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Healing with horsepower

April E. Clark
Kara K. Pearson/Post Independent Dr. Donna M. Otabachian pets Mirakles Happen " a.k.a. Gracie " at Ranch Good Days, Inc., in Missouri Heights. Otabchian founded the ranch to provide assistance for troubled girls.
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MISSOURI HEIGHTS ” Ryan Newman is familiar with horsepower.

The NASCAR race car driver said he’ s hoping the healing power of horses can help at-risk female youths in the valley.

“We just want to guide our girls to make good decisions. We work on a cultural approach, and there is a lot of success with equine therapy,” said Donna Otabachian, who founded Ranch Good Days Inc., Colorado Girls Ranch.



The ranch is the only such therapeutic center for girls in the state and the Garfield County’s only prevention program targeted specifically at female youth.

Many of the girls in the program are from families with economic need that exhibit problems associated with alcohol, drugs, tobacco, sex or violence. Through the ranch, Otabachian wants to help the girls achieve their own personal goals and independence, she said.

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Otabachian, while part of a Denver think tank, helped start Ranch Good Days in August of 2003. Otabachian had previously been involved with a program through the Denver Museum of Nature and Sciences and Denver Public Schools for students of indigenous and Hispanic cultures.

“Of the 70 at-risk youths in the Denver program, 52 of them were Native American. That was enough for me to realize they were totally invisible,” said Otabachian, who holds a doctorate in education administration and a master’s degree in psychology.

“We just saw a lot of desperate needs with kids and we decided, as a think tank, to provide service for these girls who were runaways, or weren’t happy in their home lives,” she said. “They had to have a fighting chance, and with public education there are constraints. The program affords us to look at the problems systematically.”



Since the program’s inception, Otabachian said she has seen many success stories. One such story is of a Native American girl who, at 14, served as her family’s sole financial provider. Today, she is a successful 19-year-old college student at the University of Nebraska, Otabachian said.

“She came into our program and miraculously got into her studies and earned her GED. Now she will have an associate’s degree,” Otabachian said. “I’m just so proud of her, at her young age of 19, she’s already active in giving back to her community.”

Another graduate of the program attends the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe.

“There are no tribal colleges in Colorado, but we do have a lot of connections with national colleges and universities ” and we do have regular inquiries from them,” Otabachian said. “We have students of minority status, and they are also females, which colleges want.”

Susan Shirley, executive director of the Mountain Regional Housing Corporation ” a Ranch Good Days’ ” said she hopes the Roaring Fork Valley will embrace Otabachian’s program.

“That’s really key, the support she can get from the local community,” Shirley said. “They’re a start-up, but they have a plan.”

Last week, Otabachian submitted an application to the Colorado Division of Housing requesting $1.8 million for land in Missouri Heights, where Ranch Good Days is based.

Otabachian hopes to expand the current transitional foster-care housing for young women ages 14-21, she said. The horse ranch is now home to between four and five girls attending RGD Night School, a program offered to anyone in the valley.

Otabachian said she just wants to help the girls flourish in a safe environment.

“We’re working to bring these young women into a situation where they’re happy,” she said. “We’re there for them ” we’re kind of like their safety net.”

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