Aging Well: Healing in the saddle |

Aging Well: Healing in the saddle

Tamera Manzanares

Steve Frasier is among adult clients who have taken part in therapeutic riding activities at the Humble Ranch Education and Therapy Center. Riding at the ranch, in combination with other types of therapy, helped him to walk again after a spinal cord injury and surgery.

— Riding a horse might be the last thing a person recovering from surgery or injury, or coping with a chronic condition, might imagine doing.

If a person likes riding or is interested in learning, however, not only is it possible, it's a good idea.

Worldwide, thousands of people with physical limitations ride horses for enjoyment and, in the process, experience benefits including improved balance, posture, flexibility and muscle strength.

When done with the guidance and support of a therapeutic riding instructor, this is called therapeutic riding. It is among various types of equine-assisted activities and therapies benefiting people of all ages with special physical, mental or emotional needs.

The Humble Ranch Educa­tion and Therapy Center south of Steamboat Springs is among organizations specializing in equine-assisted therapies.

The ranch, which focuses on programs for children and youths during summer, will offer a new program, Therapeutic Riding for Adult Rehab, in fall.

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The four-week program is for people in an active rehabilitation process because of surgery, injury, stroke or long-term conditions such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease.

"It can be a nice addition to a long-term existing rehab process," explained Cheri Trousil, a physical therapist and executive director of the Humble Ranch Therapy Center.

A rider must be engaged physically and cognitively while riding a horse correctly. Working to maintain good postural alignment astride a horse strengthens a person's core and legs while improving balance, coordination and overall physical endurance.

"If you're truly riding with the horse and moving with the horse, it's a very dynamic process," Trousil said.

Therapeutic riding instructors provide individualized support — helping participants on and off the horses, leading or walking next to the horses if necessary, and ensuring that a person has correct riding technique and posture for maximum benefits.

Therapeutic riding programs are flexible, adhering to the needs and skills of the riders. Some riders might have no experience, others might be seasoned riders who need support because of changes in their capabilities.

Steve Frasier, an experienced rider and horse owner, worked with therapeutic riding instructors at the Humble Ranch Therapy Center on the advice of his physical therapist. Frasier was recovering from surgery last fall for a spinal cord injury that affected the nerves in his legs and his ability to walk.

Together with regular physical therapy and water therapy, the riding helped him to get back on his feet.

"The staff was excellent. … They knew what they were doing in terms of getting me on the horse and off the horse from a wheelchair," he said. "The whole experience was very positive."

Steve Frasier's wife, Susie, said the riding therapy also gave him a noticeable confidence boost during a tough recovery process.

"It really showed him that no matter what happened, if he didn't walk again, he was going to be able to do a lot of things he used to do," she said.

Other, subtle aspects of riding a horse contribute to the therapeutic benefits. Being outside, the horse's constant, rhythmical gait and the process of trusting and bonding with the horse help make riding a therapy a person can look forward to.

"It adds depth to the whole experience," Trousil said about the animal-human bond.

Horses at the therapy center typically range in age from 8 to 16 and come from the Yampa Valley. Many are former ranch, show or 4-H horses. They undergo a two- to four-week trial period at the ranch before beginning intensive training.

Training, which usually lasts one to six months, focuses on desensitizing the horses to wheelchairs, loud noises, flapping arms, groups of people and other tools or situations they are likely to encounter during their jobs.

If the horses successfully complete many practice lessons, they slowly are integrated into the program. Retired therapy horses remain at the ranch for the duration of their lives.

For profiles of the therapy horses, in addition to information about equine-assisted therapy programs, volunteers and other aspects of the Humble Ranch Therapy Center, visit

This article includes information from the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association.

Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at tmanzanares Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older. For more information, visit or call 871-7676.

Therapeutic program

The Humble Ranch Education and Therapy Center will offer Therapeutic Riding for Adult Rehab on Mondays and Wednesdays starting Aug. 30 through Sept. 22. Times will be determined based on interest. The cost is $35 per session. Scholarships are available.

The program is appropriate for adults actively involved in a rehabilitation process because of a long-term illness, injury or surgery. For more information, call Cheri Trousil at 879-3443.

For more information about the Humble Ranch Therapy Center, visit

To learn more about therapeutic and other types of equine-assisted therapy, visit the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association at

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