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Ranch In Parker Changes Lives Through Hippotherapy

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Abby rides a horse at Praying Hands Ranch (credit: CBS)

Abby rides a horse at Praying Hands Ranch (credit: CBS)

PARKER, Colo. (CBS4) – On the outskirts of Parker sits a ranch dedicated to changing lives. Praying Hands Ranch is a powerful place that has touched the family of CBS4 Sports Anchor Tom Helmer in a very rich and personal way.

But 25 years ago, it sprang from a vision and a dream.

Founder Shirley Hanson remembers the beginning of the ranch for her.

“I call it a mind’s kind of vision where it came real fast. I saw kids, I saw kids raise their hands, I saw horses, I saw crutches, then it was gone,” she said.

That vision was soon followed by a dream her husband had.

“I had a dream one night about wheelchairs and handicapped children and adults,” Carl Hansen said. “So when Shirley told me finally about her vision, I said ‘Yea, that’s what we have to do.’ “

The Hansens turned that dream and vision into the Praying Hands Ranch, a place where people with special needs or severe injuries could receive hippotherapy.

Occupational therapist Molly Stuchlik explained what that means. “The word ‘hippo’ is Greek for water horse. So hypotherapy is where we use our individual discipline. As an occupational therapist I will put a person with a need for occupational therapy onto a horse and we do our therapy using the horse as a tool.”

Abby, 8, is one of those patients. She’s also the daughter of Tom and Mindy Helmer. Abby was born 13 weeks premature and suffered a grade four brain bleed when she was just 4 days old. As a result, she’s physically limited on her left side and legally blind in her left eye.

But for the Helmers, finding Praying Hands Ranch opened a whole new world.

“I’ve sat in this building a lot,” Tom recalled. “I’ve cried a lot watching her because she’s just so strong. You start thinking about yourself and the problems you have to overcome and it’s like, ‘Is it really that bad?’ “

“When we walked in, all those memories came flooding back,” Mindy said. “When I first saw her sit on a horse, how proud I was of her and the look on her face but also how the horse reacted to her. He didn’t move. It was like the horse knew exactly what Abby needed.”

It’s making sure all those children and adults get what they need that has inspired the Hansens for a quarter of a century.

“You just never stop,” is the message from Shirley Hansen. “Just keep on, keep on, keep on and then you are just amazed at what happens.”

The Helmers certainly are.

LINK: prayinghandsranch.org

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