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“Before you marry a person, you should first make them use a computer with slow internet service to see who they really are.”
– Will Ferrell  
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  Volume No. 16 Issue No. 2 February 2019  

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Front Page   |   Feature Stories   |   Search This Issue   |   Log In
  Health and healing through horses
  By Mark Stoller

   A horse can mirror a human’s feelings and has the power to heal, according to a study by Alliant International University. Horses can immediately detect a human’s emotional state, intentions and needs by reading body language and energy. 
   Shannon Mitchell, executive director of Stable Strides, said, “We work with the horse’s emotional state to teach the client how others may see their behavior. If the client has a bad day and arrives angry, the horse picks up on that emotion and keeps its distance. The client is coached to control their emotion to bring the horse closer. The therapist helps the client identify how they settled themselves down to repeat the process again later.”
   Nestled in the Latigo Equestrian Center in Elbert, Mitchell directs the activities of Stable Stride’s nine support staff, six instructors and four licensed professional therapists. Thirty-seven years ago, the equine therapy group started as Acts 19:11, transitioned to Pikes Peak Therapeutic Riding Center and is now Stable Strides.
   Four years ago, the Dom Cimino Center at Norris Penrose was added for equine mental health services. For Colorado Springs clients, it is conveniently located along bus lines.
   The Stable Strides website states they provide treatment in three categories: mental health, hippotherapy and therapeutic riding.
   Equine facilitated psychotherapy allows therapists to assist mental health clients with processing feelings, thoughts and reactions while living with bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia or other mental health challenges.
   Hippotherapy utilizes the horse’s strides, which mimic human strides, to provide physical and neurological stimulation to the client’s body. The horse’s stride provides three-dimensional motion to assist with cerebral palsy, sensory integration disorders, traumatic brain injury and more.
   Therapeutic riding provides the same physical motion therapy as hippotherapy and is available for clients at a higher level of physical and emotional independence.
   One Stable Strides resolution for 2019 involves educating the public on the success of equine therapy. “Equine therapy has such a lasting effect on people,” Mitchell said. “Traditional therapy relies on people having to come back repeatedly to an office and feels like a life sentence sometimes. We are giving people tools to cope in difficult situations, live their lives and reach a level of independence.
   “We are also working with Children’s Hospital and Colorado State University who are conducting evidence-based research on the benefits of equine therapy. Once they’re funded, we can be a part of those studies by providing the clients, horses and instructors for their research.”
   Describing resources available to clients, Mitchell said, “All of our instructors are required to be certified through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International and we are a PATH premier accredited center. We employ mental health therapists licensed through the state of Colorado.”
   She said initial meetings between therapists and clients are conducted in the office. They match a horse to the client for ongoing sessions. “Docile horses are great for hippotherapy, and horses with an ornery personality can be better for mental health clients,” Mitchell said.
   Stable Strides provides therapeutic services for children, teens and adults. Statistics from 2018 indicate a marked increase in provided services. “Client numbers have increased from 600 to over 730,” she said. “Across the three categories, 63 percent of clients are seen for mental health, 25 percent therapeutic riding, and 12 percent hippotherapy. We see about 110 clients each week; and, throughout the year, conduct over 4,300 interactions between horse and client.” Mitchell said there were about 1,000 more horse and client interactions from 2017 to 2018.
   Medical diagnosis is not required to seek assistance at Stable Strides. “For mental health, we’ll see them without a diagnosis. Our on-site therapists can help determine if there is an adaptive need,” she said.
   “Most insurance companies will only cover the mental health therapy. It was determined insurance companies cannot dictate how a credentialed therapist provides their therapy such as play, music, equine, etc. Medicaid will pay for hippotherapy, although it is a very specific, difficult process and must be billed as experimental.”
   Mitchell said Children’s Hospital is a firm believer in equine therapy and transports children to the Stable Strides Latigo location for 30 minutes of “hippotherapy and off-horse clinical therapy.”
   More than 250 veterans, active duty, and their family members receive help at Stable Strides. They are referred from Fort Carson and Mount Carmel Veterans Service Center. “Our therapists and instructors are trained in the military culture through recurring (and) annual TriCare, Fort Carson and advocacy group-sponsored courses,” Mitchell said. “Additionally, a number of our instructors are veterans and military spouses and still very familiar with the military community.”
   Stable Strides provides an opportunity for veterans and active duty service members to receive free therapy. Mitchell said a long-term volunteer, “Mack,” passed away and left a legacy gift to ensure military members can receive the help they need. “We honored his efforts by changing Horses for Heroes to Operation Mack,” she said.
   Mitchell talked about the “epidemic” of suicides in the military. “We completed an equine therapy research study through Fort Carson, looking at soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder and test results with high suicide indicators,” she said. “After eight weeks of equine therapy, those same individuals were tested again. We saw a 62 percent reduction in suicide indicators. Equine therapy can do more than change lives — it can truly save lives.”
   To commemorate their healing success and raise awareness, Stable Strides will host its first annual Red, White, & Blue Celebration Friday, Feb. 22, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the Norris Penrose Event Center. This free event raises funds to support area service members and veterans on their healing journeys with horses. A catered lunch will be provided, and a keynote speaker will be featured. There is a registration link on the Stable Strides website.
   To learn more about Stable Strides, donate or volunteer at the facility, visit or call 719-495-3908. Stable Strides is located at 13620 Halleluiah Trail (to the right of the Latigo Trail Equestrian Center).
All of the instructors at Stable Strides are certified through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International and the program is a PATH premier accredited center: staff include (from left to right) Chester DeAngelis, program director; Melissa Anthony, grants and research director; Maggie Roberts, equine manager; Michael Mersman, operations and volunteer program director; Shannon Mitchell, executive director; Jenna Miller, office manager; April Wade, PATH certified instructor; and Charlie, the happy dog
Stable Strides volunteers Lyn Blevins (left) and Susan Keene guide a therapeutic riding session for Jeff, who is atop Bear.
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