Things continue to flourish at Spirit’s Respite Ranch – an animal therapy ranch that helps those with special needs and conditions ranging from PTSD to anxiety.
Located near Stettler, the ranch is run by owners/operators Janelle and Kent Robinson. Their son Dax, who has autism, was a key inspiration to launch the service last summer.
“We’ve been so busy, it’s been awesome,” explained Janelle. “We are still okay to be doing our riding lessons, which is wonderful because that’s all I do anyway – the one on one. So we are very lucky that we can keep going and we don’t have to worry about space limitations with the arena being as big as it is.
“We can keep on going for those kids and young adults who have had so many opportunities and programs already stripped away,” she said. “We’ve also brought on a few more volunteers which is wonderful – we have so many people who want to help out.
“And now that the weather is turning nicer, it’s easier to do those outside things, too,” she said. “We are just seeing them respond in such an incredibly positive way. It’s what we know we are put here to do.”
Looking back, the Robinsons also noticed that there wasn’t an abundance of support for families of special needs children in general, so they wanted to extend a helping hand themselves – thus the founding of Spirit’s Respite Ranch.
And it’s not just for kids. Support homes bring their adults to the ranch as well, as do respite workers who bring their adults and teens to the site also.
Janelle has pointed out that animals are really mirrors of what we bring as people.
Special needs kids don’t bring fear, and they don’t know animosity.
She said they also don’t know ulterior motives or manipulation – they just come with pure hearts and have an ability to connect with pretty much any animal. And there are plenty on the ranch to see, from chickens, pigs, miniature cows and horses to ponies, miniature donkeys, goats, sheep and bunnies.
According to the Central Alberta Humane Society, interactions with animals are known to provide positive health results including the lowering of blood pressure, the calming of agitation and anxiety, and the stimulating of creativity and bolstered interaction.
At the ranch, volunteers and staff incorporate games that help the kids work on strategies that they are working on at home or with their occupational/physical/speech therapists.
“They do things like aiming/tossing games on horseback to working on left and right hand/body coordination, speech games/sound practice to help communicate with their horse, and simple direction-following strategies for our more severe riders,” said Janelle.
“We see how animals just know when kids need them – and that’s all animals! We then see the kids blossom, open up and want to come and join in games with us, too.”
Janelle said come June, she is having Equine Assisted Learning Canada (EAL) coming to the ranch for an equine-assisted learning certification program.
“Three of us will be taking our equine-assisted therapy training, so that we can support even more kids as we come out of the mental health crisis that is (happening) because of the pandemic as well.”
Marilee Colp of Stettler can’t say enough about how the ranch has helped 19-year-old Amanda; a local woman who Colp works with as a community liaison.
Amanda, who has Down’s Syndrome, has thoroughly enjoyed her times at the ranch.
“It’s been so positive for her – her growth is unbelievable. She’s in a leadership role there, too, because she’s helping a young fellow out that has autism. That’s the great thing about this place, too.
Colp said the animals have a calming effect as well. “She’s also very confident with them now. And the horses ‘give’ that too her. It’s almost like they have a sixth sense,” she said. “They know what we need, and they give you that assurance.”
She also described Janelle as a very passionate person with a big heart for the folks that she helps.
“She has this ability to connect with people. She wants the best for everyone that comes there – I think that is what is so genuine about her,” she explained. “When I go there, I also feel great. You can be having a yucky day and be tired when you get there, but then there is a spring in your step. I can see it with all the young adults and those of us who bring others to the ranch – it lifts you up!
“Janelle is very honest and sincere. She’s open about her own story, and that is what makes her compassionate. Again, she wants the best for anyone who comes through her doors.”
For her part, Janelle is happy to be able to provide some semblance of a routine again for kids and young adults – whether they are special needs or not – in a time when routines have been affected profoundly.
Fundraising efforts are also continuing to have an addition put on the arena which would include a full handicap accessible washroom plus a sensory room and a therapy room.
For more, find Spirit’s Respite Ranch on Facebook.