Denise and Roland Hand think small (miniature, that is) on their Hidden Springs Ranch in Cactus Park, east of Cedaredge. They both love animals and children. They are combining those interests and sharing them with others.
"My mother has told me that I have been interested in animals since I was a toddler," Denise said. "I was born with that love."
When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up she answered, "A jockey!" though she grew too tall to follow that dream.
When she and her husband got married and had children, they lived on a farm in Virginia. The children rode ponies. There weren't many farms around and they had lots of ponies, so other kids would come and ride with them, even on trail rides.
"I realized that I wanted to share my love for animals with children, making their lives richer and fuller." She was a co-founder of one of the pony clubs and noticed how good it was for the kids to be around the animals.
"I was able to help them and teach them how to treat the animals with kindness," she said.
Activities were extended to include treasure and ghost hunts at Halloween, bonfires, and playing '50s music popular then as their children were growing up. Parents were included. They danced with their kids. "Some of the young boys didn't want to dance with girls yet so we gave them mops and they had a great time swinging mops around the dance area," recalled Denise.
"I love activities that keep children — children," she said, "and to give adults a chance to let their hair down a bit."
The Hands moved to Cedaredge in 2000, where their grandchildren lived with them for a while. Gabrielle (Gabby) and her sister Vicktoria (Vicky) are both animal lovers. Each raised their own pygmy goat and helped care for many of the animals on the ranch.
Gabby raised a chicken that turned out to be a rooster, so she named him Rooster. She carried the chick around and even slept while holding it in her hand inside a Tupperware container. She raised ducklings in the same way.
Vicky, the youngest granddaughter, as tiny as she was, walked her pygmy goat on a leash, often sprawling on the ground as the goat pulled her along.
"We thought our grandchildren would grow up here," Denise said. "That didn't happen. They moved to Virginia. While here, they dreamed about, talked about and drew up plans for exotic housing and environments for the animals addressing the needs for each."
Habitat is really important to Denise and Roland. Several compounds with shade trees and appropriate surroundings have been completed. Intentions are to build a goat playground this fall.
The ranch now has mini-ature horses, Welsh and Shetlands, riding and mini ponies, mini donkeys, pygmy Nigerian goats, and a variety of miniature bunny breeds. A future hope is to acquire a "teacup" pig, which is very tiny, smaller than a pot belly.
Beginner horsemanship has been offered at the ranch. When the riders are experienced and trained, they pass on lessons learned to less experienced and younger kids and are then known as Helper Kids. Brianna Bowler, Mariah Simler, Adrianna Gilmore and her cousins Hannah, Sabrina and Elizabeth Gilmore, have been taking part in the program for four years. Rebecca Simler and Cindy are known as young starters. Aly and Brianna Morton are newest members. Each has chosen her pony to name, handle, care for and ride. Group rides on Grand Mesa happen regularly.
Duck races (NASDUCK) have been held for their church members, neighbors and friends on the creek at Hidden Springs Ranch. Included were events for the boys, girls and toddlers, with their fathers beating the bushes if their child's plastic duck got caught in brush along the banks of the creek. Everyone who raced a duck went home with a prize of some kind, everything "ducky."
Dreams and plans are to expand and improve the ranch to become a family park where families can come, relax, enjoy a petting zoo, ride the ponies, and participate in some planned activities.
Plans to give "bunny parties" have been completed. Games such as musical bunny hop and beanbag bunny with bunnies to pet and bunny-related prizes will be led by party helpers wearing bunny aprons and bunny ears.
The Hands are raising a baby wallaby in their home. To imprint with humans, a baby is taken from its mother at seven to nine weeks, bottle fed and handled often.
Babies like being in a pouch, so a fabric pouch is provided for the "joey" and the Hands take it everywhere. The young wallaby needs the protection and security of a pouch and can become very stressed without it.
Two other wallabies, Ruby and her sister Opal, have their own habitat — a fenced compound with grass and shade. Plans are to get a male to breed and to expand the compound.
A recent fundraiser was held at Aspen Trails. Helper kids led as children rode the ponies. Those present had the opportunity to pet and decorate a miniature donkey.
Many of their miniatures paraded down Main Street in Cedaredge as part of the Little Britches parade. Some of the helper kids decorated the ponies and rode in the parade, too.
Denise commented, "I told my children, 'As you're writing a book of your life, you might as well make it interesting!'
"I like to add chapters to children's lives ... whenever I can."