One of the world’s greatest statesmen tried to grasp at it when he said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”
Even he couldn’t quite find a word for the effect a horse can have on a human. Yet it’s this thing that serves as the foundation for Magical Meadows, a therapeutic horseback riding facility in Warsaw, Indiana.
We’re here as a proud supporter through our Driven to Give program, in which local Lincoln dealerships select charitable organizations within their community to receive a donation for each test drive taken at a Driven to Give event. When the staff at Rice Ford Lincoln in Warsaw learned about Magical Meadows through a child in need of some special attention, their decision to help was instinctive. Being there, it’s not hard to see the immediate value of the horses and the many lives they impact.
“Looking into a horse’s eyes, you almost see your reflection,” says Carl Adams, executive director of the Meadows, but lovingly known to the riders as Cowboy Carl. “It looks like he’s looking straight through you, and you are really looking into that horse’s soul, as well. It just kind of soothes you—I don’t know what it is.”
It’s because of this place—and the 18 horses that live here—that dozens of young people will walk across the stage to accept their diplomas, a common privilege previously thought to be out of reach; that countless veterans have found solace from the all-too-vivid memories of war; that those who feel isolated from society for any one of myriad reasons have been able to run sun-on-their-faces free. The Magical Meadows are a perfect amalgam of the best man and nature has to offer.
And, for founder Tammy Stackhouse, close to home in more ways than one.
TO HAVE A HAVEN
“I’ve had horses all my life, and a friend of mine has a son who’s autistic. She asked me about therapeutic horseback riding, and I didn’t know anything about it, so I researched it and fell in love with the program,” Tammy says. “That’s where we began.”
Since its inception, the Magical Meadows riding center has assisted in the rehabilitation of people with physical, mental and emotional challenges, ranging from 2 to 88 years old. The movement of a horse forces the muscles in its rider to work as they ideally would, so, as a differently abled person is riding, their muscles are strengthened regardless of whether the rider is the one responsible for the motion or not.
“The moment [one of the riders] touches the horse or the horse breathes on them, you can see it begin to melt them,” Carl says. “Fear is overtaken by something—I’m not sure what that is. You can really see it when they are looking in the eyes of the horse, because there is something about [the eyes] that is just calming. I think that’s where the change begins to take place.”
A NEW OUTLOOK
Ashley Renee Buss had just turned 13 when her eyes blurred one day as she tried to exit the school bus.
“I was really confused,” Ashley says. “I started clinging to the chair so I could get off comfortably without running into people, and then when I got off, trying to walk into the building was really difficult. I think I ran into 20 people.”
Shortly thereafter, she was diagnosed with neuromyelitis optica, an incurable autoimmune disease that slowly attacks the spinal cord and optic nerve, removing eyesight as it goes. She was 16 when the inevitable came to pass: the day when she woke up and couldn’t see at all.
“I kind of went through a little bit of depression,” Ashley says. “I think anyone would. It definitely made my anxiety worse. I get anxious over the littlest things, like talking to people, because I don’t know if they are talking to me or talking to someone else. It was hard to accept the fact that I needed help.”
But a day also came when her father told her about a place called Magical Meadows and, having ridden horses a few times in the past, she asked him to take her there.
“I was so nervous, but we got here and I met Tammy—she’s just the coolest person I’ve ever met,” Ashley says. “She put me on Princess, this huge horse, and I was a little intimidated by that at first; but then I got on her, and she was nice and calm. Tammy had me canter that day, which is like a really fast gallop. I was totally hooked.”
A really fast gallop on Princess soon became riding “speed demon fast” on Princess, and Ashley found herself developing a character trait many people with perfect sight might feel lucky to attain: confidence.
“Since I can’t see, it makes me feel really good that I can get on this 1,500-pound animal and actually control it,” she says. “I thought I was going to be at home the rest of my life; that was going to be as good as it was going to get. Now, I actually have a dream. I actually have a plan for the future that doesn’t include just doing nothing. I’m really excited about that.”
For Ted Grubbs, August 4, 2009 began as a normal day like any other.
Deployed to southern Baghdad’s Karada district to work directly with Iraqi police, Ted and his battalion prepped for their mission in the briefing room, then jumped in the trucks and headed out.
“We were probably three miles outside of base and pulled up to a checkpoint,” Ted says, recalling those moments before life changed forever. “Normally, the Iraqi national police would come move the wire out of the way and we’d drive through. Nobody would walk over there.”
They weren’t an hour into the mission when a hidden explosive device went off at that routine checkpoint.
When Ted returned home, he was left mourning the deaths of two fellow soldiers, missing the daily presence of the others—his “battle buddies”—and dealing with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Wanting desperately to keep his family removed from his experiences at war, Ted struggled daily to quiet the volatile feelings certain memories triggered.
“Dealing with PTSD is an emotional roller coaster,” Ted says. “You have your good days and your bad days. A lot of the guys—and I was very guilty of this—are dealing with anger, and survivor’s guilt.”
But as fate would have it, Ted heard about a veterans benefit called “Warriors Mount Up” being held at a place called Magical Meadows. On the day of the event, he showed up before anyone else, and shortly thereafter, was introduced to a horse named Sebastian.
“I was really nervous,” Ted says. “Gun turrets don’t feel (anything)—no nerves, no anxiety—but sitting on top of this huge thing with a brain is like, Oh my god, if he decides to take off, what am I going to do?”
Ted’s apprehension didn’t last long in the face of his very large new friend.
“After a little while, it was kind of amazing,” he says. “It was like, I can do this. [Sebastian] could sense if I was having anxiety or something, and would lay his head in my arms, and I’d just start petting him. He could sense. Then there would be other times when he would want to play games. And he would sense. He would have a little fun at my expense. He’s a great horse.”
On days when Ted struggled the most, it quickly became the norm for his wife to encourage him out of the house and over to Sebastian.
“[Being with Sebastian] is very calming. And sometimes he will mess with me, like, Knock it off, come on, you are here, you are at the Meadows,” says Ted. “He’s my battle buddy now.”
A WORLD APART
“[This place] gives hope. It gives purpose. I believe it changes lives emotionally and spiritually,” Carl says. “It’s a place that you can come in one way and leave the way you always dream that you wanted to be.”
Yet keeping Magical Meadows running as an oasis for the hundreds of families it serves each year is not without challenges. It costs about $40,000 a year just to feed the 18 horses and much more to care for them and keep up the facility. It’s tireless work that requires a significant financial, physical, and emotional investment—but you wouldn’t get that sense from Tammy, Carl and the many volunteers who keep it all going. There is only joy when they speak.
This place gives hope. It gives purpose. I believe it changes lives emotionally and spiritually.
Maybe it’s because of that thing.
“You have that sense of peace,” Tammy says. “That’s what we want here, that inner peace that sometimes [our riders] don’t get out in the world. They don’t have to fear that somebody’s going to tease them or make fun of them or treat them badly here, because that just doesn’t happen. They’re the kings and queens here, at Magical Meadows.”
The Lincoln Motor Company is proud to support Magical Meadows through our Driven to Give program. By the end of 2015, in our efforts to serve communities across America, Driven to Give has raised more than $6.2 million for schools and communities nationwide. Learn more and get involved.