Horses more than an enjoyable ride for many people


When people see horses in movies or television programs, professional cowboys often ride them at top speed. However, riders and horses at the Pikes Peak Therapeutic Riding Center (PPTRC) rarely get above a slow trot, but the results make a difference for many people.

Therapeutic horseback riding is an experiential and learning tool for people with special emotional needs, physical challenges, and/or learning disabilities, the center says.

The benefits of therapeutic riding are many, and are well documented. Scientists and educators say the benefit of whole-brain integration resulting from using both sides of the body at once – as in the three-dimensional movement of horseback riding – are helpful to people with visual, aural, and spatial learning disabilities. It also benefits those afflicted with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), developmental delays and autism.

Exactly why is not clearly understood. It is similar to benefits some claim come from swimming with dolphins. Perhaps it is a psychic connection only known by rider and horse. Whatever it is, the end justifies the means, Deters-Spader said.

“The bonds the clients feel with their horses are amazing,” Deters-Spader said. “Some of our clients have cognitive disorders and can’t remember their sister’s name, but they know the name of their horse.”

Studies by a number of groups, including universities, horse riding associations and others, report many benefits from the horse-rider relationship. Rather than quote dry statistics, we spoke to the grandparents of a child that rides at the PPTRC. Their observations and the result of therapeutic riding for their grandchild, Desmond, don’t need the support of university studies. These are real-life results from a real child living in Colorado Springs.

Desmond is five. He was born to William and Martha Holmes’ granddaughter. She was very young at the time, and is not involved with her son at this time, William Holmes said.

Desmond was born with, among other ailments: a cleft palate, a clubfoot, with stomach, throat and ear problems. He may have ADD, and other problems undiagnosed at this time. Desmond is the Holmes’ great-grandson. In his short life he has already had 14 surgeries, and more will come in the future. William Holmes is in poor health; his wife went back to work to help with expenses.

“Desmond loves the riding center,” William Holmes said. “He asks me every day ‘when we going to the horses.'”

Mr. Holmes was hospitalized recently and Desmond missed a class. “He just wanted to go back,” said Holmes. “Desmond is also very excitable, and after he rides he is happy, but he has a calmness he otherwise never has.”

Desmond’s mount is called China. It is one of 15 horses the center uses in the program.

There are many people, young and old, who depend on the PPTRC for help. As one imagines, providing a stable for 15 horses, which includes food and medical treatment, is expensive. Each week 170 unpaid volunteers assist in providing therapeutic riding classes to those with disabilities. The center also serves “at risk” children with therapeutic sport riding and volunteer opportunities.

Fundraising, therefore, is extremely important if those such as Desmond are helped. Volunteers are obviously invaluable – the center estimates volunteers saved the center about $70,000 last year.

However, cash is needed to pay staff salaries and for services that are not donated. Two fundraisers are held annually, and the second is now underway. It kicked off with a polo match demonstration in September.

“There are many ways for people to donate,” Deters-Spader said. “One of the biggest ways is to sponsor one of our therapy horses… which are probably our biggest cost.”

You can sponsor a horse for just $1,200 per year. Desmond would love to have someone sponsor his pal.

If you would rather support the center through volunteering, call volunteer coordinator Tami Fredrich. “Up to three volunteers each are needed to help riders in their weekly classes… the nature of what we do requires trained volunteers (we provide the training) who can make a two-hour weekly commitment for an entire eight-week session.”

Volunteers become more skilled and effective with practice, and being assisted by the same volunteers each week gives riders consistency, which is critical to their success, Fredrich, said.

“Reducing turnover in our volunteer corps is a high priority, so we have developed a program called Adopt-a-Class,” Fredrich said. “We feel this program gives businesses a unique opportunity to support employees who are looking to do community service work on an ongoing basis instead of just one or two times per year.”

If you would like to help PPTRC, call 719/ 598-7213.