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Horses helping humans

The Pikes Peak Therapeutic Riding Center is a chance for people with physical, mental and emotional disabilities to enjoy the healing benefits of horseback riding.PPTRC, a nonprofit organization, is accredited by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association – the only premier accredited therapeutic riding center in southern Colorado, said Heidi Cooper, PPTRC volunteer coordinator. The facility is adjacent to the Latigo Trails Equestrian Center at 13620 Halleluiah Trail.”We’ve been around since 1981,” said PPTRC executive director Christy Stettler. “Originally, we were called Acts 19:11 based on the biblical verse about Paul and his miracles, because we truly believe miracles occur out here on a daily basis; and our first horse was named Paul.” Stettler said the name did not reflect the purpose of the organization because it is not a faith-based organization, so they changed the name about 10 years ago. “We help people with disabilities – physical, mental and emotional,” Stettler said.According to PPTRC literature, “Therapeutic horseback riding has exceptional physical and psychological benefits enabling individuals with disabilities to achieve the control and mobility they may not otherwise experience. A horse’s gait, similar to the human walk, helps strengthen spine and pelvic muscles, improves posture and coordination, and increases joint mobility and psychological well-being.”PPTRC offers the following programs.Hippotherapy: Hippotherapy uses the horse as a tool to accomplish goals. People teaching hippotherapy must have a degree in physical therapy, occupational therapy or speech therapy.Therapeutic riding: Therapeutic riding differs from hippotherapy in that clients are learning basic riding skills. Classes are taught by one of 13 instructors, each certified by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association. Trained volunteers assist the riders and instructor.Wounded Warrior program: This program specifically helps veterans with problems like traumatic brain injury, amputation and post-traumatic stress disorder.Equine Facilitated Learning: With this program, riders accomplish relationship and personal growth goals.In 2008, PPTRC hosted an average of 81 riders a week. “The cost per rider per lesson is actually $100, but we charge $30,” Stettler said. “We have to underwrite the remaining cost and even that cost can be expensive so we do have a riders’ support fund as well.”All of the horses at PPTRC have been donated and many are sponsored by individuals who contribute to their food bill.Nicole Cichon is in the hippotherapy program. Her mother, Jeanne Cichon, said the program has helped her daughter. “They (doctors) tested her about two days after she was born and drew blood,” Cichon said. “She was born on a Sunday, and, Wednesday morning when I went back for a checkup, they said for sure she tested positive for Down syndrome. She’s had no heart problems at all. From all testing that we’ve done, she’s a perfect child, she just happens to have Down syndrome.”Lack of muscle tone, however, was a problem. Cichon remembered when Nicole was 3 months old and the school tested her for the handicapped programs. “I remember her lying on the carpet,” Jeanne Cichon said. “Her arms could not move. She could not lift her hands up at all. She couldn’t move her eyes from side to side. She had very low muscle tone.”All that’s changed. Cichon described her daughter’s muscle tone as “incredible” and attributed it in large part to hippotherapy. “We heard about hippotherapy because when Nicole was born and was about 6 months old, a friend of John’s, my husband, had a daughter who at that time was 7, and they said the best thing you can do is, as soon as she turns 2, get her into hippotherapy. So I started researching what hippotherapy was and waited until she turned 2, got all the paperwork and started her right away.”There are many volunteer opportunities at PPTRC, from walking the horses to stable work and grooming, as well as office work. More than 300 volunteers donate an average of 15,000 hours each year.Editor’s note: Since publication, Christy Stettler is no longer the PPTRC executive director.

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