For many parents of children with special needs, finding the right program that’s effective can be difficult. But finding one that’s both effective and fun was a perfect match for parents Zach and Allison Wathen.
Zach and Allison’s son, Caiden, was one of several children who participated in Carousel Ranch’s demonstration of its program at its keystone fundraiser on Saturday, “Heart of the West.” Caiden was described by Allison as “a 6-year-old mischievous little charmer, who loves to swing, dance to dubstep, and snack on his favorite nutrigrain bars.”
“In some ways it’s made a huge difference for our son, in more ways than one,” said Allison. “Not just physically or cognitively, like even intellectually, we’ve made a lot of progress here. A lot of progress and a lot of things that we thought for so long wouldn’t happen [for a long time]. I think it happened a lot sooner.”
“I think it’s very therapeutic for him,” said Zach. “So I think it’s even if he’s having a bad day when we come here for horse riding it calms him down, just helps him to kind of relax.”
Zach and Allison described the program as similar to standard or traditional ones done outside of Carousel Ranch, but the incorporation of horses kind of “disguises” the fact they’re doing work and makes some fun out of it. That added with the serene environment of the ranch, especially when the sun is more forgiving, adds a calm environment to the mix that can do wonders for children who are easily overwhelmed.
When Becky Graham, program director for Carousel Ranch, was asked if she knew how much the program meant to parents, Graham said that, like for many others who work at Carousel, doing what she does is rewarding.
“I think that for anybody who chooses to work here, you have to have a heart for the work that we do,” said Graham. “But you know, we all love our horses, and we believe in them, in providing the therapy for the students that we have… these kids, they touch our lives every single day… they’re just kids that are all different in their ways. And we just feel very blessed to be able to work with them.”
Graham said the goal of the fundraiser was to get close to or surpass what they were able to raise last year, about $500,000. Graham said the ranch has a budget of just over $1 million per year and that the money raised here can go a long way — sponsoring kids for up to a year or more, paying for equipment, and helping keep a trained and dedicated staff.
When Jeanna Crawford created the “Heart of the West” event 20 years ago, she didn’t realize that a decade later it would take on a whole new meaning.
“I have a child with autism and he’s 10 and God’s plan and the way this all worked out was just not lost on us. So I started as a volunteer with a mission and now I’m a parent volunteer,” said Crawford.
Crawford reiterated why she believes Carousel Ranch can accomplish the unexpected progress parents see in their children, that they can’t always get in a 12-by-12 room. The movement of the horse, the sound of the wind in the trees, and the serenity of the setting is something Crawford says is irreplicable and even contributed to her son’s progress.
“What it provides is the most invaluable therapy you could ever imagine,” said Crawford. “And coming from the place now as a parent, I have a child who was never supposed to speak. I was told he would never speak to me and never understand me. [Now] he speaks, he understands, he can do all the things they said he was never going to do. We never gave up. We put [in] everything and gave him all the traditional therapies, but we [also] saturated him in Carousel Ranch.”