Mountain Mayhem: Whinny Wonderland |

Mountain Mayhem: Whinny Wonderland

May Selby
Mountain Mayhem
Whinny Wonderland volunteer elves from back row, left to right: Isabel Rich, Bre Millspaugh, Jamie Denue, Zoe Hanlon, Sadie the therapy dog, Marissa Ostrich, Karla Rohrbaugh. Kneeling left to right - Sheryl Barto, Sampson the therapy dog and Magda Debska. Hal Williams photo.
Seth Owen with his daughter, Zoe, and fiancée Blair Palmer. Hal Williams photo.
Guests arrive by horse drawn cart. Hal Williams photo.
Participants experience the sensory work as Karl Hanlon leads them through the three positions. Hal Williams photo.
Frosty, one of the therapy bunnies, always proves to be popular. Hal Williams photo.
Sheryl Barto and her horse Prince explain how The Horse Boy Method works using body-to-body contact of human to horse to calm the sensory system. Hal Williams photo.
Tinkerbell, one of two mini horses, is decorated in the Enchanted Forest. Hal Williams photo.
Payton Marlow who helped Sheryl Barto set up Whinny Wonderland along with her mom, Michelle and brother Bram. Courtesy photo.

To keep the holiday spirit alive this season, Sheryl Barto and Karl Hanlon, the owners of Smiling Goat Ranch in Carbondale, came up with a clever way to safely bring guests and animals together in a festive atmosphere that they called Whinny Wonderland Presented by Wrangler.

Barto and Hanlon incorporated Smiling Goat Ranch five years ago as a non-profit whose work with horses, dogs, bunnies – and of course, goats – helps those with neurosensory conditions to heal, like kids with autism and veterans with PTSD. The ranch’s services are free to families, which in turn, means fundraising is essential to support them. Typically, funds come from their annual awareness walk and Hay Bale Ball though both were understandably canceled this year. The idea for Whinny Wonderland enabled them to invite guests to come see what they do in a safe, socially distant manner as a private experience with a suggested donation.

Over the course of six holiday evenings, they registered each small group for their own specific two-hour time slot to visit the property, which was festively decorated for the holidays. Guests parked by the rodeo parking lot where a horse-drawn cart met them, loading kids inside while adults walked alongside following a short path to reach the ranch.

The first stop on the nighttime tour was a photo op in a sleigh. Next up was a visit with horses to experience one of the two pillars of the program, sensory work with body-to-body contact of human to horse. Adults and children took turns lying on and leaning into the horses, a stress reducer for all involved. The next station was “the Enchanted Forest,” an area brightened with holiday lights where guests could decorate mini horses and meet a bunny named Frosty. The final stop was to see baby goats in their pen and gather around a bonfire to make s’mores, enjoy hot chocolate and decorate ornaments.

Guests expressed their appreciation to Barto and Hanlon for the magical holiday experience. Barto and Hanlon expressed their gratitude to Aspen Tree Service for decorating the lights on a 35-foot blue spruce at the ranch, Tera’s Gardens for providing the holiday lights, Ascent Events, Good + Clean Food, Bonfire Coffee, Eagle Crest Nursery, Ace Hardware and City Market for their donations, along with sponsorship from Slifer, Smith and Frampton, Wrangler and Berthod Motors.

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