How that dream came about, I will never know. I was fascinated with the books I read about cowboys and horses. When I watched the old westerns on television, I could see myself like the Lone Ranger, riding off into the sunset on a beautiful stallion. While my brothers were busy collecting Star Wars figures, I collected horse figurines. One day, I knew that I would have a real horse.
The memorable day came when I was 12 years old, when we went on a trip to upstate New York. We had never stayed in a cabin in the woods. It was such a pleasant change from the busy hustle and bustle of our city life. Our parents took us to a live rodeo, and I was in heaven! After the show, the manager was giving free horse rides for kids. When I got in the saddle for the first time, I knew that my life’s calling was true.
All during the rest of my childhood, I constantly relived that awesome memory. When I graduated from high school, I had the opportunity for on-the-job training as a ranch hand in South Dakota. For me, it was like moving to another planet. Instead of the concrete jungle and throngs of people, I just saw open land for miles. Best of all, I got to work with horses!
I learned that horses had individual personalities—much like people. During my training, the first horse I rode was a gentle gold-colored mare name Dandelion. When I looked into her eyes, I saw an intelligent being that was just as curious about me as I was of her.
She was a rescue animal, like all the other horses on our ranch. We take in abused and neglected horses from the Humane Society and rehabilitated them. Some of the stories behind each animal were truly heartbreaking. Dandelion had been with the ranch for three years, and was thriving. It was almost as if she cheered on the new horses, that they could heal like she did.
Over the next few years, I had the privilege of helping many horses on their road to recovery. While I loved them all, one case stayed forever in my mind. When I saw this once magnificent animal, I was shocked. He was skin on bone, and showed every rib. Our veterinarian opined that he was about 5 years old, and had suffered terrible abuse and starvation. He shook in terror at the sight of us, as if he feared that we would hit him.
Immediately, I was drawn to this pitiful animal. After we washed him up and dressed his wounds, we saw that his coat was a light brown color. I named him Blitzen (Blitz, for short) after one of Santa’s famed reindeer. It took weeks to get him healthy again. With proper nourishment and exercise, Blitz became a strikingly beautiful stallion.
It took a long time for him to even let me touch him. I patiently worked with him until he let me saddle him up. This once beaten-down animal started to trust me and the other riders. The scars were still there from past abuse, but he overcame them. Sometimes when I watched him running across the ranch, I knew that Blitz was finally free.
On our ranch, we do double therapy. Not only do we rehabilitate abused horses, but we also offer equine therapy for abused children. We take the gentlest animals from our herd and pair them up with the kids sent by social services. I just cannot explain the bond that they share with our horses.
Since Blitz had been tamed and showed no signs of fear or aggression, we let him be a therapy horse. I remember his first client, a little boy named Tyler. Blitz gently took the sugar cubes that he offered, and let the little boy pet him. His social worker was shocked, because Tyler started talking to Blitz. She confided in me that Tyler had been so abused in his past, that he rarely talked to anyone. Somehow, he and Blitz felt a connection due to their similar stories. We all watched in tears as Blitz carefully trotted along with Tyler in the saddle. We have recorded many other success stories over the years.
I’ve read that horse therapy has been used since the ancient Greeks. Children and adults with mental or physical challenges have benefited from caring and riding therapy horses. My dream came true. Not only did I become a cowboy, but I help abused children and animals. Every time I think of Blitz and Tyler, I would not have it any other way.