Ranches reach out to special needs’ riders

By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
-A +A
As a survivor of breast cancer, Honey Cowan says she wants to reach out to others who are dealing with the disease. She and her husband own “C”-Horse Ranch in North Auburn, which offers riding lessons, horse boarding, camps and special events. Starting in the fall Cowan will add more programs through the Auburn Recreation District. Cowan, a nurse who retired from a nonprofit therapeutic riding program last fall, is partnering with Horses for Healing to expand riding services for those with special needs. “C”-Horse Ranch’s equine program is suited for riders who can mount from a block and have trunk strength while Horses for Healing has a ramp and other special equipment to accommodate those restricted to wheelchairs, braces and crutches, she said. Cowan didn’t discover horseback riding until she was 52 but there was an instant bond. “I fell in love with horses,” she said. At Horses for Healing, Jen Mayfield, chairwoman of events and fundraiser, has been riding her whole life. “I have a picture of myself on a horse with my father when I was a week old,” she said. Horses for Healing and “C”-Horse Ranch have been assisting each other for a long time, said Mayfield, who has many years of experience in horse-riding therapy for special needs. “It’s a small world in the horse world. We all often help each other,” she said. “We’ve partnered because we both come across clients that the other can serve better. Some need more of a counseling sort of thing and “C”-Horse can serve those.” Mayfield’s stepdaughter takes riding lessons at “C” Horse Ranch and does peer-to-peer assistance there, she added. Cowan’s fee-based, two-hour program for cancer patients includes riding lessons and horse grooming. “When you have breast cancer, they ask you to take your hand and walk up the wall to keep those muscles limber,” she said. “Brushing (horses) is a good exercise to do the same thing, and it is much more fun. … Riding helps flexibility with muscles, muscle tone and core strengthening. The act of riding is very healing and act of brushing is very healing.” Or participants can work in the large vegetable garden — a recent addition to the ranch, put in specifically for the cancer group’s use. With the garden at peak production, Cowan says there are plenty of vegetables waiting to be picked and enjoyed. The only stipulation for joining the cancer survivors group is that the participants be finished with chemotherapy, so their immune system is strengthening, she said. Eventually she’d like to add cooking classes and is coordinating with the nearby Seventh Day Adventist Church, which has a kitchen suitable for those purposes. “C”-Horse Ranch has two riding instructors — one specializing in special needs and another who works with independent riders. The ranch’s eight horses can accommodate all levels and abilities, she said. Cowan’s ARD classes will include riding lessons, horses for special needs sessions, cancer survivor support groups and organic gardening. Signup begins Sept. 1 at “We’re doing a family class — three sessions to have riding lessons for the family,” Cowan said. “We’ll have the family work together. It is really helpful when families ride together and understand the dynamics of controlling your horse and at the same time being aware of family dynamics.” She also envisions a separate free program opening the ranch one day a month for children with cancer and their families. Participants would need a doctor’s referral, she said. At ARD, Recreation Services Manager Sheryl Petersen said the partnership with Cowan brings back horseback riding to the catalog. “We used to offer horseback riding and then our instructor went out of business,” Petersen said. “I met Honey and we had a great conversation and she offers some quality programs. … (Cowan’s classes include) adult survivors of cancer. She has a family class. She has youth classes, special needs classes as well as teen and tween cancer survivor classes. In addition to learning about how to ride a horse and grooming, they work on giving kids courage, confidence and self-esteem.” Those who visit the ranch will find more than horses. There are goats, dogs, a cat, a bunny and a pot-belly pig. For the riding programs, there’s a 10-foot-by 200-foot outdoor arena as well as indoor and outdoor stalls and a covered arena. Cowan’s future plans include working to partner for nonprofit status and grant funding, to make the ranch’s services even more accessible to those who need them, she said. “We call this healing pastures and that’s why I want to some day turn into a land trust for special needs so it will always be there,” she said. “We hope it can happen, but in this economy you never know.” Reach Gloria Young at ------------- to learn more “C”-Horse Ranch, 11685 Lorenson Road, Auburn, Phone (530) 888-7766 Horses for Healing, 13355 Bell Brook Road, Auburn