By Kelly Werthmann
LAFAYETTE, Colo. (CBS4) – Every week, Jake Scott takes time to help people.
“It’s just really cool to see the kids and get smiles on their faces,” the 19-year-old said.
Jake is a volunteer at Miracles Therapeutic Riding Center (MTRC) in Lafayette. He helps special needs kids ride horses, including some riders with physical limitations.
“Even just the movement of the horse is enough to stimulate the muscles,” Jake said as he helped a young rider. “This is just about the therapy and all that. This is about confidence building.”
And, if anyone knows how well the program works, it’s Jake.
“I’m autistic,” he said. “I was diagnosed when I was three.”
To overcome some of his challenges, Jake began riding therapy horses at MTRC with the help of volunteers. Twelve years later, Jake said he has truly transformed.
“I didn’t talk much,” he said. “In fact, I wasn’t really verbal until second grade, but I mean, look at me. I’m doing a news interview!”
It’s all thanks to the program Chris Griffith started 15 years ago to help people of all ages with special needs.
“We have riders as young as two and as old as 65,” she said. “The most important thing we do is we get the riders moving. Some of our riders are very physically limited. The movement of the horse builds their core strength in a way nothing else can because the horse, when it moves, it feels like the human gait.”
Chris said the therapeutic program also gives riders, especially kids, access to a fun-filled activity.
“There aren’t many activities for people with special needs where they get a little bit of freedom,” she said. “Someone in a wheelchair or somebody who’s not moving regularly doesn’t get that a lot. With this, the horse actually moves for them. The horse gives them confidence and I think the students grow a lot. They’re happier.”
With more than 30 students signed up for classes every week, Chris said it takes at least 50 volunteers. Some students require at least 3 volunteers to help hold them as they ride. Yet getting that many people to commit time to help is tricky.
“We’ve always struggled to have enough volunteers,” Chris said. “In the summertime, we get a lot of high school students, college students, teachers, and even parents. But come September, they all have to go back to class and don’t have time to come out here.”
On top of that, the program is growing and more helping hands are needed. Chris said anyone can sign up to help – all that’s required is compassion.
“We can teach them what they have to do with the horse,” she said. “We can teach them what they have to do with the rider. They just need to have a desire to help people and a desire to accept people with slightly different abilities.”
Chris said the program would not be able to continue if MTRC doesn’t get enough volunteers. Something Jake doesn’t want to see happen, so he’s hopeful people will join him in helping others.
“I’m not going to force anyone to volunteer if they truly don’t want to, but the gist of it is it’s something you look forward to,” he said. “It’s honestly one of the best feelings in the world.”
Kelly Werthmann joined the CBS4 team as the morning reporter in 2012. After serving as weekend morning anchor, Kelly is now Covering Colorado First for CBS4 News at 10. Connect with Kelly on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @KellyCBS4.