The winter slog has not stopped CHAPS Equine Assisted Therapy from drumming up fresh ideas regarding how to best serve more of the community. This week, CHAPS will connect for the first time with the Child Development Center, Day Break Adult Day Services at The Hub on Smith and the Veterans’ Home of Wyoming in Buffalo.

In previous years, CHAPS has partially closed down for the winter season. After attending conferences related to equine therapy and learning statistics about the effectiveness of that type of therapy for children, elderly and veterans, CHAPS executive director Kristen Marcus chose to reach out to Sheridan’s local organizations and start pilot programs during the colder months. At the conference, she learned of more research indicating success with veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and those living with dementia — a demographic for which the Sheridan community has recently pushed to find consistent aid.

The CDC, Day Break and Veterans’ Home agreed to participate, all elated that the organization was willing to bring its services to their facilities, which is sometimes the hardest obstacle to overcome.

“The downside for some of the veterans was the commute to Sheridan,” Zac Owens said, who is the activities specialist alongside activities director Mary Sue Williams at the Veterans’ Home.

“With the program coming to Buffalo with the demonstrations, they’re a lot more excited.”

The Veterans’ Home and Day Break work with many people who have past experience and history with horses so bringing a horse, which is familiar, into their respective establishments is exciting and a new therapeutic solution.

“A lot of our people come from ranching and farming backgrounds, and I’m excited for it in that way,” Day Break director Barb Blue said. “It’ll also be exciting to have a horse inside.”

Blue said some of the Day Break clients used to break and train horses.

“I’m excited for them to be able to have that interaction with the animals that they don’t get anymore,” Blue said.

The Day Break equine therapy program is only partially funded at this point, and will continue for half the time of the other two pilot programs unless financial backing is found. 

While the seniors and veterans may have familiarity with horses, some of the young children served by the CDC are not experienced with the animals, which may mean a longer transition into the experience. The children will have the opportunity to dress the horse up and learn practical skills of how to interact with the animal.

CDC director Marsha Riley always ensures safety of the children first, and in working with CHAPS, Riley was impressed by the professionalism and care the program directors took to ensure the safety and comfort of every child.

“It’s so impressive to work with a group who doesn’t think, ‘Oh we need to start tomorrow,’ a group that looks out to the future and really does forecast things and what they need,” Riley said.

Riley said she believes the program initiatives will result in positive outcomes for most children.

“Part of this program and the CHAPS group is teaching the children how to care for something else, to care for a live animal,” Riley said. “We’re confident that most of the children will really have a wonderful time and that CHAPS will get those who might be a little bit standoffish a little bit closer.”

All three of the programs will begin in the coming weeks.

The pilot winter program for CHAPS aims to offer benefits for all involved, keeping the organization running in what usually is a slow season and giving targeted groups an opportunity to work with horses for mental, physical and developmental health.