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  • Jeffrey Galloway, MOTR/L

5 Reasons for Occupational Therapy (OT) on a Ranch!

Updated: Jan 4, 2022

Occupational therapy can be a tremendous help for many people with diverse disabilities. OT’s support people to do the things they want to do, but may be hard to accomplish right now due to one’s special needs. Here are our top 5 reasons why getting OT on a ranch is awesome:

1. Individual Motivation-A child with cerebral palsy may not want to practice fine motor control using a peg board or puzzle, but if they know they have to get the latch on the gate open before they can visit with their favorite horse- getting to this horse is now their motivation to practice their fine motor skills. Farms and ranches have so many opportunities and fun things to do which leads to people trying harder to work on their goals!

​2. Sensory Experiences- A teen with autism can show increased abilities to tolerate unpredictable noises or smells when worked with consistently in an outdoor environment, as these situations exist regularly on a ranch with crowing roosters and cows mooing for an afternoon snack. There is ample space to satiate or meet unsatisfied sensory and movement needs through making loud noises, swinging, running, jumping, climbing, and heavy work!

3. Empathy - Many of our clients are shown empathy by the animals while interacting with them. As the animals interact with each other, we can observe their ‘nature’ through behavior. We choose to value and support their interests, health and welfare. By observing happy or frustrated animals, we can learn to understand our own attitudes. A person who may be a recipient of care in many cases, demonstrate high expression of empathy when they are responsible for an animal’s care. Many clients begin to point out animal behaviors as happy or sad and answer the question: “What can we do to help this animal become happy?”

4. Responding to Real Life Changes - It rains. We get a raincoat, and celebrate the garden getting watered. It’s cold. We put on a hat and the horses might get a blanket. Our outdoor environment is constantly changing. The animals still need care and now we must problem solve and ADAPT to meet their needs. These opportunities arise every session, and clients are encouraged to initiate answers during problem-solving in order to maintain the health and safety of our animals. Uh oh, the water trough is empty. What do we do?

5. Communication - Parents have told us that their loved ones have shown improvements in social communication after working with animals, through improved understanding of body language during conversation. As animals are masters of body language, this is no surprise they would be the best teachers. We learn easily about the use of pressure and our “own” energy when animals come towards us or move away from us. We begin to see how to influence these behaviors (especially during feeding time)!

These 5 reasons show that there is more than meets the eye when providing therapy in a farm setting. These kinds of things happen everyday at Sundance Ranch and the other nature-based settings where our therapists meet our clients. We are taking new clients, so go ahead and give us a call with any questions or to sign up a new rancher!

Jeffrey Galloway, OTR, Owner of Sundance Outdoor Therapy


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