WindWalkers uses horses as therapy |

WindWalkers uses horses as therapy

Nonprofit Spotlight
Kay Vasilakis
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kay Vasilakis

Horseback activities provide a fun, physically challenging and interesting opportunity for people with physical disabilities and social, behavioral, educational and emotional challenges. Horses are wonderful therapy animals; they are honest, reflect riders’ emotions and are perceptive regarding the mood of the rider.

WindWalkers is a North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) member center located in Missouri Heights. NARHA is a professional organization setting high standards in programming, safety and administration for therapeutic riding centers; all WindWalkers instructors are NARHA-certified.

WindWalkers offers hour-long, individualized private and small-group riding sessions. The client’s goals/needs are designed into each session, which combines the motion of the horse, a variety of saddles and bareback pads and changing the client’s position on the horse.

Clients are recommended to WindWalkers by school counselors, physical therapists, occupational therapists, current client families, medical professionals and teachers from the Roaring Fork Autism Network, Mountain Valley Developmental Services, WellSpring Middle School and the Youth Recovery Center.

Equine therapies address a wide array of issues. Horse therapies are beneficial for physical issues ” building muscle, improving dexterity, and helping with hand-eye coordination. Horses can also help teach social skills. If a rider approaches a horse in an aggressive manner, they get immediate feedback that the horse doesn’t like it. The instructors can then show a kinder, more respectful way to interact with the horse, and the rider is rewarded immediately by the horse’s response.

Some riders love to groom, walk, play games in the round pen, and work with horses in the pasture. Others love the time they spend on the horse; the motion is soothing to riders with anxiety, ADHD or autism, and at the same time the motion is stimulating for riders needing increased movement. Others love the atmosphere at the barn and enjoy helping with chores, and socializing with other riders and peers.

WindWalker clients have favorite horses, and sometimes a horse and rider will connect and build a bond of trust and friendship. Just like humans, each horse has a distinct personality and often similar personalities find each other.

WindWalkers has also created a niche with the 6- to 14-year-old riders who are having trouble at school, home or in the community. WindWalkers is a place for these riders to practice social skills, build self-confidence and learn positive ways to relate to others.

The entire WindWalker staff will be helping at Windwalkers’ The Crimson Club fundraiser, which will be held at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 15, at 3059 County Road 103 #3 in Carbondale. The event will feature live jazz and bluegrass music by the Jeannie Walla Jazz Quartet and the Frying Pan Bluegrass Band, gourmet samplings and a silent auction. The staff will be on hand to help at the check-in table, organize the auction, answer questions guests may have about the program, and socialize and enjoy the company of friends, client families and donors.

Kay Vasilakis’ “Nonprofit Spotlight” column runs every other Wednesday. She is the media coordinator for the Garfield County Human Services Commission. To contact her with a news tip, call 384-9118 or e-mail

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