From left: Happy Nelson, Amanda Cox and Brian Wessel (Photo: Fredericksen)
Kids find solace in Archuleta’s Freedom in Motion program
Two months ago, a distressed mother called Carol Archuleta and said, “You’re my last hope.” The mother was calling about her son, who was diagnosed with bipolar and attention deficit disorders. At seven years old, he had already tried to commit suicide twice. After the family had tried every other kind of therapy to facilitate his anger management, the mother turned to Archuleta’s therapeutic horse riding program as a final resort.
When the boy came to Rain Shadow Ranch for the first time, Archuleta said he was in an extremely distressed state and clung to a fence in the arena sobbing. After awhile, Archuleta and her husband, Archie, finally got the boy on a horse. After the third lap, Archuleta said he wiped his tears away. Now, he’s the first student out of the car and onto a horse. Before he started the program he never hugged his mother or aunt. Now hugging and saying “I love you” are daily practices.
Carol Archuleta runs Freedom in Motion, a therapeutic riding program that helps people with physical and mental disabilities gain confidence, control of their bodies, and social skills. The program officially began in 1997, after Archuleta found her personal niche in teaching therapeutic riding.
Her passion for helping the physically and mentally challenged began in high school, when Archuleta volunteered to work with athletes in the Special Olympics for six years. Archuleta said she also battled with a growth disorder and speech impediment in grade school.
“A lot of things these kids are going through I can relate to,” Archuleta said.
After moving to the Eastern Sierra, Archuleta said she read an article about a woman who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and, in addition to severe loss of muscle function, lost her job and many of her friends. After a year of therapeutic horse riding, the woman gained enough physical control to walk with a cane.
The article inspired Archuleta to earn certification and a license in therapy. She and her husband now run Freedom in Motion on a donated piece of land just south of Benton. Her husband maintains the ranch while Archuleta teaches classes with the help of a handful of volunteers. Even with drastic state budgets cuts and significantly reduced funding, Freedom in Motion still serves about 40 students each week.
When Amanda Alden came to Archuleta at the age of six, she couldn’t walk. Diagnosed with Down syndrome, Alden could not employ the physical strength to control her standing and walking muscles. After six months of therapeutic horse riding, on a good day, Alden can jog with her horse around the arena.
Riding a horse helps a person build core strength and posture, in addition to providing a model for simulation of the human walk, Archuleta said. The class also helps the students build confidence and maintain a sense of independence.
“When you’re on a horse, you think, ‘Wow, I’m way up here on a horse and I can make it do whatever I want,” Archuleta said. “That’s empowering.”
Happy Nelson, 70, a 12-year volunteer at Freedom in Motion said the benefits of the classes are amazing. She said many of the students never even talk until they begin the program. But after interacting with the other students and volunteers, they begin learning more social skills. The lessons learned often help improve family bonding at home. Some of them even acquire enough horse-riding skills to compete in horse shows.
“We’ve had some of these kids go to shows and they outdo the able-bodied kids,” Archie Archuleta said.
Freedom in Motion encourages local youth to volunteer at the ranch, to help improve leadership skills and build a better understanding for their peers with disabilities. Archuleta said Freedom in Motion provides an environment where classmates can form a mutual respect for each other.
Even with the generous contributions of private donors, and some public funding, the Archuletas still pay for 35 percent of the program out of their own pockets. With state budget cuts, Freedom in Motion lost $25,000 from its budget.
“When the state budget goes in the crapper, programs for people with disabilities are some of the first to go,” Carol said.
She is thankful for all the private contributions from people who believe in the program, but Freedom in Motion can still take all the help it can get, both in the form of volunteerism and financial support.
A lack of funding won’t prevent Freedom in Motion from improving and expanding its program though, Archuleta said. She is shooting to launch an early childhood development program in April, which would teach toddlers skills in sequencing and posture.
For more information about Freedom in Motion, contact the Archuletas at 760.937.5233 or email archie50@gnet.