Lately Shirley Hanson has something even more to smile about. As the executive director at Praying Hands Ranch located on the Douglas and Elbert County lines, she watches clients improve their lives every day. But for the past couple months a new piece of equipment is really what’s got her excited.
About two months ago, Praying Hands Ranch, an extensive hippotherapy program, received a specialized saddle called an independence saddle. This saddle is the only one of its kind in Colorado and allows a rider that may have a severe developmental or emotional handicap the ability to independently and safely ride a horse. The $6,000 saddle was made possible by the donations of the Rotary Club of Parker and many other outside donators.
Two clients are currently using the saddle at the ranch. The first to try out the saddle was Holly Cross from Littleton. She began riding the independence saddle in November. Hanson admits she chose Cross to be the first to ride the saddle because she is smart, strong and is able to give needed feedback on the saddle.
“We have up to 100 clients per week, but we really wanted Holly to be the first because she can explain to us her experience using the saddle,” she said. “She is so smart and we really need her feedback. Besides she is such a lovely lady.”
The saddle is used to strengthen and tone muscles, improve balance, posture, head control and coordination as well as build self esteem. In Cross’ case, the saddle is helping to strengthen her torso and core section. It is difficult for Cross to sit up straight, so the saddle is building those core muscles to help her with her posture. After using the saddle an hour a week for a couple months, Cross said it is working and she can feel a difference.
“It is a lot of work, but it is worth it,” she said. “When I walk I don’t shuffle as much.”
Ginni Furness is Cross’ therapist at Praying Hands Ranch. She said the reason Cross’ walking has improved too is because the multidimensional movement of the horse replicates the movements of the human gait. And because the saddle allows Cross to spend more time on the horse, she is able to feel the horse for a longer period of time, Furness said.
“While she is on the horse we can stretch her legs and arms out,” she said. “Since she is on the horse longer, she now has an improved walking gait.”
Hanson is excited to try out the new saddle on many other clients at the ranch. She is confident the saddle will provide the necessary assistance for many other clients in need.
“This is such a blessing,” she said. “I was praying on that saddle and it is truly is a blessing. It is safe and such a wonderful addition to Praying Hands Ranch.”
For more information on Praying Hands Ranch visit www.prayinghandsranches.org or call 303-841-4043.