Doug Cameron’s life changed in the blink of an eye two years ago.
That’s when a blood clot paralyzed the Idaho rancher, leaving him unable to walk.
Since, Cameron and his wife have been driving 95 miles one way every week from their home near Glenns Ferry to Bellevue where volunteers at Swiftsure Ranch help him get in the saddle of a horse named Dale.
On the back of the golden chestnut Haflinger, Cameron has regained his confidence. He’s gained freedom from his wheelchair and the isolation he felt from his disability. And he’s regained his smile.
“I used to ride a lot of this country up here and a lot of the country in Stanley, but I was afraid to get back on a horse after becoming paralyzed,” he said. “But the handlers were reassuring and the horse dependable. And now I’ve gained so much confidence—and my muscle strength has improved.”
Cameron was one of several people who had a story about how horses had changed their lives as Swiftsure hosted its 32nd annual Cowboy Ball presided over by Board President Charlotte Westendorf.
Guys and gals decked out in cowboy hats and boots raised paddles in the shapes of horses before settling into a good old-fashioned barn dance featuring Nashville outlaw country musician Chris Hennessee.
A fast-talking auctioneer from California injected plenty of humor as he got three people to bid $22,000 each on a Hawaiian vacation and others to pony up $4,000 for a three-day stay at Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch and $6,000 for a six-day trip through vertical red rock cliffs on the Jarbidge River offered by Far and Away Adventures.
He even raised $3,200 auctioning off a single $100 bill.
“It costs $5,000 to feed and house a horse –we’re doing this tonight for the horses,” he reminded the onlookers as they reached the Paddle Up. “Two thousand five hundred dollars—that’s three trips to Whole Foods.”
The ranch’s eighteen 1,000-pound equine therapists offer free riding lessons to 360 participants a year, helping adults and children work on such things as muscle strength, decision making and impulse control.
Annie Oakley, a dun quarter pony with a heart as big as a Clydesdale, is the newest therapist, purchased with the help of a grant from St. Luke’s Wood River Foundation. Before she came to Swiftsure, she had herded cattle, competed as a jumping horse and even been part of the EhCapa Bareback Riders team that performs at Ketchum’s Wagon Days.
One of those who has benefitted from Swiftsure’s work is Travis Langway. The 42-year-old Meridian man served three tours in Iraq with the Idaho Army National Guard’s 116th Calvary Brigade Combat Team, which used tank mine plows to clear lanes through minefields. The tanks plowed up and tipped over buried land mines so they would then expend their blast downwards instead of upwards, causing little if any damage
But Langley was injured, and he spent months in a German hospital before returning home where he had trouble readjusting to the civilian world.
“My wife told me to reach out to the V.A. Getting here and meeting (program director) Kristy Wood, smelling the barns, meeting the horses, brought me back to being a big kid,” he said. “It absolutely touched my soul. As they say at Swiftsure Ranch, horses do change lives.