Steamboat Springs Children and horses both know how to live in the moment, Humble Ranch Executive Director Cheri Trousil says.
That helps create an important bond during Humble Ranch's hippotherapy sessions, in which horses become a therapeutic tool for children suffering from disabilities.
Humble Ranch uses both horses and llamas during its weeklong mini-camps
It is empowering for a child "to be a leader and partner with a larger animal like a horse or llama," said Trousil, a physical therapist and certified riding instructor who serves as the agency's executive director.
Humble Ranch's camps help children develop social interaction, gross and fine motor skills, balance, coordination and manners.
"The biggest thing they learn is self-confidence and self-esteem," said Liz Leipold, occupational therapist and camp director. "We have a purpose for everything we do. It might look like play, but their occupation is play."
Humble Ranch is the perfect for setting for Leipold, who loves working with animals and children.
"It's so great to bring my passions together," she said. "After working with a horse or a llama, the children are so proud of themselves."
For example, she said, children learn how to interpret non-verbal forms of communication with the llamas, including how to explain to visitors what it means when the animals' ears are up or when their lips curl.
Leipold said the llamas are fed by hand because it is a very sensory-intensive experience for the children.
"My favorite thing to do is feed them grain because it tickles," said Katie, a camper at the ranch.
The six llamas that participate in the program are retired pack llamas.
"They used to pack up to 100 pounds into the Zirkel Wilderness," Leipold said. "They are now training to be therapy llamas. And they each have a personality the kids recognize."
The campers are working on identifying the different plants llamas eat.
"The kids say they are like living lawnmowers," Leipold said.
Trousil said llamas are safer than horses because they are not flight animals. The staff at the ranch puts a lot of effort into finding the right horses to work with their clientele.
"It takes a special horse to start with, based on their basic personality," Trousil said. "Then they go through specialized training and desensitizing."
Humble Ranch is accredited by the North American Riding for Handicapped Association and there are 50 volunteers who regularly assist in the programs at the ranch.
"We all say that this is a magical place," volunteer coordinator Pat Anthony said. "You get drawn in and can't leave."
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