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