Carbondale healing ranch hosts holiday fundraiser Friday

Donations to Smiling Goat Ranch to expand personnel, services

A horse decorated in holiday lights at the Smiling Goat Ranch.
Submitted / Sheyrl Barto

A Carbondale ranch offering free mental health services to people with autism, depression, post-traumatic stress and more is hosting a holiday fundraiser Friday, a ranch official said.

Smiling Goat Ranch, a nonprofit organization that specializes in employing support animals to work with clients and families, welcomes visitors to its Whinny Wonderland event between 5-7 p.m. The ranch is located at 271 Willow Lane, just east of Carbondale proper.

Those interested in attending should RSVP by emailing Smiling Goat Ranch founder and executive director Sheryl Barto at

Suggested donations are $20 for individuals or $50 for families.

The ranch will offer carriage rides and hot chocolate around a cozy bonfire. The goal is to raise $80,000, which will be used to hire more employees, Barto said. So far the ranch, run entirely on either grants or donations, has raised $31,059.

Barto said attendees can also visit with and decorate the ranch’s miniature horses and rabbits in its enchanted forest.

“They’re like the size of goats, and people can decorate them with Christmas decorations,” she said of the mini horses. “People can also take carriage rides to the Carbondale rodeo grounds and back.”

“It’s very simple and sweet.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating mental health needs across the Roaring Fork and Colorado valleys, Barto said the ranch’s caseload comprises 16 individual family sessions per week.

“There is no question our services are needed now more than ever,” she said.

Deploying various methods to treat a number of neuropsychological conditions, Barto said the ranch’s certified recreation therapist, volunteer staff and herself create an environment customized to each client and their family.

No session is exactly the same, Barto said.

“We’re working with whole families at one, because it’s not just affecting the person with the condition,” she said. “Basically we help humans with their interactions mostly with horses but other small social animals. So that’s where the bunnies and goats come in.”

Staff, trained on how to accommodate sensory sensitive clients, also hosts family events like birthday parties. Say there’s a client with autism who’s infatuated with “Star Wars,” the ranch will dress up its animals in characters like Yoda, Chewbacca and Luke Skywalker.

Barto, whose own son is on the autism spectrum, said the ranch began in 2015. Ever since, the Roaring Fork Valley has shown nothing but support.

“We are small,” she said. “But we have an impassioned community.”

To further explore the ranch’s services, visit or call 970-379-1383.

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or

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