Temple Grandin Equine Center opens doors to Denver community

Jaime, an eighth-grader from north Denver’s Bruce Randolph School, had never ridden a horse before attending the Temple Grandin Equine Center Open House on March 16. Horseback riding provides Jaime with a sense of empowerment, and was his favorite part of the day. “It feels like I can do this on my own,” he said.

The Center’s staff and volunteers hosted the community Open House to provide a window into the programs and activities that will continue growing as plans for the future National Western Center progress. More than 50 community members joined in celebrating the positive impact of equine-assisted activities and therapies (EAAT) on individuals with cognitive and physical disabilities.

As part of the day’s lineup, two student groups from the Bruce Randolph School participated in a variety of activities, including adaptive riding, grooming, anatomy identification, and communication. Between now and the end of this school year, nearly 25 students from the school’s multi-intensive program will attend weekly EAAT sessions at the Center.

Brittney Freeken, a special education multi-intensive teacher at Bruce Randolph, brings her class of 12 students with varying disabilities to the Center each Friday.

“EAAT is a great release at the end of a long week. It helps keep them calm; it helps relieve stress, so it fits really well into our program,” she said.

The healing power of horses 

“Bringing the healing power of horses to the Denver metro area is an amazing opportunity for so many audiences of the community,” said Adam Daurio, director of the Temple Grandin Equine Center. “The equine-assisted activities and therapies implemented at the National Western Center will include programs for traditional school-aged children, youth in high-risk situations, opportunities for youth seeking volunteer experience, programming for the senior/elder population, and therapies for individuals with physical, cognitive, and intellectual disabilities.”

Daurio has an extensive history with EAAT, extending back to his nearly eight-year tenure as executive director of the SaddleUp! Foundation in Elizabeth, Colo., where he met Lee Dudley, a psychotherapist and EAAT instructor. Dudley founded her own organization, Equine Partnership Program, to provide similar programming for Douglas County residents.

As conversations around the Temple Grandin Equine Center’s presence at the future National Western Center developed in early 2017, Daurio reached out to Dudley to gauge her interest in leveraging her experience and expertise to support the Center’s programs. Understanding the need for these therapies, especially among individuals with history of trauma and abuse, Dudley was eager to lend support.

“Horses help bridge that gap between the resistance that accompanies kids with neglect issues or abuse issues,” Dudley said.

Dudley’s role at the Center will primarily focus on supporting EAAT programs for 18- to 21-year-olds with trauma and other mental health deficits.

“We’re really happy that CSU is coming on board and developing more quality therapists to focus on the whole mental health piece, not just physical and occupational therapy. There’s such a need for this,” she said.

Ciana Dodgion has taught adaptive riding for about eight years and leads student cohorts through the EAAT activities at the Center on a weekly basis. A social worker and certified Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International  instructor, Dodgion also hosts an equestrian vaulting team called the Western Sky Vaulters, which combines gymnastics and dance on horseback for recreational and therapeutic purposes. She sees the physical aspects of EAAT as being most beneficial for the individuals she works with. “While riding, participants are working all of their core muscles, stretching out their legs, and having fun, which is the most important piece.”

“Horses aren’t judgmental… they don’t care if you have a speech impediment or physical differences. It’s a good place for a lot of students to not be judged or have someone looking at them, thinking they’re different,” said Dodgion.

Fostering collaboration

Program delivery at the Temple Grandin Equine Center is enabled by the collaborative approach fostered by Daurio and his team. Volunteers from the CSU campus as well as partner organizations such as Laradon and Equine Partnership Program are invited to assist at the Center on an ongoing basis. Laradon provides four to six volunteers every Monday and Tuesday; the organization’s mission — “to provide superior, individualized services to children and adults with intellectual, developmental and other disabilities, supporting their independence in daily life and maximizing their full potential” — aligns closely with the Center.

Additionally, the majority of the equipment and materials inside the Center — stalls, fence panels, shelters, feed and water troughs — were donated and set up by Colorado-based Hutchison Inc. Hutchison also donates a full day’s work of four to five employees along with trucks and heavy equipment to tear down and set up the Center’s physical infrastructure before and after the annual National Western Stock Show.  Blake Hutchison, the company’s COO, was completely behind the EAAT program and committed to providing additional support “to bring the program to another level.”

“The Hutchison family are incredible people and great friends,” said Daurio.

The Center is currently exploring additional partnerships to ensure a steady flow of EAAT sessions for individuals in need across the Denver metro area.

Colorado State University and the National Western Center

Colorado State University has made a long-term commitment to the reimagining of the National Western Center in north Denver, and the communities surrounding the project. Efforts are underway to create partnerships with community schools, nonprofits and businesses, and to actively engage in the community.

A key and founding partner in the National Western Center, CSU will have three buildings within the 250-acre campus upon completion. The project, which will break ground in the coming years, expands and regenerates the current National Western Stock Show site, turning it into a vibrant, year-round experiential, community-centric, life-long learning destination in the heart of Denver. 

As Colorado’s land-grant university, CSU’s mission of research, service, and access, fits with the outreach mission of the National Western Center. CSU’s plans at the new campus focus on research and education programming in the areas of food systems, water, environment, energy, and health. The university has initiated programming and service outreach efforts before buildings are constructed, as part of its commitment to the area. For additional information, visit nwc.colostate.edu.