Community Profile: Riding for a reason
Dee Stiers leads family of volunteers, riders at Silt riding institute
Nestled in Peach Valley at the foot of the Hogback Mountains is a place where people of all ages and all walks of life become a family — a place where equestrians ride for a reason.
Technically, the Riding Institute for Disabled Equestrians (RIDE) is a private, nonprofit organization designed to provide equine assisted activities through therapeutic programs to developmentally and physically disabled children and adults and offers equine-facilitated mental health activities.
But for those who are part of the RIDE family, it’s a place where students, horses and volunteers are accepted for who they are. It’s a place of hope, new beginnings and safety.
Dee Stiers and her husband, Poke, took over the institute when it was still in its infancy in 1993 after being fabricated by MaryLee Lebaw, who was no longer able to continue running it.
“I said, ‘Well I can. I’ll take it over for you,’” Stiers said.
Stiers, who graduated from the University of Northern Colorado with a degree in special education, was an educator for just under 50 years. With a family that had a history and knowledge of horses, Stiers knew this was something she wanted to take on.
“It was a perfect scenario for me — I was stoked,” she said.
History with horses
Dee and Poke Stiers met on the Front Range in 1966. It was a teal Mustang Convertible owned by the Glenwood Springs boy that initially grabbed the attention of the 19-year-old Dee.
The two dated before Poke enlisted in the United States Marines Corps and served in Vietnam. They got married after his return and moved to Denver to start a family and had two daughters, Stephanie and Melanie.
While Poke was serving in the military, the family moved back and forth between California and Hawaii while Dee continued to teach in each location.
“When we were in Hawaii, Steph found this place called Champagne Therapy,” Stiers said. “It’s like what we do here but smaller.”
“All I wanted was to be around horses,” Stephanie Stiers said. “I would muck stalls, I started leading (horses) and working with kids with Down syndrome. So that’s kind of how we were introduced to equine assisted therapy.”
The family later moved to California and became heavily involved with another equine group called The Pony Club, a national program that teaches riding and proper care of horses.
“We’re the type that once we go in, we go in full force,” Dee Stiers said. “And it was great, because when Poke was gone to Okinawa and gone to the Gulf War, we would go to school, then go home and ride.”
In 1993, the Stiers family moved back to Garfield County, where Dee continued to teach special education and was quickly introduced to MaryLee Lebaw and the RIDE program.
One year later, they moved to their ranch on Bendetti Lane north of Silt and brought the riding institute with them, where it has been ever since.
Since she was teaching special education locally, Stiers knew the kids and their parents and was able to tell them about the therapeutic opportunities at RIDE.
“We started out small and after school or during the summer,” Stiers said. “But then it just started getting bigger and bigger, and the longer I taught in the school district the more I knew. I knew the psychologists, I knew the kids. … I just got them coming here.”
The first year RIDE had five students, four horses and a handful of teacher volunteers. This year the institute is expecting over 250 riders and has close to 50 volunteers that show up for the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday sessions and biweekly camps.
“What we liked about it was the parents could come and they could get away for a little bit. They would sit under the apple tree or in the OK Corral and just visit with other parents and relax,” Stiers said.
‘They have to earn it’
The reasons clients go to RIDE varies based on their specific needs. Therapy sessions are designed to fit each person’s abilities and disabilities. Riders are required to get referrals from both a physician and therapist before attending sessions.
“These aren’t lessons,” Stiers said. “They aren’t coming here to learn to ride, per se. There is a reason they are here.”
After the busy summer months, area schools take kids on outings to RIDE, including the kids considered to be “at risk” who have faced a variety of challenges in childhood. This group of kids helps with chores at the ranch and learns about horses before being given the opportunity to ride.
“They have to earn it, and they do,” Stiers said. “They have to show respect and follow team work. They’re tough kids, and they’re in that group for a reason. But they’re tough because something happened.”
“You have to be flexible. … These are kids that can be violent. But they’re so good with these animals because they are afraid of them. … It humbles them,” Stephanie said.
A few of the at-risk kids have later gone on to become volunteers and helped other at-risk kids in similar situations and backgrounds.
“It’s an outlet for them and a safe place,” Stephanie said.
‘They rock this place’
The volunteers at RIDE vary in age and background just as much as the riders do. Most range in age from 12-15 and are active in local 4-H groups or are looking for a safe place to make friends and spend the summer.
“Our volunteers are amazing. It’s a whole different quality of volunteers. They’re mature, giving kids, … and they rock this place,” Stiers said.
Stiers also credits the community for being a pillar that helps keep RIDE running.
“The community is completely involved in this,” she said. “We charge very minimally, and if they can’t pay, we get scholarships.”
At a weekly lesson charge of only $17, Stiers only recently raised the price after 20 years after getting advice to do so from the board president of RIDE. Members of the community and local businesses sponsor families who are unable to afford the fee.
The horses at RIDE are also sponsored by members of the community who donate $2,000 per horse each year.
“We couldn’t do this without the community,” Stiers said.
At the end of each busy day, Stiers enjoys looking back and recognizing what equine therapy does for each individual client, as well as the volunteers. The way the kids, volunteers, students and horses all mix and work together is what makes RIDE a family.
“It makes my day, and I enjoy this,” Stiers said. “I wouldn’t be doing it otherwise.”
Visual Journalist Chelsea Self can be reached at 970-384-9108 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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