Carriage rides offer peace to disabled veterans
Volunteers organize carriage trips at Vets home
From: Napa Valley Register
By: Rosemarie Kempton
YOUNTVILLE — Jack and Jake waited obediently in front of Holderman Hospital, located on the grounds of the Veterans Home in Yountville on Monday morning. These enormous black French Pecheron draft horses, trained by an Amish farmer, didn’t move a muscle as elderly veterans, some in wheelchairs, were helped aboard the specially built carriage they would be pulling.
The carriage holds up to 12 people. It is equipped with a battery-operated lift that can accommodate up to 500 pounds to bring aboard people with mobility problems. The driver of the carriage was Michael Muir, great-grandson of the well-known naturalist John Muir.
Muir is the founder of Access Adventures, a group of volunteers united by their love of nature and horses who assist people with disabilities. They are affiliated with Molly’s Angels of Napa Valley and supported by the Syar Foundation.
Muir has been taking veterans on horse-drawn carriage rides at the Veterans Home on a monthly basis, April through October, for three years.
“These vets who take looping rides through the grounds are transported back to their childhoods. So many of them grew up on farms with horses. They find the rides magical,” said Molly’s Angels volunteer, Nicole Pfister.
The outings with horses are Muir’s way of enriching the lives of other people with disabilities, he said. As a lifelong horseman, who has lived with multiple sclerosis since he was 15 years old, Muir has personally discovered the therapeutic value of outdoor recreation with horses and challenging one’s limitations.
Muir uses a wheelchair but he can stand for short periods so he is not wheelchair bound.
Looking robust in the driver’s seat, Muir turned around, smiled, and then made eye contact with each elderly veteran and volunteer in the carriage behind him.
“What a beautiful day for a ride! There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t enjoy driving horses,” Muir said, in a booming voice, to his second group of morning passengers. “If I’m going to drive horses, I like to take my friends along for the ride.”
“How many of you had horses when you were growing up? Raise your hand.”
Some hands rose in the air. Other vets appeared not to hear, yet they smiled. With the morning sunlight touching their faces, they took in the sights of autumn foliage as horses’ hooves clopped along.
“I haven’t been around a horse for 10 to 20 years,” said veteran Richard Musser.
Cecile Cox, 98, motioned that she couldn’t talk, but her radiant smile spoke volumes.