The healing power of a horse

Medicine Horse gears up for spring riding season

NELA, a half Belgian/half percheron mare, looks on as Rhiannon Uhler brushes her Monday at the Medicine Horse Center in Dolores. Enlargephoto

SHANNON LIVICK/STAR

NELA, a half Belgian/half percheron mare, looks on as Rhiannon Uhler brushes her Monday at the Medicine Horse Center in Dolores.

Under the soft glow of the indoor arena at the Medicine Horse Center in Mancos, Cassidy Larick steered her horse, Jay Jay, around cones and over obstacles.

To most, this would look like a fun day on horseback, but to those at Medicine Horse, it is much, much more.

It is therapy.

There are 11 horses at the facility in Mancos and each one is on duty the minute a person comes in contact with them.

"Horses are the most honest mirrors of human behavior," said Lynne Howarth, executive director of Medicine Horse Center.

Most clients at Medicine Horse Center have therapeutic goals, whether it be overcoming abuse, cerebral palsy, autism, sensory processing disorder, ADD/ADHD, neurological disorders, cognitive disorders, traumatic brain injuries, stroke impairments, developmental delays or learning disabilities.

"The horse always knows what a person is feeling, even if they say they are fine," Howarth said. "A therapist and a horse professional watch very carefully how a horse reacts. A flick of the ear can mean something."

On Monday, Larick smiled as she steered Jay Jay around obstacles, she smiled as she brushed Jay Jay when the ride was over and laughed out loud when Jay Jay decided to roll in the sand.

"This is really good for them," said Melissa Yoakum, with Community Connections.

Certified PATH instructor Rachel Cantor spoke to both Larick and Rhiannon Uhler as they rode their horses.

"Focus on the horse. Be one with the horse," she told them.

Cantor said that, as an instructor, she realizes that it is the horse that helps. If a rider is tense, so is the horse. If they relax, so does the horse.

"It is amazing because horses provide instant biofeedback," she said.

The center recently celebrated 10 years in Mancos. The Center itself started in 2000, but moved to Mancos in 2002. Last year, the center in Mancos and the center in Durango served 220 people. The center in Mancos not only works with adults but also students from surrounding schools. The center is currently taking applications for the spring and summer therapeutic riding programs and will likely offer summer camps. In addition, the center is always looking for volunteers and donations.

The program is always in need of grass hay, pasture for horses, help with landscaping, marketing, fund raising and donations are appreciated, Howarth said. Most of the funds for the nonprofit group come from grants.

"They leave here with an awareness for their actions, words and a respect for others and themselves," Howarth said.

The biggest thing, she said, is having a animal that is so large trust a client and treat them with kindness.

"A lot of what we teach is kindness and respect and that we all have something to give in this world," Howarth said.

Volunteer Linda Farnsworth agreed.

"I really believe in the program. Every session you see breakthroughs," she said. "Horses force you to think outside yourself."

Howarth said all the hard work is worth it when she sees a breakthrough in a client.

"We have had people speak for the first time after coming here," Howarth smiled. "I had a teenager smile for the first time and her parents were there to see it."

CASSIDY LARICK laughs Monday at the Medicine Horse Center in Mancos as  JayJay, a Baskire curly horse, rolls after a riding lesson. Enlargephoto

SHANNON LIVICK/STAR

CASSIDY LARICK laughs Monday at the Medicine Horse Center in Mancos as JayJay, a Baskire curly horse, rolls after a riding lesson.

RHIANNON UHLER steers Nela, a half Belgian/half percheron horse over a pole Monday at the Medicine Horse Center in Mancos as Rachel Cantor looks on. Enlargephoto

SHANNON LIVICK/STAR

RHIANNON UHLER steers Nela, a half Belgian/half percheron horse over a pole Monday at the Medicine Horse Center in Mancos as Rachel Cantor looks on.

CASSIDY LARICK has her work cut out for her Monday as she brushes Jay Jay, a Bashkir curly horse. The Bashkir curlies are said to be hypoallergenic. Enlargephoto

SHANNON LIVICK/STAR

CASSIDY LARICK has her work cut out for her Monday as she brushes Jay Jay, a Bashkir curly horse. The Bashkir curlies are said to be hypoallergenic.