Walking into the indoor arena, I inhale the sharp, musty smell of horse sweat, dust, and faint manure. This homey smell is one of comfort and familiarity. Combined with a barn and its horses, the aroma calms my nerves and simmers any stress to a forgotten note in the recesses of my mind. A day at the barn soothes all senses and creates a sense of calm that permeates my life away from equine-nation. Incidentally, this effect is multiplied for the students of the Colorado Springs Therapeutic Riding Center, or CSTRC, located at Palmer Park in Colorado Springs.
The students suffer from varying forms, severities, and manifestations of disability, including epilepsy, cancer, Down syndrome, paralysis, blindness, deafness, cerebral palsy, batons disease, and multiple sclerosis, as well as forms of trauma or developmental delay. But ,at 3254 Paseo Road, these students are given the opportunity to improve their quality of life and focus on the living, breathing gentle giant beneath them. The patients span all age ranges and enjoy this equine-assisted therapy one-on-one with professional PATH International instructors through both therapeutic riding and hippotherapy.
Side walkers and horse leaders walk the horses and support the rider in the half-sized indoor arena as the instructor leads the student through varying levels of exercises and games, dependent upon the severity of their disability. These exercises and games not only teach the student basic riding skills and improve their social and behavioral abilities, but the three-dimensional movement of the horses also helps to drastically improve their balance and posture both on and off the horse.
Each student visits the Center once a week for half an hour to an hour and enjoys personalized lessons suited to their individual abilities and goals. In addition to the physical goals achieved, the patients also benefit from the equine therapy through improved self-esteem, heightened attention spans, mental and physical strength, improved language abilities and cognitive abilities, as well as an overall improvement in their quality of life.
An extension of the Mark Reyner Stables, the non-profit Center and its many volunteers, has helped countless students reach new heights. On the Sunday afternoon of March 29, over twenty new volunteers arrived at the Center to train to be side walkers and horse leaders for both therapeutic riding as well as for hippo therapy.
They were also briefed about HIPAA privacy statutes and emergency proceedings. Volunteer efforts are vital in maintaining the operation of the CSTRC, comprising the majority of the work force other than the three main instructors. Anyone is encouraged to stop by and inquire about a position volunteering for the Center, regardless of previous equine exposure or experience. The time will not be wasted and the smiles and results will astound at this small stable in the heart of Colorado Springs.
Leaving the stable after an afternoon of volunteering at the Center, I look back as a young boy comes to a halt at the end of his lesson. His smile is as wide as his face, and he haltingly pets Sandman’s furry winter coat, letting loose a cloud of dust.
The instructor assists him and together they get him safely down to the ground. She holds up her hand and he gives her a shy high five and runs to his dad waiting outside the gate.
He points back at Sandman as if to say ‘look dad, I did it. Look at the horse I rode!’ His dad simply smiles and nods and takes his son’s hand. They walk out of the barn as Sandman watches calmly from the arena.