I have been emailing with Dan who is from Martinsburg in West Virginia, USA, for a couple of years now, ever since he purchased a LightRider bitless bridle for his good mate, Dollar. Dan inspires me with his stories about Dollar and the lengths he goes to take care of him, despite is disabilities.
You see Dan was injured in combat during the Gulf War in Kuwait – he can’t speak without an electrolarnyx device, is fed through a tube connected to his stomach and has no feeling in his face, neck, mouth or below his knees. He had trouble maintaining his balance and has limited mobility in his arms and neck, but through the Horses With Hearts program and the grooming and riding therapy, he began to walk without assistance and has regained his balance in the saddle.
After a clinic Dan attended with paralyzed Paint Horse trainer, Mike McGowan in 2007, Dan asked Mike to find a horse like his, and he soon came across Doc’s Compadre – a Paint gelding known as Dollar who has been Dan’s motivation for life ever since.
Trail riding is his favourite activity as they experience nature together and now they have become so close Dan can ride Dollar without saddle or bridle, and has even begun riding in public. Dan says “We recently did a very nice show at the Veterans Hospitals for the in-patients and nursing home patients. Mike McGowan was with me, he is the paralyzed cowboy who rides and speaks and also works with me on my riding and my attitude.” You can see photos and a report of the event here.
Due to Dan’s continuing quest to learn more about caring for his horse better, Dollar is now kept barefoot and ridden in Old Mac G2’s and Easyboot Epics. He featured in the Easycare blog in February this year – some nice pics here too.
This has led to learning more about feeding during the ineveitable spring flush of grass, requiring changes in management and hoofcare due to Dan’s constant questioning and research.
As Dan can’t use his voice, Dollar responds to signals and a clicker plus I’m sure a lot of body language and mind communication. He is quite happy to have Dan sitting beside him to put on and remove boots, and for daily hoof cleaning.
Dan is also an inspiration for the example he sets for young riders at his boarding stable, such as Maddie who also loves doing things with Dollar too. What a wonderful mentor she has.
Sometimes it takes a major illness/accident for us to value the things we can do and the relationship we can develop with horses. In Dan’s case it was the injuries that introduced him to horses and despite repeated battles with cancer, he continues to keep going, and I bet its for Dollar’s sake, along with the love and care he shares with his wife Joan.