Friday, January 21, 2011

A Very Good Day

One of my goals for this blog was to give you a "behind the scenes" look at DreamPower, to invite you into the daily workings of a therapeutic horsemanship program. As I left the ranch tonight (towing a horse trailer full of miniature horses and heading to the South County Planning Team meeting) I thought, "I love this work! I am so blessed!" I'd like to share today with you, because it was a pretty "typical" day.

The first class of the day was a group of students from the Santa Clara County Office of Education Adaptive Physical Education Department. DreamPower's good friend Randy Klein brought a vanload of students, including a few we already knew. This photo is one of the students jumping with Zachary. Class with these students and the mini's is always a lot of fun!

After the first class, we had our supervision/staff meeting for our psychotherapy interns and therapists. In the middle of our staff meeting, we heard a pack of coyotes trying to "bait" Bear (Garry Stauber's border collie) into running out into the field, so the pack could jump him and eat him for lunch. We human beings all jumped out of our chairs and ran to find Bear and make sure he was safe from the wiley coyotes! It was odd to see a coyote standing in plain view of seven human beings, barking, in broad daylight.

Bear was out running around during our staff meeting because he was following the tractor that Garry was driving, moving the new load of sand into our new round pen. Yea! We are so excited that the round pen is almost ready to use. It is on loan from Karen Tosonoi. Don van Straaten bought a load of sand so we will have good footing for riding lessons and horse training back there. As soon as the footing is finished, we will have a wonderful, safe and private space at the very back of the ranch for riding lessons and psychotherapy sessions.

Today I was very pleased to sign the final supervision papers for Rebecca Olmsted. Rebecca is one of our Marriage and Family Therapy Interns and she has completed the 3,000 hours of experience that are required in order to become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Today we double-checked all the forms she will be turning into the state licensing board, in order to take the test and become a licensed therapist.

In our staff meeting we also talked about an upcoming workshop for people who want to become NARHA Registered Therapeutic Riding Instructors. Right now DreamPower has six volunteers who are interested in becoming a registered instructor and are far enough along in the process to consider taking the required workshop. This is exciting! We love to encourage our volunteers to get more training and improve their teaching skills.

In the afternoon sessions we had clients from Learning Solutions (adults with traumatic brain injuries), Advent Group Ministries (at-risk teens), Chamberlain Children's Center (a children's residential treatment program) and Community Solutions (a girls' leadership group). We had clients ride horseback, bathe a miniature horse, groom horses, help with barn work and practice their lungeing skills in the round pen.

During a break between sessions I got to ride Honey and Classy, two of our Haflinger mares. Honey was pretty good, she only bucked once. :) Classy got to wear a snaffle bit for the first time in her life today. Honey and Classy were both brood mares before they came to DreamPower. They have wonderful potential as therapeutic riding horses, and we are still working on training them so they are safe for clients to ride independently. Because they are calm, short, healthy and very strong, they are ideal horses for our program and we are willing to invest the time in training them for the work.

The day ended with the horses quietly and contentedly munching hay while the winter sun set. We loaded the mini's in the trailer so they could go home and relax after a full day's work. The volunteers packed up their stuff and prepared to drive home. Most of our Thursday volunteers drive over one hour each way, in order to volunteer their time at DreamPower, and we could not do it without them. We double-checked all the stall gate latches and turned out the barn lights. It was a very good day.

Friday, January 14, 2011

When You Lose A Horse You Love

I wrote this article in 2006 and it was originally published in my monthly column called "The Couch In the Barn" on Equestrian Network Magazine ( Since I wrote this, DreamPower has lost Starbright and T.C. and three weeks ago I lost Nick. For everyone who has ever lost a horse they loved, I thought it was worth running agin.

If you love horses, the time will eventually come when you lose a horse you love. There are many reasons you might lose a dearly beloved horse. Financial changes, divorce, moving or personal circumstances, all may separate you from a horse you love. But today I am going to write about what happens when a horse that you love dies.

The average horse lives between 20 to 35 years, more or less. Ponies and smaller horses often live longer than the larger breeds. But if you own or love a horse, the chances are good that you will out-live your horse.

Losing a horse you love is painful at best and a heartbreaking and devastating loss at its worst. There is something special about the partnership between a horse and a human. Working together, learning how to read and trust each other, bonding as you take risks and overcome challenges together, all weave an incredible bond between a horse and a human who love and trust each other.

Your horse may die suddenly and unexpectedly, from a freak accident or a severe illness. Colic is the number one cause of death in horses. Your horse may colic and you may have to make the gut-wrenching decision of weighing your finances and the age and general condition of your horse against the economic burden and risks of colic surgery. Your older horse may have a chronic illness and you watch his health gradually deteriorate over time. Laminitis (and its associated conditions) is the second leading cause of death in horses. Because horses cannot speak and tell humans exactly where they hurt and exactly what is wrong, the horse owner and the veterinarian work together try to figure out what is wrong, and how to help.

Euthanasia or "putting the horse down" is a sad reality that all horse owners must be aware of. The decision to put your beloved horse down is a difficult, gut-wrenching, heartbreaking decision. Sometimes a horse is too ill or too old or too weak to fight off an illness. Or the injury may be too severe and the prognosis too poor. Or the costs of surgery or extended veterinary care may be more than you can afford. There are many circumstances where putting a horse down is the kindest and most loving thing you can do for a beloved friend.

If you decide to put your horse down, you may be filled with doubt and guilt. You may wonder if that is really what is best for your horse. You may feel very guilty for not putting more time and money into trying to make her better. You may feel overwhelmed by sadness, grief and confusion. But remember that ending the suffering of a horse in pain is a final gift of love. Your decision can give your horse a comfortable, painless and dignified end to a wonderful life. You can help him all the way to the Rainbow Bridge. If you think about your horse's quality of life and suffering, it will help you to make the right decision.

Horses are big animals, and they take up a lot of room in our lives and our hearts. When a horse dies, it leaves a huge, aching hole in our hearts. Working through the loss of a dearly beloved horse can be a painful process, but it is necessary if we are to be whole and healthy human beings. Those who love deeply also feel the loss deeply. Loss is a part of every person's existence and everyone will respond to a loss in a unique, deeply personal way.

How a person responds to a loss is determined by a combination of factors. Some of these factors include: the relationship you had with the horse (or person) who died; the circumstances surrounding the death (How did the horse die? Was it unexpected or a long-term illness?); the kind of support you have from others; your individual personality and coping style; and other losses you have experienced.

When a horse dies, you may miss the physical closeness of the horse, grooming and petting and riding the horse. You see an empty stall or paddock and your heart breaks. There is no friendly face peering out at you, looking for food. You smell an old saddle blanket or look at a favorite saddle and burst into tears. Depending on the circumstances, you may also grieve the loss of hopes and dreams. Death may have prematurely ended a partnership where you had great hopes for the future, and those hopes have now died, along with your horse.

The grief process is different for each person, but there are some common things that many people experience. When you grieve, you may feel guilty for not having done more for your horse. You may feel incredible sadness, emptiness, loneliness and despair. You may feel anger at the vet or a family member or someone you feel let you down. You may have difficulty concentrating and paying attention. You may feel numb or want to avoid anything that reminds you of your horse. All of these feelings are completely normal when you have experienced a significant loss.

The stages of grief have been widely studied and written about. These "stages" happen in any loss, including the loss of a horse. Every person will experience their loss in a unique way, but these are common feelings. The first stage is Shock or Denial, usually upon first hearing bad news. You may feel numbness, shock and disbelief. You may walk out to the barn and expect to see your horse standing in her paddock, even though you know she is gone. The next stage is Anger. You may get angry at the vet, the barn manager, your spouse, or anyone connected with your horse. You may be angry at yourself or angry at your horse for dying. These are all normal feelings.

The next stage of grief is often Bargaining. You may try to negotiate with God, the situation, or your horse. But this is a kind of magical thinking that does not change the reality of the situation. When you realize the loss really happened and your horse is not coming back, you may feel Depression or Sadness. You may feel deep sadness and unbearable pain. You may feel guilty over many different things.

Over time, healthy grief turns into Acceptance. This does not mean you do not feel sad and do not still miss your horse, but that you are able to move on with your life. You can still love and appreciate and miss your horse, but you have more things you want to do with your life. Acceptance does not mean forgetting, but using the memories to create a new life for yourself. At this point, you may feel ready to find a new equine partner!
People who are not familiar with horses may not understand the significance of losing a dearly beloved horse. If you have not experienced the gift of love from a beloved horse, or the thrill of mastering a skill together, you will probably have difficulty understanding the depth of love and connection between a horse and its human. But those who know horses, do understand.

There are many ways horse owners can memorialize and honor a beloved horse. Roy Rogers had Trigger stuffed and with him for the rest of his life. You may not want to take it that far. But you may want to cut off part of your horse's mane or tail and have a piece of jewelry or a keepsake made. You might want to frame a lock of hair with a favorite photo of your horse. You might want to give a donation to a favorite horse or animal charity, in honor of your horse. You may want to have a memorial service with family and friends who knew and loved your horse. You might want to join an online support group or website that honors beloved horses who have died.

When you lose a horse you love, it hurts terribly. That is the price we pay for loving these beautiful, magnificent creatures. They honor us with their love and trust, and we honor them by taking care of them all the way to and across the Rainbow Bridge. What a privilege that is.

Monday, January 10, 2011

California Collaborative for Equine Programs Serving Veterans, Military and Their Families

On Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011 DreamPower staff will be facilitating the introductory meeting of the California Collaborative for Therapeutic Horsemanship Programs Serving Veterans, Military and Their Families.
This is very exciting! California will be the first state in the U.S. to have attempted to organize the equine programs who are working with veterans and military personnel. (Organizing horsemanship programs is a little bit like "herding cats!")

Since there are approximately 25 million veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces alive today, and California has more veterans living here than in any other state (more than 2 million), the need for services for our vets is huge. We are proud that DreamPower is leading the way in providing innovative, effective equine services for our veterans and their families.

This introductory meeting will be held on Tuesday, January 25, 2011 from 12:15 pm – 2:00 pm at the Moffett Field Clubhouse (Sunnyvale). It will directly follow the regular meeting of the California Collaborative for Our Military and Families, which will be meeting in the same location from 10:00 am - 12. During the 10:00 Collaborative meeting, Martha McNiel will be speaking (briefly) about the benefits of equine activities and therapies for veterans.

The purpose of this first meeting is to:
· Meet each other and introduce ourselves
· Share information about who is doing what and where veterans’ horse programs are happening
· Build cooperation, collaboration and community among the veterans' horse programs
· Provide information about the California Collaborative for our Military and Families and refer participants to the Collaborative meeting closest to them
· Discuss the needs and interests of the group
· Begin building a contact list of California therapeutic horsemanship programs working with veterans, military personnel and their families and those who are interested in beginning this work.

We are inviting ALL veterans' horsemanship programs and individuals working with veterans in California to participate in this Equine Veterans Collaborative. Please feel free to pass this information on to anyone you know who is working with veterans and horses or who might be interested in attending this meeting. It is not necessary to RSVP, but if you know you are going to attend, it would be helpful if you would let me know (so we have enough food and chairs). For more information, contact Martha McNiel at (408) 686-0535 or email dreampowerhorsemanship at hotmail dot com.

And a special thanks to the DreamPower volunteers and donors who support our work with veterans and help us to put more "boots on the ground."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Connecting with "Classy"

Yesterday I received a phone call from Dyan Adinamis. Dyan has been volunteering at DreamPower for the past several months and will be starting as a Marriage and Family Therapy Intern at DreamPower next week. She recently completed her Master's degree at John F. Kennedy University and is now working on hours towards licensure as a Marriage and Family Therapist.

In her phone call, Dyan stated that she would like to sponsor "Classy" for 2011. A horse sponsor covers the routine expenses of a DreamPower horse for one year. I asked Dyan why she had chosen Classy as the horse she would like to sponsor? Dyan said she felt "drawn" to Classy and "felt a connection with her." That sounds like a good reason to me! I asked Dyan to share with you why she has chosen to sponsor Classy for this year, and following is what she wrote.
"'There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.' -Winston Churchill
As a child, my father — a proud veteran of WWII — would often quote Winston Churchill to me - this being my favorite one. Also, this particular quote resonates with my desire to work with horses and humans in a therapeutic context. I have recently joined the DreamPower community as a volunteer, and have been deeply moved by the work they are providing their clients. Additionally, I will be starting as an MFT Intern with DreamPower, and am thrilled at being afforded this opportunity. The past several months of volunteering at Dreampower have been an amazing, powerful, and empowering experience for me. I have been reconnecting with my love of horses spanning from the time I was 5 years old, and my father put me atop one of my uncle’s horses for a ride.

Well, it’s has been many years since I’ve taken riding lessons or even been on a horse, and now through DreamPower I have the chance to start riding again. I have become fond of all the DreamPower horses, yet seem to be drawn to and connected with one horse in particular. Her name is Classy, and I have chosen her to be the first horse I will ride at DreamPower. Furthermore, I would like to sponsor Classy for 2011, and dedicate this sponsorship to the memory of my father, Peter J. Adinamis, who supported my dreams, and who put me atop the first horse I ever rode. And a very special thank-you to Martha McNiel and Garry Stauber for the phenomenal work that you do, and in helping me make my future dreams come true." -Dyan Adinamis.

Thank you, Dyan, for sponsoring Classy for 2011! Our other horse sponsors for this year include the San Martin Lions Club, who have sponsored Rocky for the past three years; the South County Country Dancers, who are sponsoring Tulips; and Juergen and Catherine Ahaus, who are sponsoring Pete. Heartfelt thank-you's to each one of you, for providing for the needs of our wonderful therapy horses for 2011!

If you would like more information about sponsoring one of the DreamPower horses, or one of the mini's, contact Martha at DreamPower.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Back in the Saddle!

I can't believe how tired I am feeling these days. The rush of the holiday activities has passed and I would like to sleep for about one month.

Don't get me wrong, I am grateful for all the good things that happened in December. Very nice gifts were donated for all of our clients. The gifts were sorted, wrapped and distributed by a corps of deputized elves. One mother of a special needs child wrote, "I must admit I was absolutely blown away by the Christmas gifts." A teen-aged boy from a group home said, "I'm not used to getting gifts. I don't know what to do. I always told my mom to buy gifts for the little kids, they needed them. I never received gifts." Your beautifully wrapped gifts helped our clients to know they are important and loved.

Our barn was more beautifully decorated this year than ever before (mostly thanks to Bob, Shirley and Ann Wimmer). The lights and the Christmas tree in the barn gave it a magical glow. Most of you don't get to be in the DreamPower barn after dark, but I happen to be there quite often. Many nights I would turn out the overhead barn lights and just enjoy the beautiful twinkle of the Christmas lights and the tree. I don't want to take them down! (But they will be coming down this Thursday, Jan. 6, if you want to help. :)

More than 50 people attended Christmas Carols in the Barn, despite the fact that it happened during a rainstorm! About 25 of those people were new to DreamPower and interested in learning more about volunteering and donating. I've heard many wonderful comments about how fun it is to sing Christmas carols in the barn with the horses. If you missed it this year, plan to come next year. It's low-key, casual, old-fashioned singing with friends - and a lot of fun.

We put more effort into our Annual December Campaign this year than ever before. The end result was that we raised $4,000 more than ever before! The total amount donated during December was $12,276. Thank you for your help with that! Volunteers and donors asked their friends, families and employers to donate, and that made the difference.

You know what? Just talking about all these wonderful things, I can feel my energy coming back! This work is invigorating! It's a good thing, because we have a lot of opportunities ahead of us this year, and this month!

The Santa Clara County Office of Education Adaptive Physical Education students start back on January 13. We are scheduling a Horses for Heroes Play Day on January 29 and grant applications are due by January 31 and the Sunnyvale Challenge Team students start on February 1 and there is hay to buy and horses to groom and horses to de-worm and it never ends . . . What a joy and privilege it is to do this work!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Welcome to 2011

Happy New Year! I really am happy that it is a new year! 2010 was both the most successful and the most challenging year ever for DreamPower. We survived - we actually thrived - but boy, was it a lot of worry and a lot of work! I could do with a little less worry in 2011. I felt like Rocky trying to keep his feet out of the mud. It's possible, but you have to be creative!

Six months ago today I quit my job working for San Francisco Community Behavioral Health Services, in order to focus full-time on DreamPower. I knew it was going to be financially challenging, that's why I had put it off for eight years! In April 2002 I had moved to San Martin for the purpose of starting DreamPower. I thought that I would be commuting to San Francisco for about two years. I thought that was about how long it would take to build up the financial stability of DreamPower, until DreamPower could start paying me a small salary. More than eight years later, DreamPower had grown tremendously, but I was still 100% volunteer and there was no money to pay an Executive Director. It was clear that in order for DreamPower to continue to grow, I was going to need to devote more time to it. I could not continue to work 40 hours per week for the city of San Francisco, and work with private clients four nights a week, and expect DreamPower to grow. After all, most people are not available for phone calls at 2 am.

But in order for me to have more time for DreamPower, I would have to quit my secure civil service job with a nice paycheck. That job had provided security both for me and for DreamPower. Whenever DreamPower was short, I had enough reserve to make up the difference. With my paycheck no longer available, both DreamPower and I would be much less financially secure. But security is probably over-rated! I didn't want DreamPower to be secure but smaller and less effective than I believed it could be. Creating enough room for growth and helping more people at DreamPower meant cutting off my city paycheck. So with fear and trepidation - and a profound trust in God and a sense of His leading - I jumped off the proverbial civil service cliff and June 30, 2010 was my last day as a San Francisco City and County employee. Many of my co-workers thought that was the silliest decision of the year.

2010 was as challenging as I had feared it would be. The economy did not improve as I had hoped that it would. Non-profits of every size and every kind struggled to pay the bills, and DreamPower was no exception. Many therapeutic riding programs closed their doors. I know this, because they called and offered us their horses.

DreamPower did not only survive, but we managed to thrive, even in these incredibly challenging times. We added programs, including the Horses for Heroes program for veterans and the Horse Power group for adults with cancer. We served 309 individual clients in 2010, the most ever. More than 200 volunteers gave of their time, energy and skill during 2010. And our Annual Campaign during December raised $12,026. That is $4,000 more than we have ever raised in December.

These successes happened because of the commitment and sacrifice of our amazing volunteers and volunteer staff. DreamPower has the most generous, wonderful and dedicated volunteer corps any organization could ever dream of having. We are truly blessed with the finest volunteers available in this world.

In 2010 we were saddened by the sudden deaths of two of our beloved horses. Both horses were 25 years old and appeared to be in perfect health until the day they died. T.C. ("Too Cool") died from sudden cardiac failure and Nick died from a severe colic. We are grateful for the wonderful relationships we had with both horses and for the people they helped through the years.

So 2011 is upon us. Welcome, New Year! We have so many ideas and opportunities before us in the new year. The challenges are many, but so are the resources. May God bless and guide us all through 2011. Amen.