In riding a horse, we borrow freedom. ~ Helen Thompson
Freedom – that’s what I feel when I ride my horses.
But when I think about our Mountain Shadows residents, the freedom that comes from riding horses takes on an even deeper meaning.
For Michelle, borrowing freedom means learning about giving and receiving unconditional love and friendship – without judgement.
For Michael, it means freedom from his wheelchair – and experiencing the pure and simple joy of the warmth of the sun and the gentle breeze on his face.
And for Craig, it means borrowing the mighty strength of his steed to learn balance – physically and emotionally – as his boyhood memories come full circle with future dreams.
Michelle, Michael, and Craig (stories below) participate in our adaptive horseback riding program. As you may recall from our holiday letter about Brianna and Horse, this program holds a special place in my heart. The bonds forged between humans and horses heal – in a myriad of beautiful and miraculous ways – as you will see here:
Michelle and King – Friends Taking Care of Friends
Michelle was a normal teenager with strawberry blond hair and striking blue eyes. She loved hanging out with her friends and had big dreams for a bright future after high school. Then, one day, as she was crossing the street on her way home from school, Michelle was hit by a car. Due to the resulting brain injury, her life, as she knew it, was over. Michelle went from taking high school English and algebra classes, and having fun with her friends, to the trauma unit at her local hospital. Her doctors did not think she would survive.
After 8 months in ICU, Michelle came to live at Mountain Shadows. She couldn’t walk. She couldn’t talk. She was angry, struggling and upset most of the time. But, as they worked with her, the staff learned that Michelle loved horses. The Mountain Shadows team acted quickly to enroll Michelle in a therapeutic horse riding program, where she met King, a retired roping horse. The old horse and Michelle, both struggling to find their way in a new world of challenges, formed an immediate bond.
With a new friendship and new dreams stirring, Michelle began to make huge improvements. Her balance, dexterity, and coordination all improved. Today, she is using voice commands – yes, she’s talking – with King. And, most amazing of all, due in part to the strength she gained from riding, she is now walking with a walker!
The old horse and young woman are now nearly inseparable. Michelle sneaks King kisses and whispers in his ear, “I want to take care of you like you take care of me.” Friends take care of friends.
Michael – Doing What a Man’s Got to Do
“I think Michael was a cowboy in his last life” says Jessica Swenson, PATH Registered Instructor at the REINS Therapeutic Horsemanship Program.
“I started working at REINS in 1993 and Michael has been with me all the way. I’m very passionate about the change I see in Michael. When he’s lifted from his wheelchair onto the horse, it’s a total transformation! He’s a totally different person when he’s on his horse. It’s so cool to see. He becomes a man – and the expression on his face says, ‘I’m goin’ places!!!’
Michael shares the image of John Wayne as the strong, silent type. In fact, the only word Jessica has ever heard him say is ‘No!’
“No! No! No!” That’s all I’ve ever, in 26 years, heard Michael say. He screams it with joy over and over again when it’s time to head back to the stable. He really does NOT want to get off his horse. He does not want to leave. He loves riding!
“Michael is very confident when he’s riding. He’s normally confined to a wheelchair. But, when he’s out of that wheelchair and on horseback, his whole posture changes. He rides without a seatbelt and sits tall in the saddle! His posture is absolutely perfect. Every time the wind blows in his face, he smiles.
“He’s my John Wayne.”
Craig – Riding Back Through Time
“We used to take Craig horseback riding when he was young,” says Coralee Kleeberger, Craig’s mom. “So, it was a part of his life early on. And it was so much fun! I have lots of pictures from those days – where he was sitting perfectly on the horse. He enjoyed it so much. It was really hard when we had to stop.
“Craig suffered from oxygen deprivation at birth. He stayed at home with our family until he was 18 and then we knew the home environment wasn’t going to work anymore. We couldn’t do things like horseback riding anymore. It was difficult to take care of him due to his size and physical condition.
“For someone like Craig, horseback riding provides such a benefit for him physically,” says Jessica. “When he rides, the movement of the horse mimics the human walk. It uses his muscles with zero impact. As he ages, there’s a huge benefit to his gluts, leg strength, hip flexion, muscle memory, and balance. It also stimulates his diaphragm so it helps with swallowing issues.”
“Horse Therapy has also helped Craig emotionally,” adds Vickie Perdaris-Torvinen, Activities Director. “He sometimes had outbursts. Now, when he’s riding, he talks to the horse and that really calms him down.
“The Reins staff brings Craig into the arena and he loves it when they take him around in circles. Craig has to lean one way and then the other way as they go around, so it helps with his balance.”
“Whenever Craig is on the horse, he’s smiling!” says Jessica. “He’s so happy when he’s riding.”
It has been said that life is a circle – that the end of one journey is the beginning of the next.
As Craig circles the arena, leaning left then right, his life comes full circle too. His boyhood rides ended… a new journey begun… with childhood memories spurred into dreams anew.
It has been said that to ride a horse is to ride the sky. You can make a difference in the lives of our residents by donating now to our therapeutic horse riding program. With your support, we can continue to help our residents soar!
Please consider making a donation to this life-changing program today. Just $25 will borrow 30 minutes of freedom for one of our residents. It would mean a lot to Michelle, Michael, Craig, Brianna and me,
There are 40 riders who participate in our therapeutic horse program. Please click below to sponsor one or more of our residents on a ride of freedom:
$25 – 30 minutes of freedom for one resident
$100 – one freedom ride for four residents for one month
$25 – recurring donation for 10 months