Not everyone gets to mix their interests with their career, but that’s exactly what happened for Madison Cano and Amy Shaw about a year ago.
That was around the time the two occupational therapists, employed at the local hospital, decided to branch off and independently offer nontraditional occupational therapy as a side venture—a venture that involves their shared interest in horses.
So they started Therapy Strides, which integrates horses and nature into various types of occupational therapy (called hippotherapy) for clients with various disabilities and struggles.
But it was a little bit of a winding road to get there. Shaw and Cano have always been interested in and worked with horses.
Cano, to get back into her passion of working with horses, started volunteering some of her time to Metaphorse, a local nonprofit that offers riding lessons and equine emotional therapy and more. Cano’s responsibilities ran the gamut, from picking up poop to feeding and more.
She hit it off with Jody Nixon, the owner of the ranch and the founder of Metaphorse. Eventually, Cano began serving on the nonprofit’s board.
Shaw and Cano dreamed about using their occupational therapy skills and their passion for horses to work with more patients. Nixon was kind enough to offer up her ranch—and her herd.
“It just kind of developed from there,” Shaw said when she invited the Montrose Business Times to the ranch last week. “Jody has just been really accommodating and really wants this program to build up at this place.”
And it has built up… slowly for now. They only have a few clients, but they feel like the work they’re doing is important and can help people of all ages struggling from various disorders.
They work with pediatric as well as adult clients with issues ranging from sensory processing orders, autism and down syndrome to those with neurological disorders like Parkinson’s, cerebral palsy and brain injuries.
Shaw admits it’s not necessarily a “better” form of occupational therapy than the traditional work that happens in a clinic, but she says it can be more effective with certain clients.
“In the grand scheme of things, we’re taking all the same fundamentals that people are doing in a traditional clinic and just bringing it out into this more natural environment,” she said. “Especially when it comes to kids with sensory processing disorders, for instance, it’s so great to be out here because you can smell the horses, you can feel the horses and you’re going to get dirt on your hands.”
That interaction with nature—and the isolation and lack of distractions in a normal clinic—makes for a fun, unique experience that feels less like a doctor’s appointment and more like a playdate. All the while, clients are still building up whichever skills they need to develop, like speech and motor skills.
In a traditional clinic, Shaw says, people sometimes work on swings to help with vestibular issues. That same kind of motion on a horse can be just as effective.
Maybe more fun than riding horses, pediatric clients can climb on a stack of hay bales or even visit the nearby creek to climb downed trees, catch frogs and ride a swing fitted with a saddle.
“The motivation is so much better in a place like this,” she said. “And even for adults, because most of us live out here because we love the outdoors, and so this is a way of being outdoors.”
The sign on the road reads “Lone Trout Ranch,” and indicates lessons, rentals, weddings and Metaphorse. The ranch serves as home to a good sized herd of horses, mostly senior horses that are far past their days of struggling with behavior issues.
Shaw calls the horses “retired,” but the work they do today is still very important. Still, that retirement means they’re very safe to be around, and for the client who may be intimidated by their size, they are usually quickly put at ease when they begin interacting with them, riding them and throwing bean bags around from atop them.
But the horses aren’t the only soothing thing about the ranch.
It’s situated off Spring Canyon Road. That’s off Colorado State Highway 90 and past the Buzzard Gulch Trails southwest of town.
The beautiful high desert scenery makes for a great place to do therapy.
How to see them
Cano and Shaw are taking new clients now, and they are really looking for specific types of clients.
They don’t take insurance at this time but can help with superbilling to get reimbursed by insurance.
They can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Justin Tubbs is the Montrose Business Times editor. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 970-765-0915 or mobile at 254-246-2260.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article mistakenly identified the position of occupational therapist in the headline. That has been fixed.