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Home on the range, at last

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Seeing big grins on two clients, one 36 years old and the other five at WindWalkers, you realize how fortunate the Valley is to have this equine assisted learning and therapy center here.

And WindWalkers is approaching the finish line into property ownership with the February closing on the 15-acre ranch on Missouri Heights’ CR 102, which they’ve been leasing for 10 years.

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Doggedly pursuing this vision, no one ever gave up, said Executive Director Gabrielle Greeves.

She announced, “We also have started our $2.2 million capital campaign — over a two-to-three year period — dubbed ‘Hearts and hooves make a difference,’ which also supports major ranch improvements and meets other pressing needs.”

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WindWalkers first opened its doors in 2005 at a ranch on Catherine Store Road with two clients and one horse. As Greeves explained, the dream of owning a ranch began early with the start up of WindWalkers, a Colorado and federally approved 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

“We now serve over 75 clients weekly,” Greeves said. “We work with 15 to18 equine therapy horses and  the many specialized groups which  include at-risk teens, students with significant identifiable emotional disabilities, traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Since its inception, WindWalkers can proudly boast providing 4,200 plus service hours -’butts in the saddle and boots on the ground,’ as we like to say – to over 7,200 riders.”

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The program department is run by director Beth Gusick. a Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship certified instructor.

“We have partnerships with many local organizations, businesses and individuals. Everyone wants us to succeed,” Greeves added.

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She confirmed the ranch plans to harvest 80 to 200 bales of hay. However, that is dependent upon the moisture and seasonal changes.

“We will always need to buy hay regardless,” Greeves clarified, “Feeding a herd of 18 still requires just over 2,500 bales a year.”

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When asked how she feels at the end of the day, Greeves mused “With a sense of joy for someone else’s healing.”

Back to the clients: Michael, the adult, has been in this program for seven years. Wilder, the younger of the two, is newer to WindWalkers.

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Each of them is strongly bonded to the horses, agreed both Becky Young, Michael’s mother, and Rachel Thompson, Wilder’s mother.

Michael, who has cerebral palsy and autism, radiated joy as he and his equine friend came up to the dismounting platform after their ride. Michael then helped offer a bunch of carrots to his steed named Annie.

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Young reflected, “Although he had never been interested in cats or dogs, Michael was intrigued by the horses. His attention was alerted around them, and he began to learn metaskills such as following verbal directions, performing the step-by-step protocol for preparation and mounting.“

She continued, “Best of all, he formed strong emotional bonds with several horses and with instructor Gusick and volunteer Tom Fitzpatrick. These relationships increase his capacity to connect and add immeasurably to his life experience. Michael was given much more than we expected from WindWalkers, and it warms our hearts to see all the other riders who are helped in so many ways by this great organization.”

Rider Wilder beamed as he and his therapy horse Nicky — with assist from several volunteers and therapists — rode around the arena. They played a game of finding first a green stuffed frog and then a spotted stuffed critter.

WindWalkers counts on the commitment of 35 dedicated volunteers weekly plus another 110 to 150 year-round who help with maintenance, community service, special events, special groups and seasonal lessons.

“Our volunteers are crucial. They are family,” Greeves stressed. She described the volunteer opportunities as including lessons and office help, special events, fundraising, court-mandated community service hours, internships and school credits, mucking stalls, horse turn out and in,  plus other options. Email to reach Volunteer Coordinator Debbie Baird.

Fundraising opportunities include sponsoring riders, horses, capital improvements, operational expenses and the Horseshoe Club, which recognizes businesses and individuals who donate $250-$1,000 annually. Contact 963-2909 for information.

At WindWalkers’ core, Greeves said, “is a unique family-centric approach which strongly recognizes that one’s challenge does not affect the individual only. It equally impacts every member of their family and the community at-large. Since family is the basic building blocks of our society, we are firmly committed to aiding not only the rider but also their parents, siblings and care-providers.”

As Greeves emphasized, “Everyone has the right to be happy.”

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