Counselor Cowboy cottons to kids

Bob and Nancy Watkins still have hope for the safe return of their son Paul, who has been missing for a year.

Bob and Nancy Watkins still have hope for the safe return of their son Paul, who has been missing for a year.

Comstock Cowboy is back.

And this brought smiles to the faces of about 25 students assembled Wednesday afternoon to welcome him home.

Captured from the nearby Virginia Range, the horse was donated to Reno's Marvin Piccolo School by the Virginia Range Wildlife Protection Agency about two years ago.

The school is dedicated to special-needs children and the friendly, docile bay gelding has been a part of the school's therapeutic horse program since he arrived, but he wasn't trained for riding.

Kathy Barkum of the Wild Horse Commission became aware of the problem last fall and made a call to Tim Bryant, ranch manager for Nevada State Prisons.

The horse was taken to Warm Springs Correctional Center, the medium-security prison facility in Carson City where he was trained to take a saddle, rider and in other ways.

For 100 days, inmate Will Hybarger worked with the horse, teaching him to cope with wheelchairs and ramps as well as riders who might not be experts.

"I can't say enough about the wild horse program," Barkum said. "They went the extra mile to give back, to help the school and those kids."

Ana Warner, who runs the horse program, said it has produced some dramatic results with the special needs students.

"It's amazing. Some of the children who weren't talking at all, talk to that horse," she said. "The kids are often afraid to ride initially, but once they see the others ride, they want to try it. They say these kids don't understand peer pressure, but it's just not so."

Principal Lisa Singer said the school has about seven horses in the special program. Bareback pads rather than saddles are used for riding and the horses' motion is like physical therapy, stretching muscles the children don't use regularly as well as helps to improve their balance.

"Beyond the riding, they develop social skills," she said. "They learn to groom the horses and measure out their food. They absolutely love it."

A lanky dark-haired student named Carlo underscored that statement, squealing with delight as he rode Comstock around the pen for the first time. The horse didn't flinch, despite the noise.

Trainer Will Hybarger said Comstock, the sixth horse he's trained at Warm Springs, is the smartest thus far.

"Look. You can do anything with him," Hybarger said as he crawled under the horse's belly and came out the other side.


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