Craig Tucked in the hills just east of Craig, up a winding gravel road, sits a very special equestrian arena. Within its walls, the dedicated staff and volunteers of Freedom Hooves provide Moffat and Rio Blanco counties with the area’s only therapeutic riding program.
Also known as horse therapy, therapeutic riding focuses on helping students achieve personal goals that improve physical, emotional, social, cognitive, behavioral and educational skills for people with disabilities.
The brainchild of instructor Joan Heinz, Freedom Hooves has been years in the making. The idea came to Heinz in the midst of tragedy — her brother-in-law suffered a severe brain injury requiring intensive rehabilitation.
With the help of a horse named Horizons, Heinz’s brother-in-law was able to recover.
“I saw what horses could do,” Heinz said. “Seeing the power of that, I knew I wanted to do something with them.”
Therapeutic riding programs especially seem effective with children and teens who have been resistant to traditional therapy, and in the treatment of depression and mood disorders.
“To see people who live with challenges finding their self-confidence and their voice working with the horses — that really warms my heart,” said Connie Sue Ellis. She and husband Dr. Scott Ellis own the facility that Freedom Hooves calls home.
The couple decided that, if given the chance, they would open their doors for therapeutic riding and counseling programs. Then they waited.
Last October, finally the pieces fell into place when Connie Sue Ellis was approached by Freedom Hooves, and a partnership began.
“It was really a hope and a dream that we could make a ministry of it and really touch people's lives,” Connie Sue Ellis said.
Sue Jones, a paraplegic, has been in the therapeutic riding program for one year, and said the exercise of riding her therapy horse Remmington helps to strengthen her core muscles and has helped her to walk with crutches.
“It’s critical for our handicapped population up here to have that support system,” Jones said. “Having an outdoor experience with these animals is something we just don’t have the opportunity to do otherwise.”
Heinz hopes to expand the program with a specialized group for veterans and people struggling with post traumatic stress disorder. In time, and with enough volunteers, she hopes the program will outgrow the current facility.
“I just can’t emphasize enough how much work and love and tears has gone into getting this off the ground,” Heinz said. “But seeing what we’ve done here, it’s completely worth it.”