“I go home every night on this huge high … I just feel like the luckiest person in the world to come out here and work with these amazing people,” said Karen Molony.
Molony, an instructor at Cloud Dancers Therapeutic Horsemanship Program, said she started volunteering 10 years ago and loved helping special needs children so much that she quickly became an instructor.
The program serves people with disabilities, ages five and up, through animal therapy. Cloud Dancers is currently helping 20 children with positive results, she said.
“You get some of these kiddos on the back of a horse and it just totally transforms them,” Molony said.
In the two-hour weekly lessons, participants learn to ride, groom and connect with the program’s four horses: Speedy, Lady J, Jackie and Summer, she said.
Jeffrey deGraaff, a 14-year-old participant, said he enjoys riding the the Cloud Dancers horses. He was apprehensive about the animals when he first began his lessons, but said he loves the program now.
“I was a little nervous when I first joined, but since I’ve been with the program for two years now it has been a great experience,” deGraaff said.
For deGraaff, the program has been about more than just the horses. He has learned about connecting with others as well, he said.
“Cloud Dancers is a really good place to share memories with friends and family, and a good way to hang out with other people,” deGraaff said.
Aimee Hoyt, a parent of a Cloud Dancers participant, said she had heard of therapeutic riding, and after doing some research she found that this was the place for her son.
“I called the trainers and visited the facility and it looked like a good fit,” Hoyt said.
Her seven-year-old son Flint has used his relationship with the horses as therapy, she said.
“He is an animal person, and any animal he is around helps him settle into his environment,” Hoyt said.
The community as a whole is very supportive of this project, she said.
“The volunteers are incredible,” Hoyt said. “It can be cold, windy, rainy or even scorching and they still find time to walk in circles with the horses and help the children.”
Tammie West, six-year volunteer at Cloud Dancers, said the program is as therapeutic for her as it is for the children she assists.
“I was able to help a young lady who was very shy, and we got to be friends,” West said. “We went for a ride one day and talked the whole time. When we got back her mom was astounded to find out that she had opened up to me.”
For more information about Cloud Dancers, visit clouddancersofthesouthwest.org.
Stephen Montoya is culture editor of the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @StephenMontoya9.