Someone helps me get on my horse but once I'm on I can ride by myself now. Both my hands are good to hold the reins and control "Annie". Going to the right is still very hard for me since my right leg and arm aren't as strong yet, but I just try harder going to the right. I can trot now, too. My legs are strong enough now to make her go faster.
I always loved to paint and draw. It seems like those two words --- drawing and horses --- are interchangeable. I began taking art lessons when I was 14. I still paint now, thankfully. You can see my physical changes in my paintings. My paintings before my accident were of horses standing still, horse heads and my still life paintings were of solid objects. Now my paintings are of horses running free and of still life's of wide, open spaces. I'd like to be running free in open spaces.
The reason that I can do so much for myself now, ride independently and trot while riding boils down to just one word --- strength. The key was, is now and always will be strength. Everything we do takes strength --- getting out of bed, washing clothes,showering,preparing meals, brushing your teeth, working and walking.
Although insurance companies do not consider riding a form of physical therapy, it is one of the most effective for many people. Riding helps the muscles relax and the movement of the horse makes you find center and sit up straight. Myself and others in a wheelchair, need to stay physically and mentally active --- therapeutic riding is a very enjoyable combination of both of these activities.
I started a therapeutic riding business, DREAMS GO ON
in August of 2005, but it is now a non-profit organization with 50 physically and mentally challenged riders, a wonderful board and over 50 fantastic volunteers. Easter Seals recently became collaborative partners. I hope to build a "big dream barn" ($600,000)
for the physically and mentally --- anything is possible.
Dreams Go On has made me a whole person again --- There are some things I need assistance with but my mental ability is MARVELOUS !
Riding brings remarkable benefits to children and adults including those with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, Learning Disabilities, Mental Retardation, Multiple Sclerosis, Spinal Bifida,, Brain Injuries,and the visually Impaired. Jason,who is autistic, began riding last year. He is slouched over in the saddle and his head tilts a great deal to the right as he begins to ride. After 10 minutes he is sitting straight in the saddle, he keeps his head straight AND HE IS SMILING!! It seems very simple to me --- help those who can't help themselves.
A unique relationship forms between horse and rider leading to an increase in confidence, patience and self-esteem. People see my wheelchair and realize I use a computer board to talk and feel bad for me, which is understandable. I want to prove that my brain has not been negatively affected --- at all.
I'd like to get my degree in physical therapy and open a facility that offers physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and riding, of course. With Easter Seals and Blair Family Solutions as collaborative partners with Dreams Go On now I feel we are well on the way.
My circle was on a straight line for twelve years as I had physical, occupational and speech therapies. I have learned the hard way that nothing is given to me --- I must work hard, very hard, for what I want. I beleive there is a way around everything. I can't talk or write so I use a computer. Being on-line is a whole other world.
I was walking last year using a walker and now I use a cane to walk --- very slow progress. I'm not saying next year I'll walk with no cane and not use a wheelchair, but the chance is there. So many people in wheelchairs can't move, think, see, speak, type hear or feel, but I can. I still am the same person I was 12 years ago when you look at me, but inside I am still the same person I always was ... maybe a little smarter.
I have come to realize two things ... One is if you're in a wheelchair then you're disabled. Disabled literally means "not able". So, people in wheelchairs are not able. I think we are able --- very able. It's a challenge to get around and do things. So, I prefer the phrase "physically challenged". A challenge you can fight ... I always say, "Don't ever give up." My second realization is most important though; We ALL SHOULD LIVE LIFE LIKE WE MEAN IT.
Destiny, fate and luck are three words I hear to describe my situation, but to me it was God's plan. My parents have been simply amazing --- my brother is a pretty OK guy, too. My circle was broken in half, but by helping others, like myself, the circle now continues.
It seems to me that life goes in circles or in straight lines. Since I can remember, horses have been the center of my circle...they still are. Most everything in my life has come second behind horses. I went to horse shows up and down the East Coast and had many great times growing up with family and friends. I knew that at a very young age that a "horse career" was for me. The funny thing was that no one in my family rode, much less understood how I could ride and stay on.
I started riding lessons when I was eight. I even mucked out stalls to pay for extra riding lessons. In high school, my horse kept me out of trouble. It seems that horses are how mom and I pulled through those tough teenage years. I begged my parents for a horse since I was ten --- three very long years later, I got a horse, Sulan, an Arabian. My Sulan depended on me completely like a baby depends on its mother. He depended on me for food, water, shelter, exercise and medicine. I realized my being affected something else. I learned how to be responsible.
A horse is very similar to a person in that each has his own personality and temperament. I could have had the worst day and ended up at the barn telling my horse all my problems and he listened to me. He was always there for me. My senior year in high school I had a choice to make.There was a horse show the weekend of my senior prom in New York. So it was the prom or the horse show. The horse show won. The horse show was one of four in New York in which if you won at the May show you were qualified to show back there in June. My Sulan gave me everything he had at that horse show. We got to go back in June. I then went on to be the 'PA Arabian High Point' horse show winner that year.
I decided to go to Stephen's College in Columbia, Missouri, with a major in Equestrian Science and a minor in English. I knew the moment I walked onto Stephen's campus that this was the place for me. The Equestrian Science Department was exceptional. Just as my parents and brother helped to make me who I am, Stephen's expanded on their work. I describe Stephen's as a "melting pot" of people. Women come form all over the country and the world to have the best time of their lives. Not only do they come from all over, but also their majors vary widely including equestrian science, theatre, business,fashion, English and many things inbetween. I was introduced to people from all over the world with riding ideas from all over and "normal" lecture classes.
I started Stephen's thinking that a classroom was on horseback. I graduated believing a "classroom" is a state of mind. Each person has his or her own style of learning that fits the conditions and the surroundings he or she has lived in. Whether a person is in a classroom setting, or in an outside area such as the outdoor riding ring, each person is unique and should be treated as such. My idea of education is not limited to the classroom ... it takes place in all areas of everyday life. The process of learning and adapting to the whole life is what education is about.
I didn't realize what was happening to me in college, but looking back I see it as a kind of enlightening. Liberal Arts was not meant to give me busy work or make my life miserable. This area was made to help me see that I can do many other things besides ride a horse. Looking for "versatility in the riding seats" led me to "versatility of myself". It has all been a matter of adaptation. From the moment I was born. I have been adapting to new people and new situations; it has been giving and taking all the way. Some people adapt to life and life's changes better than others --- these people, I feel, have an OPEN MIND.
Although I was voted the best equestrian in the graduating class of 1991, my Dad wondered where I could ever find a job in the equine field. Luckily, a good friend who had just won the Pennsylvania Lottery for 47 million dollars needed a barn manager and her stable was only five minutes from my parents' home. She had 23 horses --- mostly Arabians --- and two barn hands. I started work a month after my college graduation and went to the dame horse shows that I did in high school in Pennsylvania, Maryland,Virginia, New York, Delaware and Massachusetts. I showed and won with many of her horses. Needless to say, I didn't mind going to work --- at all.
Two yeas later, I decided to show her Arabians part-time and return to college for my Masters In Business Administration at Saint Francis University. I was planning to own my own barn, give lessons and have boarders. The classes were extremely hard and the others in my classes were very smart, but I made a good decision. If you are going to do something then do it right and give it all you've got.
Then on October 15th, 1995, my 'circle' came to an abrupt halt. I had gone on a trail ride with 25 people; driving home alone afterward through a rainstorm, I hit a tree. Fortunately, I had my seatbelt on, but because it was a side -impact accident, the air bags did not release. A friend was driving behind me and used her car phone to call my parents ... they were there in 20 minutes. I was life flighted to a hospital.
I don't really remember my car wreck and probably never will. Having a closed-head injury, I'm unable to walk or talk yet --- similar to a stroke victim.
I was a left-side impact; I hit my head on the driver's side window, so the right side of my body wsa affected. I was in a coma for three months after my accident and had 6 tubes connected to my body. People who have been in comas have to rethink and relearn what they have done and who they are. For me, it was riding again and writing again. One of the first things I remeber smelling was horse grain. A physical therapist had horse grain brought to my hospital room because she knew how important horses were to me. The sense of smell is what returns first while in a coma.
One in five people spend time in a wheelchair at some point in their lives. I have had to adapt my life around what I can do in my wheelchair.Very simple things that can be sone without a wheelchair are impossible for me to do in my wheelchair. Such as climbing steps, going through certain doors, eating at certain tables,driving, getting things up high, carrying large items, sled riding, ice skating, water skiing, going through narrow aisles,using certain bathrooms, going out in the rain and maneuvering over bumpy sidewalks. I am the type of person to try something again and again until I can do it. It's all been pure determination for me.
I wrapped my car around a tree in October of "95 and was in a coma for three months --- breathing, eating and drinking on machines and wearing diapers. Now I walk using a cane or use a wheelchair, write e-mail, dress and undress myself, work out onthe YMCA nmachines, ride horses, do computer webs, do laundry, get my meals and do my dishes and take my own shower. Having and excellent attitude has kept me strong. Therefore, I am able to walk, understand, think, hear feel, see, help others ride horses and remember almost everything. Hard work might give a person muscles, but it's hard times that make them work.
I am very fortunate to still be able to ride. When I started riding again, 10 months after my car wreck, someone had to lead the horse. Also someone had to walk on either side of my horse as I was riding because I had very little balance and would sway off to a side as I was riding. My goal is to mount the horse by myself. Then I can ride when I want and not have to depend on someone else. Riding gives me a feeling of complete freedom. I took th horse for granted before. I always knew that I could make it go where I wanted and when I wanted. Now I appreciate the horse allowing me up on his back and becoming my legs --- not a piece of metal, like a cane or wheelchair.
This is a true story about a woman that my hubby, Tim, & I were associated with a long time ago when we were raising and showing Arabian Horses. At the time of our developing friendship we all shared a horse trainer and riding instructor and the love for the beauty of the Arabian Horse.
Sue was a young teenager at the time that we all traveled to the East Coast horse shows together. She was enamoured with the horse world like a lot of girls her age but Sue had the discipline to consider her riding lessons and ring experience as building blocks to her future as a professional trainer and rider. Horses were going to be her career and she was getting a "leg up" on her future .
Horses were Sue's love as well as her life. She sacrificed many of the usual high school social events and interaction with other teenagers because of understanding the value of all of her chances to learn her craft while in the presence of seasoned horse trainers and owners. When Sue was not at a professional stable soaking up information, she was at her own barn or a friend's doing what horse people do: Mucking, grooming, feeding and after all of the work was done ... riding. Sue lived, breathed, ate and slept "Horses" ... especially her beloved Arabians.
There wasn't anything that Sue would not do as she checked off the items on the long, long list of prepping a horse for the ring. She was tireless and her love for this world propelled her forward with surprising physical and mental strength. She was just a kid but competed like a pro.
During several show seasons Tim & I had Sue ride for us too. We had decided to keep some of the horses that we were showing at our own stable and promote them from there instead of the trainer's barn. Sue religiously came to our barn at odd hours, sometimes before we went to work in the mornings, to ride our show horses and get them ready for the ring. Her dedication knew no clock ... she was on-call.
At an early age, Sue was a true professional. And when Sue competed in a class, an observer would never have suspected that she was just a kid ... she was that good! Sue added many more blue ribbons for us and promoted our horses as if they were her own . She knew that promoting her client's horses was top priority. Both my hubby and I could see that she was headed for a phenominal career in the horse world.
Tim and I eventually gave up the horse world since our own kids showed no interest in the horses. Giving up that world also meant a separation of the friendship bonds. Since dedication and time constraints are what makes the (horse) show world tick, it is very hard to uphold friendships once no longer a part of that lifestyle. Our friend Sue was one of those friendships that was "lost "... until recently.
Here is Sue's tragic but amazingly selfless message ... straight from the horse's mouth !!!!
Absolutely everything does happen for a reason. Most of the time we cannot understand the reasons of a seemingly tragic situation until we get to the other side of the event or the happening. And sometimes we NEVER can extract the positive from the situation and NEVER truly understand the reason. You will find that ... It's all perspective .
Some of us travel through life asking "Why me, God?" Others say, "Why NOT me?" Some are given lemons in life 's drama and then live their lives very jaded and sour. Others make lemonade as the saying goes ... some men's trash is another's treasure.
IT IS ALL PERSPECTIVE.
We can all speculate at what we would feel, think, do or say when we witness a perceived negative event as it happens to another, but not a one of us could be sure of our reaction until we would experience that "happening" for ourself.
The following is a true story of a tragic event in the life of one woman that changed her entire family's way of life ... and the perspective OF that one courageous woman who helped change many, many other families way of living life.