Fruita-based Harmony Acres Equestrian Center was one of 14 Colorado organizations that won part of a $2.2 million U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs grant for the adaptive sports programs they offer to the nation's veterans.

The center, only six of which operate on the Western Slope, offers several animal-assisted therapy programs, but one specifically aimed at veterans.

The center does offer psychotherapy programs designed for children and mental health patients.

"Equine therapy is particularly powerful modality for veterans," the center says on its website, "It is offered in a safe, outdoor environment instead of the confines of an office; it incorporates the relationship with a non-judgmental animal; and it allows recovery from trauma without forcing veterans to re-experience traumatic events."

Recipients of the grant can use the funds for planning, developing, managing and implementing adaptive sports programs, not all of which deal with horses or other animals.

Another Western Slope organization that received grant money, for example, is Steamboat Adaptive Recreation Sports. It has a number of non-animal therapy programs, such as skiing, biking and boating, though it does have a horseback riding program.

"Programs like these promote community reintegration and help empower veterans to stretch beyond any and all perceived limitations," said Michael Kilmer, director of the VA's Eastern Colorado Health Care System.

The grants are through the VA's Adaptive Sports Grant Program, which is designed to provide opportunities for veterans to improve their independence, well being and quality of life through sports and therapeutic arts programs.

In total, the VA awarded about $14.8 million in grants to 126 organizations nationwide. Those programs are expected to benefit about 11,000 veterans and service members in every state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Colorado has more than 380,000 veterans.

Other Western Slope programs at will share in the grant are Adaptive Sports Center of Crested Butte, the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center, Challenge Aspen and the Vail Veterans Foundation.

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