Panther Creek Inspiration Ranch
|If you’re a parent, you know the joy of that incredible moment when your child utters their first word; it’s sheer bliss. Alternatively, if you are among the millions of parents to which one in every nine children born have some form of autism? Or another disorder such as cerebral palsy or down syndrome? What if your family doctor told you upon diagnosis, you would be lucky if your child ever speaks, that he or she may never actually recognize you as mom and dad or that, frankly, you would be better off simply institutionalizing your child? To a lesser extreme, maybe the issues your child is facing are learning disorders, emotional problems, anxiety, behavioral issues or visual or hearing impairments. These are things that are all at once overwhelming, devastating and heartbreaking.But one thing that all parents have in common is their desire to do anything they can to help their child, and, if you are among those facing issues such as these, Panther Creek Inspiration Ranch can be a place of hope for you and your child. We sat down with founders David and Linda Darnall. They graciously took the time to explain to us what it is they do on the ranch, and how, alongside and on top of their horses, little miracles are happening every day.
Panther Creek Inspiration Ranch founder David Darnall grew up on a ranch and Linda’s mom was a trainer and her father was a cattleman. “We both grew up around horses, and after reading Hope Rising, were inspired to put our knowledge and our desire to help children to use.”
Panther Creek Inspiration Ranch offers two different types of therapies for special needs children. Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, or EAP, and Hippotherapy. EAP, which involves a professional therapist, has been shown to be effective in treating a variety of mental health and human development needs, such as behavioral issues, attention deficit disorder, substance abuse, eating disorders, abuse issues, depression, anxiety, anger management, conflict resolution, relationship problems and communications. Children and teens learn about themselves by participating in activities with horses and then discussing feelings, behaviors and patterns. Why horses? For one thing, their size offers a perfect opportunity for some to overcome fear and develop confidence. Accomplishing a task involving the horse, in spite of those fears, creates confidence and provides for wonderful metaphors for dealing with other intimidating and challenging situations.
Hippotherapy is more than horsemanship and riding classes, it is a specialized, unconventional and still somewhat controversial form of physical therapy, in which a horse is used as a treatment tool. The term derives from the Greek “hippos,” which means horse. There are both physical and emotional benefits. Working with a specially trained, licensed physical therapists, and using the “three-dimensional” motion of a walking horse to stimulate the rider and can help enhance balance, posture, mobility, coordination and strength. Often other benefits occur in the process. Mental functioning, mood and self-confidence may improve. We were fortunate to be allowed to observe a hippotherapy session and the progress is amazing. The child we watched had, in just a few months of sessions (typically once a week, for about an hour) gone from only being able to ride upright and unassisted for less than two minutes to more than eight minutes at a time.
Perhaps the best evidence hippotherapy works was reported by Dr. Daniel Bluestone, then a pediatric neurologist at UC San Francisco, who had been following the progress of children receiving the treatment. Comparing MRI scans over time, Bluestone found that the repetitive movement of riding prompts physical changes in the brain. “We think that hippotherapy is effective in helping rework networks within the cerebellum and within the motor system up in the cerebrum,” he said in a Discovery Channel documentary. “The pathways within the brain that facilitate a particular movement become reinforced over time. The more pathways you reinforce, the better the brain compensates and the better motor function can improve.”
Because these therapies are new and unconventional, there are minimal if any reimbursements for these services from health insurance companies. Parents unfortunately must bear the burden of each session. And while that cost is relatively small, one can imagine that any cost on top of the already countless physician visits, tests and therapies – any assistance is appreciated. And because Panther Creek Inspiration Ranch is both aware of these difficulties and knows these therapies work for the kids, they are always willing to talk to parents about the costs and work with them. “It’s about the kids,” said David.
In addition to EAP and hippotherapy, Panther Creek Inspiration Ranch works with troubled kids in other ways. The Conroe Independent School District refers children to the ranch through their staff of crisis counselors. These children work with the horses in a similar fashion to Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. Additionally, the Justice of the Peace also allows certain children to come to the ranch to complete community service assignments. Those assignments, however, are generally hands-on work that needs to be completed around the ranch; moving feed, clearing brush and the like.
“The costs of running the ranch, even if nothing goes wrong [vet expenses, tractor repairs, etc.] are higher than you might think,” Linda said. “It’s true, the fees we collect only cover roughly 25% of all associated costs,” added David. Which is why, between general upkeep and operating costs, any and all volunteers and donations are both needed and appreciated. Panther Creek Inspiration Ranch is a 501(c)3 nonprofit establishment and depends on donations to make ends meet. Currently, there are seven horses at the 20-acre ranch, but at least two more are needed to keep up with the current demand. In other areas, the ranch is in need of barns and stables, a trailer for transporting the horses, a bridge over panther creek (the old one washed out during hurricane Ike), to complete the tack shed, more tack, and on and on… there is always a need.
Panther Creek Inspiration Ranch is located at 25902 Glen Loch Drive, just outside of the Village of Panther Creek. If you’d like to know more about Panther Creek Inspiration Ranch, you can visit their website, or better yet, call them at 713 302-3640 or drop them a line and arrange to come out to the ranch on a Tuesday morning and see for yourself all the goodness they can accomplish. If you’d like to donate to their cause, cash donations can be made through PayPal and any other donations of feed, tack or volunteer work are greatly appreciated; just give them a call and see what you can do to help! And, after the success of the charity event, “Denim & Diamonds” last fall, they plan on hosting “Denim & Diamonds: Two Steppin’ in the Stables” again this September 11 at the Augusta Pines Equestrian Center.
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