have absolutely nothing to do,” Ayres said.
Eddie and “Bobbin” Holtvluwer also depend on CHP for beneficial therapy for 31-year-old son, Michael, now in his 17th year of HorsePower. Dystonia, a central nervous system disorder, causes tremors in his extremities. He’s had deep brain stimulation surgery, which helped his upper body, especially his hands and arms. Thanks to CHP, Michael’s balance and leg strength have also improved.
Eddie Holtvluwer described his son as very verbal but quiet … until he gets on a horse.
“Then he turns into Mr. Chatterbox.” Holtvluwer said. “He becomes funny and interesting. Riding affects his whole well-being.”
No one in the family minds the 40-minute drive to Meadowbrook Farms each week. Holtvluwer enjoys the beautiful, peaceful scenery along the way to deliver Michael to his awaiting mount, Laredo, a Quarter Horse/Arab cross. At the ripe old age of 33, Laredo is still spry enough to give CHP students a joyously memorable ride each session.
Holtvluwer is happy that CHP is adding a Thursday session so that more riders can join the classes. He seemed as delighted for them as he was for his own son. ❖