Fall horseback ride makes for happy trails | PostIndependent.com

Fall horseback ride makes for happy trails

April E. Clark
Post Independent Contributor
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – I had hippotherapy this week. It was nothing like the name implies.

The experience did not include the world’s third largest land animal. There wasn’t even an old-school game of Hungry Hungry Hippos sitting around on a table. The true definition of hippotherapy is horse therapy. From the Greek word hippo. Meaning horse. A horse is a horse.

Of course.

As part of the “April Takes a Ride” series in the Post Independent, I’ve mostly been up in the air this summer. Roller coasters, B-17 bombers, paragliders – the method to the madness of putting me high in the sky has been creative.

This time, I decided to take a more therapeutic approach to riding things. Keeping in mind a horse once stepped on my foot in Girl Scout camp – a memory that has stayed with me – I thought horseback riding might me do some good.

Hippo riding, not so much.

With the help of Ken Murphy at Glenwood Adventure Co., which has teamed up with the High Canyon Adventures crew at Bair Ranch, a scenic, two-hour autumn leaf-peeping ride was scheduled. I hadn’t been that excited since climbing atop an elephant when I was a kid at Busch Gardens.

I love animals, and thought it was high time I lose my uneasiness around horses. They are beautiful, graceful animals. After three decades, there’s no reason I should be letting a random act of horse misstepping from childhood traumatize me forever.

I obviously need to get past it.

According to a paper by veterinarians Michele C. Hollow and William P. Rives, horses are the second most popular animal used in assisted therapy programs. Dogs are No. 1. My 14-year-old dog Elwood would agree.

He is good for my soul.

I wondered why horses are good for therapy, so I Googled it. Drs. Hollow and Rives say a horse’s gait is rhythmic and repetitive. Their pelvis moves like ours. Makes sense. Horseback riding also improves balance, posture and mobility. And if anyone needs to remember to sit up straight while she’s typing on a computer, it’s this girl right here.

Remember ladies, Miss Manners says posture is important.

Post Independent photographer Kelley Cox and I met at Bair Ranch with a nice welcome from head wrangler Jason Bair and a litter of white Akbash puppies that like to lick faces. Soon, they will grow up to be guard dogs for the sheep.

Don’t tell anyone, but I almost snuck one home with me.

The 24-year-old Bair is a tall, friendly guy – one of six kids in the Bair family. When he’s not tending to the sheep and horses on the ranch, Bair leads tours around the property. There are horseback, ATV and wagon rides, along with chuckwagon dinners, events and weddings at the sprawling 4,500-acre ranch.

The horseback rides can be one or two hours, and can accommodate small or large groups. Bair said he’s taken out a lot of couples this fall now that kids are back in school.

Very romantic.

Bair also said he’s had kids as young as 4 go horseback riding, so I felt a little silly for being nervous. I quickly got over it once I met my horse, Sundance. What a sweetie. Kelley’s horse was Copper and Bair rode his faithful friend Cupcake – all great horses.

At least I could rest assured as I had a helmet on – we were legally required to wear them – although I wanted to rock the cowgirl hat. I did don the blue jeans and Justin cowgirl boots for my adventure, because we all know when horseback riding, looks are everything.

Actually, that’s not true. I’d say knowing how to direct your horse right or left and how to get her to stop or go were everything to me.

Bair was missing his cowboy hat, though.

“People give me a hard time a lot because I like to wear a baseball cap,” he said.

I didn’t give him a hard time at all. With my limited equine experience, I actually listened to the instructional video they played before the ride. And I most certainly listened to Bair as he helped me up on Sundance. I trusted that the 15-year-old mare knew exactly how to do her job.

“This horse is good because it’s like she’s an auto-pilot,” Bair said.

I liked the sound of that.

Maybe I watched “City Slickers” with Billy Crystal one too many times, but I kept expecting myself to end up with a wild horse and ensuing shenanigans. Or at least do something embarrassing a city slicker might do.

Luckily, my ride was nice and smooth. I learned to sit up straight when going downhill and to not lean forward on my horse. I learned to keep my balance when we would trot up an incline by pressing my boots into the stirrups.

I learned how to make Sundance go when she really wanted to stop for a snack. She seemed to have no problem stopping, especially when she followed Bair and Cupcake.

Best of all, I learned to trust myself and horses.

As we slowly made our way around the loop on horseback, I took in the vibrant beauty of western Colorado in the fall. Foliage in reds, yellows, oranges and greens mixed together as if we were part of an oil painting that had magically come alive.

We took a serene moment at a pond where the horses drank water. I imagined I was a sharpshooting cowgirl in the old West, on the run from the law … our horses tired from a day in the brush.

I am none of the above, by the way.

Bair told us about the ranch’s history, which has gone back more than 100 years. We spotted a wild turkey and many spots in the alfalfa field where elk had bedded down the night prior.

We talked hunting, ranching and about our favorite dogs. We listened to stories of Bair’s childhood on the ranch. And we took the time to breath, relax and enjoy our time with the horses.

That’s my kind of therapy.

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