Steamboat Springs Cheri Trousil believes that the outdoors has profound therapeutic benefits.
She is making sure that others can benefit from the animals, vistas and activities on the ranch she and her husband own in Steamboat Springs.
Three years ago, Trousil created the Humble Ranch Education and Therapy Center on her property off of River Road. The facility offers hippotherapy, or therapy using horses, and various activities designed to assist people with special physical, mental or emotional needs.
"The outdoors has so much to offer us," Trousil said.
The therapy center was created primarily for therapeutic horseback riding. Trousil said there are eight multipurpose horses on the ranch.
"The horse is just a tool. It's part of a treatment plan," she said.
The horses are used in therapeutic riding classes for more advanced clients. In their classes, the participants play games and work on balance and posture while riding horses. The classes are taught in groups of three or less, and a therapeutic riding instructor and volunteers on the ground assist the riders.
Eventually, these classes are intended to prepare the clients to ride alone. Trousil said some clients could even go on to participate in the Special Olympics.
The horses also are used as therapy tools. Hippotherapy involves a physical or occupational therapist assisting a client, using a horse in much the same way they might use an exercise ball in the office: The rider can working on strengthening muscles by lying back on the horse or doing sit-ups while sitting atop a horse. Riders can stretch their bodies by lying across the horse and simply following the motion of its stride.
"He's not learning how to ride," Trousil said, pointing to a young boy atop horse in the ranch's arena. "The horse is being used as a therapy tool."
Trousil said the boy was working to strengthen weak trunk muscles that cause him to flop over or hunch.
Clients who are unable to walk or move normally on their own can benefit from the therapy, too, she said.
The movement of a walking horse forces the rider's pelvis to move in a manner similar to the human gait.
"The motion closely duplicates the pattern of walking," she said. There is no other therapeutic tool that can mimic this movement so accurately, she said.
Horseback riding is also helpful to clients who suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or autism.
Trousil said riding helps to calm some riders down and helps many to focus. She said it is important to get certain clients in a peaceful mental state so they can understand other instructions and therapy.
"Your system needs to be at a nice level to receive," she explained.
The therapy center assists children and adults, but Trousil said the atmosphere attracts more children.
"A lot of these kids aren't able to challenge themselves like normal kids do," she said. "This environment definitely breeds more self-esteem."
The center works in conjunction with Yampa Valley Medical Center for client referrals. Trousil said it is nice to have the support of the hospital.
Because the nonprofit therapy center receives only 22 percent of its program costs from client fees, it is heavily reliant upon donations.
This year, the ranch will get a boost from the proceeds of the 25th annual Mountain Madness Half Marathon, which is being organized and sponsored by Christy Sports.
This will be the first time the race will benefit a nonprofit organization, Christy Sports manager Gina Norton said.
Bob Dapper, the director of mountain operations for Christy Sports, said he is excited to help promote the therapy center.
"Humble Ranch does an awful lot for kids and adults, many who can't run in a half marathon or 10K," Dapper said.
Christy's will pick up race packets on July 12 at the store on Central Park Drive. The registration fee for racers will be $15. Participants will receive a T-shirt and a bib. Registration fees will be $20 the day of the race.
Dapper said 100 percent of the profits from the race will go to Humble Ranch.
Dapper and Norton said they are hoping to have 120 participants in this year's race. About 80 people participated last year.
The race will begin at 8 a.m. July 13 at the Howelsen Hill tennis courts. The half-marathon will go up through Dakota Ridge and back to Howelsen Hill. The 10K will go 3.1 miles out River Road and back. There will also be 1- and 2-mile "fun runs."
Dapper said Christy Sports will accept any extra donations for Humble Ranch during the packet pick up July 12 or at the race July 13.