Castle Rock, CO

Equine therapy at Promise Ranch changes lives in DougCo

Natasha Lovato

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A Promise Ranch patient hugs one of the horses.Promise Ranch Therapies and Recreation

Natasha Lovato / NewsBreak Denver

(Castle Rock, Colo.) Promise Ranch Therapies and Recreation uses equine therapy to help people with disabilities, mental health concerns, veterans and anyone seeking to benefit from animal-assisted treatment.

In equine-assisted therapy, mental health clients work with specially-trained horses and learn to care for them.

According to a 2020 report by the National Library of Medicine, the psychosocial effects of equine-assisted therapy include improved self-esteem, self-confidence, empowerment, a sense of self-presence, and feelings of freedom, independence and competency. The report also states that horses could recognize human emotions and respond intentionally.

Promise Ranch Operations and Volunteer Manager Miriam Dudley explained that the Ranch has a team of physical therapists, occupational therapists, mental health counselors, and adaptive riding instructors to help their patients depending on their needs.

"For adults and children who suffer with grief, loss or trauma it's healing to work with horses," Dudley said. "We strive to improve their well-being." Dudley also shared that the work isn't always done with horses.

"Some patients are scared in the beginning, and so they work with our guinea pigs, rabbits and goats to warm up so they can transition to work with the horses if they want," She said. She also explained that some patients don't even ride the horses; spending time near them is equally as effective.

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A volunteer smiles with the Promise Ranch goats.Promise Ranch Therapies and Recreation

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 6 U.S. children 2-8 years old have a diagnosed mental, behavioral or developmental disorder. In Colorado, 21 percent of adults have a diagnosable mental, behavioral or emotional disorder.

Using animal-assisted therapy to strengthen skills

Because horses are herd animals, equine therapy helps patients develop leadership skills with animals looking for a leader. The sessions also allow for active use of communication, emotion regulation and coping skills. The therapeutic conversation occurs while the patient performs an activity such as grooming, leading, feeding or barn chores. Like traditional office therapy, equine-assisted therapy incorporates behavioral therapy, mindfulness and motivational interviewing.

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A Promise Ranch patient works on grooming the horses during a therapy session.Promise Ranch Therapies and Recreation

Promise Ranch client Anne Beh has an 18-year-old daughter named Amanda with autism, a genetic abnormality and an intellectual disability. Beh said equine therapy was a transformative experience for Amanda.

"She attends a weekly speech therapy group, where she is working on improving her verbal skills, as well as developing meaningful social connections with two other girls in the program. She also just recently started taking adaptive riding lessons, which is her real love," Beh said. "Amanda greatly benefits from this therapy as it helps her with auditory processing, balance, core strength and her self-confidence."

In addition to adaptive riding and therapy, Promise Ranch also helps its patients with disabilities find employment.

Dudley explained that Promise Ranch has a coordinator who works with patients outside of the Ranch to assist them with their job searches and help them succeed in everyday life. The Ranch also strives for inclusion for entire families.

"We do kids yoga and a gardening program— we open our recreational programs to the public, so kids with siblings who have able bodies can all enjoy it together," Dudley said.

Upcoming events

Promise Ranch has public events year-round for Halloween, the holidays and during the summer.

Promise Ranch will hold its inaugural event: Denim and Diamonds, a 21 and older mystery dinner theater experience, from 4-10 p.m. July 30 at The Ranch, 873 Lake Gulch Road in Castle Rock.

Ticket prices start at $150 and benefit Promise Ranch efforts.

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Lovato covers local news for Douglas County, Colo.

Douglas County, CO
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