Hope Ranch provides equine therapy for community

Emily DeShazer | Collegian Jacob, Manhattan resident, greets the horse he rides every week at Hope Ranch in Feb. 2012.

In an age when many ailments and issues can be alleviated by taking a pill, it is easy to overlook the simpler, more natural solutions available. Equine therapy is one such remedy that provides a natural source of healing for people with a variety of challenges.

Hope Ranch Therapeutic Riding Center Inc. is a local nonprofit organization that provides therapy, education and recreational events for individuals with a wide variety of physical, emotional and developmental challenges.

The organization, which was founded seven years ago by the center’s owner, Ken Scroggs, functions almost entirely through the generosity of private donors and dedicated volunteers. Scroggs said he made it a policy not to turn anyone away from the ranch.

“We made a whole thing a long time ago when we first started this that anyone who wants to ride, gets to ride,” Scroggs said.

Scroggs, who also owns Dry Creek, an equine care and riding center that shares facilities with Hope Ranch, said that he was first inspired to establish the organization after he began to realize the multifaceted benefits experienced by individuals practicing equine therapy.

Approximately 97 percent of the student riders at Hope Ranch are able to participate in therapy sessions due to scholarships offered by the program, which Scroggs also attributes to the organization’s moral principles.

“I mean, if you really think about it, a lot of the individuals who are dealing with family members with these issues are already burdened with everything going on,” Scroggs said. “So we decided that we didn’t want to be a part of that plan. Anyone who comes out and says they want to ride, they get to ride.”

The therapy, while not clinical in nature, revolves around the idea of consistently creating an open, relaxing environment for clients to learn and understand the physical aspects of horseback riding. It’s also meant to build and maintain relationships between the client, the volunteers and the animals at the facility.

Through the practice of riding and recreational activities, individuals with personal challenges from autism, multiple sclerosis and even post-traumatic stress disorder can experience improved comprehension and control of the body. These individuals also gain mental and emotional stimulation, such as increased speech capability and personal confidence.

The educational aspect of the program also plays a major role in the success of the rider as well, Scroggs said.

“A lot of times, kids with disabilities are given a pass,” Scroggs said. “That can be good for them, but not good at the same time, because then they don’t learn how to do things for themselves. So, we decided that we wanted them to do as much as they possibly could, even on the horse.”

Individuals attending classes are given the opportunity to progress through a variety of stages. They begin with the basics of grooming the horse, then advance to riding with the assistance of three volunteers per rider. The final goal is for the student to have the ability to ride and maneuver the horse with little to no help from an instructor.

One of the class instructors at Hope Ranch, Garland Miller, got his start with the program as a volunteer, and is now employed through the organization. He said witnessing the positive effects that equine therapy has had on Hope Ranch students has been an incredibly rewarding experience.

“I’ve seen quite a positive impact on many of the riders I’ve taught,” Miller said. “They’re just significantly happier, and for several kids from the school district, this is the best thing that happens to them all week, and you can see it when they come in. They’re just so excited that they can’t even calm down.”

Miller’s duties as an instructor include working with the students to come up with the best combination of horse, rider and volunteers for the student, which is often a trial-and-error process. Through this method, volunteers get to experience a variety of clients and success stories as well.

Kari Inch, junior in animal science, has spent the past year volunteering for Hope Ranch after participating in a similar program for wounded soldiers. Inch said that one of her favorite parts of donating her time to the organization is seeing how she personally impacts each individual through the therapy.

Inch felt a special connection to one student in particular. The student, who was at first very quiet and chose to communicate mostly through head nods and gestures, slowly began opening up to Inch. The more they communicated, the more Inch came to relate to her as an individual without special needs. Eventually, the student began communicating and speaking freely to her volunteers.

“The most rewarding part was seeing her improvement socially, as well as in her riding ability,” Inch said. “She was always very timid to push the horse to do more, and through a little encouragement, she rose up to each challenge I gave her.”

By providing the encouraging atmosphere necessary to benefit individuals facing a variety of challenges in their lives, Hope Ranch continues to be a positive experience for both clients and volunteers associated with the program.