Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Dream - Nine Years Down the Road

Nick provided the inspiration to begin DreamPower.
Nine years ago this week, DreamPower was born. I (Martha McNiel) was the lone psychotherapist, riding instructor, horse handler and volunteer. The only riding horse was Nick, my personal Arabian, who was not a suitable therapy horse. Three miniature horses (Zachary, Trigger and Choco) made up the DreamPower herd. Nine years ago this week, our first client came to DreamPower. And that was the beginning!

Nine years later, that one client has increased to the over 300 individuals who received services from DreamPower last year. Three Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists, two doctoral psychology interns, five Marriage and Family Therapy Interns, six Registered Therapeutic Riding Instructors and one Instructor in Training, as well as more than 250 individual volunteers, will serve clients and students at DreamPower this year. Ten riding horses and Patches the miniature donkey have joined the three original minis in the DreamPower herd.

Martha was selected to receive the PATH Intl.
EFP/L Professional of the Year Award for 2011.
In the last two weeks, DreamPower was notified of two exciting awards that will be presented by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International at the PATH Intl. Conference in Lexington, Kentucky in November. DreamPower was notified that Martha McNiel has been selected to receive the 2011 Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy and Learning Professional of the Year Award. This national award is a wonderful honor for everyone at DreamPower. This award reflects on the consistent quality of services offered to our clients. We were also notified that Tulips has been selected as the PATH Intl. Region 11 Horse of the Year. She is now a finalist for the national Horse of the Year award, which will also be presented in Lexington in November.

Tulips has been chosen as the PATH International Region 11
Therapy Horse of the Year for 2011. 

Nine years later, DreamPower offers eleven distinct programs and services. In the past two months we hosted the Camp for Children with Special Needs (sponsored by the Gilroy Assistance League and South Valley Community Church) and the newest program, the IBM/DreamPower Camp for Children on the Autism Spectrum. We have expanded our Animal Assisted Therapy program to include five friendly goats and the 2011 Wine, Dine and Equine raised almost $11,000 and 275 people attended this wonderful event.

As I was reflecting on the past nine years, and the exciting times I believe are ahead for DreamPower, I was reminded of this quote by William Shakespeare, "I can no other answer make, but, thanks, and thanks." That is how I feel about every staff member, volunteer, student, client, donor, supporter and horse who has helped DreamPower to become the wonderful organization it is today.

The future looks bright as we begin our tenth year at DreamPower!
 I want to close today with a quote from Dr. Albert Schweitzer, "At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us." 

I am thinking with very, very deep gratitude today of every staff member, volunteer, client, student, donor, supporter, horse, donkey, duck, chicken and goat that has made DreamPower into the wonderful place of healing and encouragement that it is today. Thank you all for bringing the dream this far, and I hope you are ready for a fabulous Year Ten!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

DreamPower Children's Camp - Friends and Fun!

Things look cool from the back of a horse.

Riding is for princesses.

There's always a helping hand.
Rocky is a rock star.

We learned about what horses eat. (This is a salt block.)
I like riding with friends!
Buddies are the best!

Riding with friends is fun!
Tulips is my favorite horse!

Patches likes to be the center of attention.

Hi, Mom! I'm having fun!
Trigger is just the right size.

It's fun to get creative in arts & crafts.
High five!

Captain Bingo was awesome at his first camp.


Thanks for a great week!
We would like to give special thanks to the Gilroy Assistance League (GALS) for sponsoring this camp; to the South Valley Community Church Youth Group for volunteering as "buddies" and helping with all parts of the camp; to the DreamPower volunteers who make our camp safe and fun; and to our Therapeutic Riding Instructors Garry, Amy and Melissa.  Camp rocks because of you!!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Sunnyvale "Youth and Horses" Group Graduates!

On Tuesday, April 12 the first session of "Youth & Horses" concluded. Eight high school students showed their horsemanship skills both on the ground and in the saddle as family, friends, public safety officers and school administrators watched with big smiles.

Each week, the students and their mentors were transported from Fremont High School in Sunnyvale to DreamPower Horsemanship in Gilroy for a 90-minute lesson. The drive time was used to inspire the students to think about their future with a variety of presentations and workshops. During the nine-week program, students learned life skills such as responsibility, patience, work ethic, teamwork and communication while learning to handle and ride horses. They worked with both full sized horses, miniature horses and a miniature donkey.

After the horsemanship demonstrations, Officer Jim Davis served everyone a delicious meal of hotdogs, burgers, chips, watermelon and lemonade. Chef Cecelia Garza of Wild Tastes Catering provided delicious gourmet cupcakes to top off the celebration. Each student was honored with an award highlighting their strengths and each was given a framed photograph taken during the program.

Nine DreamPower volunteers made this program possible. Special thanks to the volunteers and mentors who came every afternoon for nine weeks to work with these students! Thanks to Chester, Rocky, Classy and Red, for teaching the students how to ride! And thanks to Choco, Patches, Trigger and Zachary, for helping the students to learn about working with horses on the ground.
Dori Fontaine of the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety and Rob Schulze of the Reach Potential Movement coordinated the eight students and eight mentors who participated in the program.

Riding lessons were taught by NARHA Instructors-In-Training Lisa Renae Nelson and Dori Fontaine, under the supervision of NARHA Registered Instructor Martha McNiel. Horsemanship lessons with the mini's were led by NARHA Registered Instructor Melissa Abbey.

The program, part of the Sunnyvale Youth Mentoring Initiative, was co-coordinated by the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety and Reach Potential Movement and was made possible through contributions from several generous sponsors: Cintas Document Management, Sonitrol Security Systems, Royal Coaches, Sports Basement, Wells Fargo Advisors, St. Luke Lutheran, Century Graphics, Royal Coaches Tours, Summit Riders Horseman's Association, Norm and Donna Betts, and Brad Frederickson.  Thank you for your support!

Monday, April 11, 2011

DreamPower Park: Bring Your Picnic Basket!

DreamPower moved to California Stables on February 1, 2007. Those of you who were around then may remember the enormous pile of manure, brush and junk that occupied the area in front of the wash rack barn, under the big oak tree, on the way to the DreamPower barn. Over the past several years that area has gradually been cleaned up. Children's Camp has met under the oak tree for Arts and Crafts and the Horses for Heroes with Heart folks met under that tree for lunch. That lunch prompted Garry Stauber to make it his project to turn that area into a nice meeting and eating area. Don van Straaten went to the San Martin Lions Club and asked if they would give DreamPower some used picnic tables from the Lions Hall. The Lions said "no." Rather than giving DreamPower used picnic tables, they said they would buy six new picnic tables and give them to DreamPower!

Ramon helps to spread the sand.
Garry levels the sand around the picnic area.
So - this past week-end - the project came together. Ramon Juarez was recruited to help Garry get the site ready.  They loaded all the remaining junk on the tractor and hauled it away. They drug the area and levelled the ground. They placed landscaping cloth, spread the wood chips, added landscaping touches and brought in sand. Garry dug a fire pit for bar-b-ques and put bricks around it. Flowers were planted around the oak tree. By Saturday night, the entire site was beautiful and ready for the picnic tables to come the following day.

Bricks are laid, flowers are planted, ready for the tables!

Garry and Ramon pat each other on the back for a job well done!

On Sunday, Don and Dirk van Straaten pulled up in their van with six state-of-the-art picnic tables packed inside.
Don and Dirk start assembling picnic tables.

Power drills in hand, they started assembling the tables, donated by the San Martin Lions Club.
These guys know how to build tables!

One, two, three, four, five, six tables!

This is how you build a picnic table.

The end result is a beautiful picnic area where we can have groups, meetings, camps, lunch, and just enjoy the beauty of nature under a spreading oak tree!
Garry, Dirk and Don celebrate a completed project!

The next time you see Garry, Ramon, Don, Dirk, or any of the San Martin Lions, please tell them all thank you for giving us all a beautiful new space to enjoy!

And here is "DreamPower Park!"  Bring your picnic basket!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

How To Make A Therapy Horse

Kim and Wishe on the day he came to DreamPower.
I am very excited to introduce "Captain Bingo" - the newest addition to DreamPower's wonderful herd of generous program horses.  Captain Bingo's given name is "Iwishewasagypsyvanner," know around the barn as "Wishe."  Wishe was raised and trained by Kim Johnson of Fresno, CA.  He officially joined DreamPower on February 24, 2011 through the generosity of the Whitlow Family Trust and Mary Adinamis.

Many people think that working in a therapeutic riding program is a job for an older horse that is not sound or cannot be ridden or has some health issues.  They think it is "easy" work.  After all, therapeutic riding horses do not typically run fast or jump high or slide to dramatic stops.

DreamPower lost two wonderful horses in the past two years.  Starbright was 28 and foundered as the result of cushing's disease.  T.C. died of cardiac failure at the age of 25.  Both of these wonderful horses worked at DreamPower up until the day they died.  As a result, students and clients and staff and volunteers were all deeply saddened by the loss of these two wonderful equine friends.

Captain Bingo
 We have been looking for one or two horses to fill the horse shoes of T.C. and Starbright for the past year. DreamPower gets offered 3 or 4 free horses each week. Each potential horse is evaluated for health status, soundness, temperament, attitude, training, age, size and geographic location.  While we were looking at this potential new horse, I received many emails and comments that DreamPower should not buy a new horse "because there are so many horses available right now that would make great therapy horses."  I was told, "Go to a rescue or a shelter in your area and rescue a horse.  They have many horses there that would make great therapy horses."  I understand the good intentions behind those comments, but I wanted to address the situation today.

DreamPower has rescued three horses in our eight years. Forest and Pete still work at DreamPower and Cory went on to find a more suitable home where his strong energy and big size were appreciated. (For those of you who were wondering, Angel is still in my backyard at my home, but she is a personal project and not a DreamPower horse.)  I believe there is a special role for rescued animals in therapeutic horsemanship programs.  But that is not the role we were looking to fill right now.  We were looking for a horse that can work every day, that can willingly and safely carry children with autism and veterans with PTSD and teen-agers with drug problems. We need a horse that is already well-trained and safe to walk, trot or canter independently or on a lead line.

Captain Bingo passed all the health and soundness tests.
Because DreamPower has limited funds, we cannot accept a horse with a health condition that is going to require special shoeing, ongoing medications, injections and other expensive "maintenance" items. A horse with a lot of special medical needs is beyond the financial reach of most therapeutic riding programs. A good therapeutic riding horse must be 100% sound every day, able to walk and trot (and canter if asked) every time it comes out of the stall.  A horse that is lame cannot teach or work in a therapy session. After all, how would you feel if it hurt to walk and you were made to walk around, limping, every time you went to work?

A good therapeutic riding horse is a combination of saint, counselor, priest (confessor willing to forgive the sins of many) and possesses the patience of Job. He must be calm and quiet by nature and not easily upset.  She must not be bothered by the anxiety, nervousness or unexpected actions of those around them.  A good therapeutic riding horse must be well-trained and willing to teach beginning riders who are often unbalanced and uncoordinated. The horse must respond to cues that are given but not respond to cues that are mistakes or unintended, and the horse must know how to tell the difference! Many of the best therapeutic riding horses are retired show horses or ranch horses who have had extensive training and have a good work ethic with lots of "real world" experience.

Garry Stauber trying out the new horse.
 We prefer the horses that work at DreamPower to be on the short side (for a horse). That means 15.2 horse hands or smaller for DreamPower. A horse that is taller than 15.2 can be intimidating for new riders and it can be difficult for volunteers and sidewalkers to be able to reach the client while they are mounted and can difficult to dismount riders in case of a problem.  We were looking for a horse between 8-15 years of age.  Old enough to be experienced but young enough to hopefully be around for many years to come.  It needed to be strong enough to carry adult riders but gentle enough for children.

DreamPower horses must be willing to accept toys, balls, bean bags and all sorts of strange things most horses do not encounter. They must be willing to let children play catch and basketball while riding on their backs, and to let riders wave their arms, turn in circles and do all kinds of exercises while on their backs.

Here is what it took to bring a new horse to DreamPower this week:
1. A previous owner (Kim Johnson) who trained a wonderful horse to be a responsive, well-behaved good citizen and gave him a lot of trail, horse camping, driving and "real world" experience. And who was willing to work with us and allow DreamPower a two-week trial period to try him out.
2. Donors who were willing to donate the money to purchase the horse. Because of the generosity of the Whitlow Family Trust and Mary Adinamis, DreamPower was able to purchase Captain Bingo. Also special thanks to Susan Stillman and Esperanza Martinez for their generosity and support of DreamPower's new horse.
3. Thanks to Bob Genisman for paying for the veterinary check.
4. Thanks to Janice Clare-Johnson and the Rotary Club of Gilroy who donated money for a new saddle for the new horse.
5. The new horse was picked up with a truck that was donated by Denise Manchester and completely overhauled and refurbished by the South County Country Dancers.
Dr. Ann Wimmer, DVM during the new horse vet check.
6. The horse was picked up and delivered by Martha McNiel and Melissa Abbey. It was an 11-hour day hauling the horse back to DreamPower. Kudos to me (Martha) for bravely driving over the Pachecho Pass with a "borrowed" horse in the trailer.
7. A veterinary health check by the wonderful folks at Tri-County Veterinary Hospital, who take such wonderful care of our horses and our program. They gave this horse an incredibly thorough veterinary check, to try to anticipate any possible foreseeable health problems that might make him unable to work in the future.  The vet check took a total of more than four hours and included a very thorough lameness exam and many radiographs. Lameness problems are the most common reasons horses stop working in therapeutic riding programs and we wanted to be sure there were no foreseeable problems that might result in predictable lameness.
8. A training and riding check by Garry Stauber, Martha McNiel, volunteers and students who practiced throwing balls, playing with toys, leading him and just "seeing what he would do" in a variety of situations he is likely to encounter while working at DreamPower.

Garry Stauber and Captain Bingo walk to the arena.
9. Allowing students and clients to ride and work with the new horse in very closely supervised sessions, to see if he would be happy and comfortable working with our clients.

I am so pleased to tell you that "Wishe" passed all of his tests with flying colors!  He got an "A+" for everything we asked him to do.  The veterinarians cleared him for health status and the staff passed him for training, temperament and attitude.

So that only left two things to do, to make him an official part of the DreamPower herd. First, he needed a name.  His given name is "Iwishewasagypsyvanner." (He is a 9-year-old paint/cob/Percheron cross but looks very much like a Gypsy vanner.)  But at DreamPower, we don't "wish" he is anything other than the wonderful horse that he is - we are thrilled with him, just the way he is! Literally hundreds of new names were suggested, but the name that stuck is "Captain Bingo."  "Captain" is in honor of the veterans he will serve in our Horses for Heroes program and "Bingo" is in honor of the San Martin Lions Club, who have been such generous financial supporters of DreamPower, through the proceeds of their Wednesday night bingo games!

Lastly, I have been ordering new tack that will fit our new large-size horse. The new saddle donated by the Rotary Club of Gilroy and Janice Clare-Johnson has arrived.  I have ordered a draft-size bridle and sidepull for his draft-size head and we are awaiting their delivery.

Woo-hoo!!  Thank you to everyone who made this possible.  And special thanks to Kim Johnson, who raised and trained a truly wonderful horse, who is now able to step into his new job at DreamPower with such ease and comfort.  Please join me in welcoming Captain Bingo to DreamPower!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

National Treasure

DreamPower Horses for Heroes
GWOT Day at the Ranch
January 29, 2011

The Veterans

"I feel as though each one of these vets is a national treasure.  I really do feel that way." 
 --David Haley, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

"I can say what I really feel and not worry about your reactions. I can't do that anywhere else."
  --An OEF/OIF veteran

"I had forgotten how safe it feels to be here at this ranch with you guys."
--An OEF/OIF veteran

"I just feel so at home here. It is a safe place for me."
--An OEF/OIF veteran 

"I don't know what you guys do here but I can't shut him up for a day and a half after he's been here. He used to isolate a lot. I now have hope that I will someday get my husband back."
--The wife of an OEF/OIF veteran

"Thank you so much for putting together the Horses for Heroes event. It was the type of relaxing, learning event that I feel is an outstanding alternative to traditional therapy. I look forward to bringing more vets with me the next time this event takes place."
--An OEF/OIF Veteran and Veterans' Center Staff

"Horses for Heroes is a fantastic program for our returning veterans, and a great example of a therapeutic learning environment."
--Educational Researcher, UC Berkeley 
The Staff and Volunteers
 "It was truly inspiring to see you all in action (including of course Red, Two Lips, et al!). Your dedication and caring, combined with your remarkable professional expertise, makes for a wonderful program. Thanks for all the great work you do for and with our veterans."
--Educational Researcher, UC Berkeley

Friends, Fun, Food . . . and Horses!

DreamPower Horses for Heroes events are offered at no cost to veterans and military personnel and their families. These special events and life-saving, life-changing services are made possible through the generous donations of individuals, businesses and organizations who want to say to our vets, "Thank you for your service!"  For more information or to make a donation to DreamPower Horses for Heroes, contact
dreampowerhorsemanship at hotmail dot com.

To all veterans we want to say, "Thank you for your service!" 

Very special thanks to Nathan Trujillo for taking the photos and sharing them with us.  More information about Nathan Trujillo Photography can be found at http://www.flickr.com/people/nathantrujillophotography/.