The holiday season is upon us, and as I make my way through November and December, I am always reminded to be grateful for my life. I am not only grateful for the wonderful life I enjoy with my horses, but also for my success as it allows me to give to others.
Our sport is a financially demanding one. We keep our horses in the best of circumstances and take care of them to the best of our abilities. I would never cut costs on feed, footing, farrier or vet bills. My horses have to have the best in stabling, transportation and tack. I spend a lot on my own training. I go to the best horse shows.
And at the end of the year, when I add it all up, I remind myself that I could feed a lot of hungry children with that amount of money. My horses have a better roof over their heads than half the poor families in the Third World. What I spend on one horse show could buy shoes for an entire African village…
Thus, the Buddhist in me takes a very deep breath as I approach the holidays, and I remind myself to give to others. Not only to give back to the sport that I love, but to give to people in need. In recent years, I don’t give Christmas gifts at all. Instead, I try to find ways to make a difference in the world around me even if what I do is very small.
Mane Stream Inc. has given me an opportunity to be charitable in a way I never could before. Mane Stream is an equine-assisted therapy and adaptive riding program located in Oldwick, N.J., just a few miles from my husband’s vet clinic, Running S Equine.
In 2013, Linda Dietz, president of the board of directors of Mane Stream, allowed me to add “Mane Stream” to the names of my top horses. Winyamaro was at the time already very famous, and I hoped that Hotmail would soon step into his shoes. He did. And through the publicity that goes with riding a top horse, I knew that I could at least improve the name recognition of this charity organization. I also donate 25 percent of my horses’ winnings each year.
Even though Winyamaro has not been competing, Mane Stream Hotmail was able to give a gift of $5,000 to Mane Stream in 2014. He not only proved himself an able earner in dressage sport, but we took the name “Mane Stream” to Wellington, New York City and Devon in the USA. We also represented the charity in Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and Austria. I hope that we can do much more in 2015.
Let me tell you about Mane Stream, Rita. Its mission is “to improve the quality of life for individuals with physical, developmental, emotional and medical challenges through a diverse program of equine assisted activities, equine assisted therapy and educational initiatives.”
Now let me tell you what happens at Mane Stream. A child with autism, who is afraid to be touched by or interact with strangers, allows volunteers to place him on a pony because he is not threatened by the animal. The motion of the pony’s walk relaxes him and stimulates his brain in ways that walking on his own two feet cannot. He makes eye contact with the pony handlers, he smiles, he shows joy, and he begins to speak with the people around him. These are small steps for you and me, but giant leaps for a child with autism.
A teenager who has spent many years in a wheelchair, gets to sit on a horse for the first time. She is empowered. She suddenly gets a completely different view of the world. She gets to look down at it instead of up at it. Her horse carries her to places the wheelchair could never go—across fields, up hills, through obstacle courses.
“The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man.” Teddy Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and D.H. Lawrence have all been credited at one time or another with this quote.
We horsemen know this to be true. We ride because it gives us a sense of well being, it keeps us healthy, and we love the interaction with our horses.
But for physically and mentally challenged people, horses do even more, especially in the area of communication.
A 19-year-old woman contracts encephalitis in her sophomore year of college. The high fever damages parts of her brain that control speech and motor function. She cannot walk, she cannot feed herself, and she can’t speak clearly even though she can utter sounds. She graduates from her university using a stylus to touch letters on a tablet so that she can answer the questions on her final exams.
When this young para rider, now 23 years old and finishing her law degree, sits on a horse, she can say, “My name is Molly.” “My horse is 7 years old.” And even though her feet are strapped into her stirrups, when I ask her if she would like to try to canter, she says very clearly, “Yes.”
Why can Molly speak when seated on a horse but not when she is seated in a wheelchair? Because the outside of a horse turns out to be better for the inside of man than any of those statesmen or writers could imagine. Studies have shown that the motion of a walking horse stimulates areas of the human brain that control motor function, speech and learning. Horses help humans improve their balance, muscle tone, and communication skills, simply by carrying them around.
Imagine that, Rita.
This should not come as a major surprise to us however. SOMEBODY created an animal with the proper anatomy to carry a human being. The equine skeleton has a place where the human skeleton can sit upright, be carried and be comfortable. The horse, interestingly enough, also has a space on both the upper and lower jaw with no teeth where the bit can rest comfortably in his mouth, giving us a crude steering wheel for direction…
Horses, Rita, are not only physically designed to be ridden by us, but have also been bestowed with a gift of motion that actually helps human beings to learn. They have been bestowed with the gifts of patience, tolerance and fortitude that allow them to be generous with us—a fiery, passionate species barely in control of our emotions. So even if it has taken the human race thousands of years to scientifically prove how beneficial horses are to our race, they have never hesitated to help us through centuries of symbiotic living.
Horses used to transport us places. They used to plow our fields, move our goods, hunt with us, and help us escape from all kinds of threats. They have taken us to war and brought us home. They have carried us through endless races and shows. They have taken our weak, our weary and our challenged people and empowered them to live a better life.
Perhaps horses still transport us places. If we no longer use them to travel physical distances, perhaps we use them to transcend our own limitations and travel to places of spiritual awareness we have yet not visited.
My husband, Dr. Greg Staller, donates all the veterinary supplies required to take care of Mane Stream’s herd of 14 horses and ponies from his clinic in New Jersey and is able to provide some services at no cost. Mane Stream Hotmail and I make smaller contributions. Both Greg and I give not only in recognition of the courageous people who need the therapy Mane Stream provides, but also in honor of the horses, which help these people transcend their limitations.
Mane Stream Hotmail and I try to share our lives with you, Rita. If we have ever brought a smile to your face, a laugh to your lips, or an ounce of education to your toolbox, we ask you to make a donation at www.manestreaminc.org this holiday season.
Or, if you are shopping at Amazon this Christmas, go to smile.amazon.com and choose Mane Stream Inc as your charity of choice. Amazon will give .5 percent of your purchases to this charity.
I’m Catherine Haddad Staller, and I’m sayin it like it is from Wellington, Fla.
Training Tip of the Day: Are you keeping the bit positioned in that tooth-free space between your horse’s jaws so that he can carry the bit comfortably in his mouth and concentrate on teaching you about your other aids? You’re not clanging it around on his jawbone, are ya, Rita? Give your horse the gift of good hands for Christmas!