In their first outing in months, students and staff from Littleton's Colorado Center for the Blind got in touch with their equestrian side on Aug. 3, grooming horses from the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Mounted Patrol at Sterne Park.
“It's really calming,” said Derek Roberts, a student at the renowned school that teaches blind people skills in self-reliance, as he ran his fingertips along the back of Ruthie, a 22-year-old mare. “I try to be a calm person myself. I'd like to think we're making a connection.”
The visit from the Sheriff's Mounted Patrol was the center's first outing since Feburary, said Dan Burke, the center's spokesperson.
Normally, summers at the Center for the Blind would be filled with activities like whitewater rafting and rock climbing, he said, but amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, a lot of programs are on hold. Summer camps for teens are on hiatus, as are classes for seniors. The center is down to 18 students in its main program, from 28 to 30 normally.
“It's going to be this way for a while,” Burke said. “We're adjusting to the limitations.”
The event was a natural fit for the mounted patrol, said Lt. Rich Anselmi, who heads the unit.
“We really cherish opportunities to go out and connect with the community,” Anselmi said. “Grooming a horse is a very tactile experience — you do it by feel. We thought this would be a really good fit.”
All of the unit's horses are owned by volunteers or officers themselves. The unit boasts more than 20 volunteers, many of them teenagers. While four of the unit's horses are owned by officers and tasked with everything from park patrol to search and rescue, others are retired from the Westernaires precision drill team. Others, like Love Bug, are miniature horses and certified therapy animals.
Restarted in 2019 after a 30-year gap, the Sheriff's Mounted Patrol Unit only became fully functional in June. Anselmi said it's a great way to connect with the community.
“It can be hard to connect with the public from inside a patrol car,” Anselmi said. “Even when we're on foot, people don't always want to chat. But when we bring out the horses, everyone loves to come up and meet them. It's a really fun way to get people more comfortable with law enforcement.”
Getting up close and personal with the horses was an enriching experience, students and staff at the Center for the Blind said.
“It's amazing,” said Eliza Portugal, who teaches Braille, as she scritched Love Bug behind the ears. “I've never felt an entire horse before.”
For others, the experience was nostalgic.
“I used to ride horses in Philadelphia, but it's been a long time,” said student Mark Leary as he brushed out the mane of Rainbow, a Shetland pony. “This really takes me back. It's a good feeling.”
Working with horses is therapeutic, Anselmi said.
“As the old saying goes,” he said, “There's nothing better for the inside of a person than the outside of a horse.”
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