Dragging 7-year-old James Dickson out of bed on school days is a yearlong struggle, said his mom, Babette.
But that wasn't the case last week, when James hopped out of bed early each morning, excited for another day of camp at the Humble Ranch in Steamboat Springs.
His days on the 6,000-acre working ranch began at 8:30 a.m., and he spent the week riding horses, painting, planting flowers and doing yoga, among other activities.
For James, who is autistic, the Humble Ranch mini-camp program was nonstop fun.
Equally important, his mother said, was that the program provided professional care that addressed some of her son's biggest developmental needs -- speech and interaction skills.
"We're very lucky to have this in Steamboat Springs," Babette Dickson said Friday, the last day of the first of three Humble Ranch summer mini-camps.
Occupational therapist Liz Leipold began the mini-camp program last year with Humble Ranch owner Cheri Trousil. The program falls under the umbrella of the Humble Ranch Education and Therapy Center, which opened in 2000 to provide hippotherapy and therapeutic horseback riding to area children and adults, particularly those with special needs.
Trousil, whose background is in physical therapy, says the natural surroundings of the ranch off River Road provides a fresh atmosphere for children and adults used to undergoing therapy sessions in clinics.
The newer mini-camp program caters specifically to children with special needs, or as Trousil says, varying abilities.
Leipold, an occupational therapist for the Steamboat Springs School District and a ski instructor who often works with skiers with special needs, designs each mini-camp to meet the individual needs of its participants. The camp that ended Friday focused on social interaction, play skills, problem-solving and directional concepts. Llamas and specially trained horses provide comforting and unique partnerships for the children.
"Many of the kids don't understand basic concepts that come naturally to other kids," Babette Dickson said. "This kind of program has a major role in (James') ability to follow school and other programs."
"We have goals and objectives for each group," Leipold said. The mini-camps are limited to six youngsters who usually are referred to the program by special education teachers and physical, occupational and speech therapists. The Humble Ranch Education and Therapy Center is a registered nonprofit that works with Yampa Valley Medical Center, particularly for the private hippotherapy and therapeutic riding lessons it holds throughout the summer.
The new mini-camp quickly is becoming a hit with students and parents.
"The parents every day come and tell me how much fun their kids are having and how much their self-esteem is improving," Leipold said. "When I hear things like that, it's so rewarding."
Parent Nancy Brodie is one of the believers.
"It's such a wonderful camp," she said when picking up her son, Riley. "It's just been awesome for him. He doesn't want to leave. His self-esteem has really shot through the roof."
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