GABRIELLA is four years old and has autism, developmental delays, and a mild hearing loss. Her family has offered their thoughts and appreciation for the riding program at Willow Creek Ranch:
My husband I were hesitant at first that Gabriella wouldn’t take to the program, let alone get on such a large animal. To our surprise, Gabby has thrived after two and a half months of the riding program. She is nonverbal, but has started telling her horse Buck to “Walk on” to get him to walk forward, and she is also saying some colors, shapes and letters.
We appreciate the support from the vivaccious volunteers- they get just as excited for Gabby as we do when she speaks and does something new. She starts with the responsibility of putting on a helmet and walking her horse to the arena. She and the volunteers then work on letters, numbers, and colors as they walk around the arena, before heading to the sensory trails. The trails help Gabby become more in tune with her body by walking up and down hills, through stones, over a wooden bridge, and playing music...all while she is on her horse. Gabby works very hard during sessions and has a wonderful calmness after it is over.
Our visits to Willow Creek Ranch have been a beautiful experience for our family. We are very thankful for the program and the support of the volunteers. This program brings lots of smiles and a light of encouragement to our family.
SHAUGHNESSY, who suffered a brain injury at age four from a severe illness, has been a rider at Willow Creek Ranch for nearly two years. She wholeheartedly agrees that WCR has helped her in so many areas. She finds herself stronger, with increased endurance, and she has gained healthy weight, which has always been a challenge.
Her time with her horse and the nurturing environment at WCR has enriched her life tremendously. We are continually impressed by her progress and abilities. It truly never occurred to us that the whole process of learning how to care for a horse, and actually riding, was in her realm of possibility.
Shaughnessy says, “When I ride Buck, I feel I have a special ability, not a disability.”
Thank you to all the inhabitants at WCR-whether you are human, have fur or feathers! The Ranch motto says it all, “Where life reins, miracles happen.”
- Shaughnessy and family
ANDREW has been riding at Willow Creek Ranch since he was 4 years old. The therapy and riding he receives at WCR not only helps his endurance, balance and muscular dystrophy, but it also feeds his soul.
Andrew has a program designed for his special needs and goals that strengthens his body and his growth as a horse rider. Riding is his sport. It allows him to be similar to his peers and have passion. WCR breathes life into my son and continues to help him reach his best potential.
The self-esteem, belonging, love, and sense of completeness that he has gained from riding and the WCR family is a true gift. – Andrew’s Mom
I wanted to personally thank you and all of the volunteers at the Ranch. As you now know, my son has special needs so I have a personal reason to admire the work that you do at the Ranch and identify with the opportunities that you provide individuals with special needs. Please know that there are many families whose lives you do enhance. I wanted to also let you know that although we attend several Open Shows each summer, this will be one that I look for next summer. I will also try to get others to come and support the Ranch. The cause is wonderful and the volunteers from Willow Creek were so genuine, caring and motivated to change the lives of affected kids. Honestly, it feels so good to see so many motivated people doing really wonderful things for our kids. In a world where so many bad things happen, it really does make one pause and appreciate the good.
When Addie's occupational therapist suggest that therapeutic riding could benefit Addie, we were skeptical but willing to give it a try. The day after Addie's third birthday, we drove to the ranch worried that Addie might be too scared of the big horses to want to participate. Boy were we wrong. As Addie watched the class going on, she turned to us and said "When it is it my turn?" And that day she climbed up on her first horse and has loved it every since.
"Before Addie began horse back riding, she had very poor posture and tended to drag her left foot significantly. Addie was also very shy with the volunteers and some would ask if Addie talked at all. A year later, we have people tell us that Addie is a "natural" because her posture is so great when riding. She no longer drags her foot and her doctor has told us that seeing her now, many doctors might miss her diagnosis because she has improved so much. Addie now talks non-stop to her side walkers and often comes home singing songs that they have taught her.
All of the above are so important, but best of all the activity of horse back riding and love she has for Willow Creek Ranch (horses and people) gives Addie something to be proud of and so much joy. We are so lucky to have found them."
-- With Much Love, The Tavelas
"Ashley's experience at Willow Creek Ranch has been better than we could ever imagine. As you know, Ashley's challenges include a fear of heights, hills and basic inclines. For example, she needs assistance walking down our stairs at home each day even with a railing on both sides. In addition, most inclines, hills are a huge challenge for Ashley. As you can imagine this has significant impact on Ashley's daily life with school field trips, choir concerts, physical education class, cross country meets, shopping at malls, etc. It is truly amazing to us that Ashley is able to manage the height of the horse without any difficulty. Each week, we watch Ashley with amazement as she gets on the horse and rides. She appears confident on the horse and is able to maintain amazing balance. We have invited other family members to observe Ashley riding so they could see for themselves that Ashley is riding a horse and managing the height and balance issues. Ashley has only been riding for approx. 4-months now. We are confident that soon Ashley will be able to transfer these skills learned through therapeutic riding into her daily life. The day Ashley can handle stairs on her own will be a day of huge celebration in our family. We know this day is coming soon with the help of the team at Willow Creek Ranch.
Another challenge of Ashley's is social interaction. After only 2 weeks of therapeutic riding, Ashley started initiating conversation with the other riders and volunteers independently. More importantly she is doing so with confidence and high self-esteem. I cannot say enough about the volunteers at Willow Creek Ranch. They are all blessings from Heaven. They truly exhibit love for the riders and go the extra mile to make sure Ashley is comfortable. Each week, my husband and I are amazed at the efforts of these volunteers. They have established an environment that is safe & loving which allows riders like Ashley to grow in so many ways.
Ashley is so excited to ride each week. She loves the experience, the beautiful staff at Willow Creek Ranch and the wonderful friends she has met. We plan to continue riding with Ashley for a long time and look forward to watching Ashley grow.
Thank you Jennifer for all you do with our beautiful children - you are truly making a difference in the lives of these children with special needs. This is what life is all about, i.e. finding your purpose in life and impacting lives in a positive way.
I would recommend Willow Creek to anyone."
-- Anna, mother of Ashley
"The suggestion of Therapeutic Riding was just what Rob needed to hear from the doctor. Therapeutic Riding at Willow Creek Ranch is the best day of the week!
The connection with a faithful and steady horse and supportive staff gives a sense of “I can do it”. After riding for 45 minutes, Rob has better balance when walking, an improved gait with each step and improved ego. Rob contributes to conversation with his accomplishments at the ranch. It is an ice breaker for conversation with friends that do not ride. The best part of participating at Willow Creek Ranch is working with dedicated staff that I consider my friends.
Medical staff, neighbors and friends have asked, “What are you doing differently? You are walking much better and you are regaining the fun in your life.” The answer is: “I ride at the ranch!”
We visited the Willow Creek Ranch last Saturday with several of our participants from Goodwill's On The Move program. On The Move is a weekend recreation program for persons with development and physical disabilities. It's a great chance for people with disabilities to experience exciting and stimulating activites.
On behalf of the Goodwill On The Move program, we wanted to say thank you for all of your patience and hard work. Your staff and volunteers were so friendly and accomodating, it made for one of our most enjoyable outings. Thanks again for letting us have a memorable lifetime experience riding and grooming the horses. We hope to see you all again in the near future and thanks again for a great opportunity.
-- Jessica Baker,
Goodwill On The Move
"I just wanted to thank you and your volunteers for your hospitality at
Willow Creek Ranch. I appreciated the opportunity to come and observe
your therapeutic riding program. I learned a lot. You ladies have done a
wonderful job of starting and growing a great program. I was very
impressed by the number of activity stations you have set up and the great
rapport you have developed with your riders. You are doing a great job. Keep up the good work."
"My son started with them from the beginning during their pilot
program. Noah has several issues related to hydrocephalus, he primarily uses a wheelchair, has epilepsy, scoliosis, g-tube fed, nonverbal, and severe cognitive delays.
Due to his strong will, love, therapy, and horse therapy he has made great strides. He uses a walker that he tolerates being in longer, he imitates more sounds and hums songs that he never used to do, and the big one that I feel has a lot to do with being involved in
therapeutic riding at Willow Creek Ranch is that now he'll sit on his own. He would always fight that before or just fall over. I feel that riding the horse really strengthened his core and he felt more comfortable sitting since riding.
We are very grateful he's been able to participate in it."
"I would absolutely love to come out and observe your lessons at the
ranch!! I have been telling so many people about your ranch and what a great
therapeutic program it sounds like. Telling them the story of the autistic
boy you had that started talking after a few weeks on the horse, passing
along the goose-bumps that you gave me when telling that story!"
"We wanted to THANK-YOU for the "extra" time you spent with Evan that
day. It will be a memory we will cherish forever! Up to that point, Evan had
some real "Fear Issues" with ANY animal! It was such a Blessing, and a
thrill to see him actually "want" to get anywhere near the horses, much less
get on one and ride it! We truly believe it was the way all of you handled
Evan and the whole situation. You were all so kind, and gentle with Evan.
You really made him feel special!! (Which, of course, HE IS!!) You went
above and beyond, giving Evan a little extra time on the horse. He was
SO....excited!! He went to Preschool the next week, and shared the whole
experience with his classmates. He has shared the story with many others
Yes, Evan still has his "Fear Issues". Some days are worse than
others. For whatever reason, that day he did NOT show any fear, and had a
wonderful experience. As with anything like this, you Thank God for the
GREAT days, and ask His help in working through all the others.
We hope to come and visit your ranch sometime over the summer."
-- Mike & Teresa
"I do think what you guys are doing is brilliant! I hope you keep it
up! It's so amazing!"
son Gavin is a 10 year old with Autism. Gavin is non-verbal and uses a
communication device to speak. It brings me great joy to see Gavin on a
horse. Gavin’s sensory problems have decreased since we started horse
therapy. He even catches and throws swishy balls to the side walkers; he
used to never touch these types of balls. Gavin is a very hyper child,
after the riding session he often seems calmer. This therapy also is a
social time for him as he gets to see some of his friends ride too.
His coordination has gotten better since he has been riding. They work on
grooming the horse and caring for them. The volunteer staff at Willow Creek
Ranch makes you feel like family, they are all so nice. They make this time very
educational for our kids. He continues to gain so much from therapeutic
riding. God bless everyone at Willow Creek Ranch and Caitlyn for
insisting I get Gavin involved in riding horses. We are very thankful for
all the work WCR is doing for our special needs children. Keep up the great
work. Our family and the ANGEL Autism Network organization will continue to
support your mission.
-- Sincerely, Cindy and Gavin
"I am a volunteer at WCR and love it for many reasons. Bonding with a
horse and mucking out a stall might not sound attractive to some, but you
are in your own little solitude. No telephones, computers or household
chores to distract you. Just you and the horse, and that's a good feeling.
Another good feeling is watching the riders come in the barn, some in
wheelchairs, while others are being assisted in their walking - but it's a
whole different story when they mount their horse. They exhibit posture and
are using muscles they didn't even know they had. And that's a good feeling.
Watching the parents while they watch their children is another good
feeling. Volunteers are encouraging the riders in activities while on
the horses, whether it's in the form of a game or a hands-on experience with
the horse. Each week you can see improvements with the riders, and
watching the parents smile with along with their children is a good feeling.
My personal good feeling is that I feel I am accomplishing something for
someone without even trying hard, and having a good time doing it. I can
work at my job or do things around the house and not feel as good as a
day at WCR. The other volunteers and management at WCR are wonderful to be
with and I have learned a lot from them. I am thankful for my family and the
family I have at WCR."
-- Terry Wiskes
"We truly believe that God puts us in certain places, and as a
result, we meet certain people, for specific reasons. In this case we met
all of you! We were fortunate enough to see "first hand" just exactly what
your mission is. We believe you are there to help anyone & everyone that
would benefit from your ranch, and/or the horses. Many people are living
their lives working through a wide array of difficulties on a daily basis.
(Each one of them, a "big deal" to them!) Maybe all they need is an extra
smile, or some conversation from someone who seems to really care, and who
puts no demands on them. Maybe they need to look at life through other
avenues, to find more peace & be able to enjoy things - without anxieties,
and/or fears. We feel this is what your ranch, and the horses, offer -- and
A LOT MORE!!!!! The Lord has blessed you all with the compassion and
understanding needed to reach certain people, that others may not be able
to. Believe in what you do, and be proud of it!! Always remember... The Lord
Blesses - The Cheerful Giver, and He will Bless All Of You in Abundance! We
feel so Blessed to have had our paths cross."
-- Mike & Teresa