Humblehorse Ranch Therapy: Changing Lives, One Rider at a Time

Riding a horse isn’t just about getting on its back and holding onto the reins. Humblehorse Ranch, located in Strathmore, Alberta, knows it’s about learning and using everyday life skills. A person cannot just make a 1500-pound animal move unless that animal chooses to listen. The only way you can convince a horse to move is by ensuring it believes in your ability to be the leader. In order to do this, you need to have confidence, empathy, strength, understanding of horse behaviour and understanding of your own behaviour. That’s what horse therapy is all about. Teaching those skills to people who need them.

The Humblehorse Ranch is a family run business. Clarence and Karen Skuter, owners and operators and parents to Becky Skuter, Head Coach and Manager, and Aimee Bailey, Children’s Program Coordinator and Instructor. It is a labour of love, “we would love to make money doing this, but there are so many people in need and we just can’t turn them away… we find ways to work with everyone to make it affordable,” says Clarence. “We started this business because of our own family needs and it has taken on a life of its own.”

The idea for the Humblehorse came when Clarence was laid off and the family was struggling to make ends meet. Clarence wanted a way to support his family and to bring them together. The family wanted to teach others about a better way of life through horses. They decided to start a place where kids, youth and adults could come and leave their problems on the arena floor. A place where they could learn the lessons that horses have to teach. The name Humblehorse Ranch was chosen by Karen because, “all of the former corporate arrogance that had given Clarence his previous success had no place in a business where we wanted to help people especially young families and young children and teenagers.”

Since then, the ranch has taken on a life of it’s own. The Humblehorse Ranch specializes in western riding lessons with a therapeutic approach, but also offers: summer camps, kid’s camps, summer horseback riding, horse birthday parties, boot-camp fitness programs, field trips and a whole lot more.  The ranch is spread over 140 acres and is located within the western edge of Strathmore’s town limits, just 30 minutes east of Calgary. The property is bordered by a treed canal, a 30 acre riding park, and almost 5 miles of cross country trails. But it is the horse therapy that is near and dear to their hearts. It is the very foundation the Humblehorse Ranch is built on.

“We care about each individual and meet each person where they are. We genuinely want them to grow and improve, not only their riding skills, but life skills as well. I do what I do because I enjoy seeing people blossom and thrive as their confidence grows and their skills develop. I also have a passion for horses and how they can positively change people lives and bring out the best in them,” says Becky Skuter, head riding coach and Humblehorse manager.

When they first began offering horse therapy and western riding lessons, the two types of riding were taught separately, but the Skuter family started noticing that it wasn’t just the people in the therapy classes that were needing the lessons being taught. That was when he had the idea to marry the two different types of classes and integrate everyone together. “We used to have classes focused solely on therapy and now we only have one official class. We try to integrate everyone into our regular classes because we find it helps everyone. It normalizes a lot of the disorders people are dealing with and gives everyone tools, whether it is to manage their own behaviours or to accept and understand the behaviours in others,” says Clarence.

Clarence says, “everything we do is based on the therapy principles we have been developing since opening our doors 16 years ago. Now days, everyone is dealing with mental health issues…anxiety, ADHD, OCD, autism spectrum and a myriad of other issues – we try to help everyone.”

It is these therapy principles, developed by Aimee Bailey a graduate from Mount Royal College, that form the foundation of everything they do. The staff at Humblehorse Ranch work on teaching their students horse behaviour – how to read the different cues the horse gives, coping skills – how to manage their behaviour in order to get the horse to listen, social skills –  how to interact with fellow riders, coaches and the horses, and empathy and compassion – how to understand what the horse is feeling, which translates into the human world as well.

It is these basic life skills that allow all their students to grow. “To see where many of our students start out and then to see how far each one of them has come is nothing short of awe inspiring,” says Clarence. “They all come from different backgrounds and have so many issues they are dealing with and to see even one change from an angry, unfocused, confused kid into one that can show compassion for a wounded horse and tend to its wounds with care and focus, is an amazing thing.”

The ultimate goal is to offer youth and young adults, both with and without special needs, a safe place to hang out. A harbour in the storm. “To us, the horse arena is church. It is the place where we let our problems go and help others do the same. We want everyone to have that feeling here, and we do everything in our power to foster that feeling,” says Clarence.

We want to keep the momentum going with our classes as well. Clarence elaborates, “We are experiencing some huge successes… in our advanced therapeutic class. Never before have we been able to advance special needs students to the level that we are currently seeing. We actually have them doing drills on sport horses that require skills that we are teaching in our intermediate classes. The control that we see on the horses  is something that we have never seen before. We have employed different training techniques on sport horses. We keep the pace down but we do much of this at a jog. There are many days when we are actually astonished at the success, and even the caregivers have themselves have created movies and multiple video clips to capture the progress.”

The Skuter family has an obvious passion for the horses and their riders. They work tirelessly updating their facilities and making sure every horse lesson is a life lesson. They constantly work to foster the bond between each and every rider and ensure they are available if anyone needs a supportive ear. Their focus is always on the horses and their riders; on creating a safe harbour. — Autumn Riley

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