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Challenging the Limits of Disability
Harnessing Hope and Healing


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     AUGUST 2018


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 Rush Ranch Stephanie-44 low res 5 Rush Ranch Stephanie-44 low res 5     “

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."  John Muir 

  • Volunteer Birthdays and Anniversaries
  • Meet Our Drivers
  • Stonewall Sporthorses
  • Stories from the Stonewall Studbook
  • July Safety Training
  • Pulling Together
  • Journey Across America
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Keep up to date with Access Adventure B


Sharon Commisso - August 3
Vince Hangman - August 22
Ken Poerner - August 24
Blake Hengel - August 30


Happy Anniversary and Thank You for Your Years of Service to:

Sharon Commisso - 2011
Sherri Cassidy - 2015
Sean Cassidy-Burgess - 2015
Gretchen Dakin - 2017
Joannie Elerick - 2016
Carol King - 2017

Caroline Strongman

Caroline Driving for NL
Caroline Driving Calypso and Samba
Caroline driving Mystique for NL
Caroline Driving Mystique,

Caroline writes: “Originally from the United Kingdom, my work for a high tech company brought me to Silicon Valley in 1995. In 2007 I was run over by a pickup truck and sustained a spinal cord injury that has left me paraplegic. Since a horse crazy little girl, through years of riding anything and everything I could, I was, before my accident, competing in a sport I discovered here in California called Ride and Tie. Along with my Arab horse and human partner we enjoyed riding and running many miles of beautiful trails while competing in this sport. In 2006 our team were both Short Course mileage and points champions, my horse Star was mileage and points champion and my running/riding team partner Lupe won individual human mileage and points.  Not bad for weekend riders! After my accident I simply wanted to get back on a horse. So I started riding at a therapeutic riding centre. When they started a driving programme I was asked if I would like to have a go so I said yes. I took to it like a duck to water. My instructor said, you know, you could compete. And I said, Wow, I'd love to. So we went to a Scurry at Sargent Equestrian center.  Since then I have competed in Horse Driving Trials and Combined Driving Events and am currently competing at the Preliminary Level.

While attending a clinic organized by United States Driving for the Disabled in 2017 I met Michael Muir, who said, come and drive my horses.  So I discovered Access Adventure and Rush Ranch and what a wonderful place this is.  It is the most beautiful ranch with the most beautiful horses and the most amazing people who give of their time to help me drive.  We have a huge arena to drive in, wide grassy trails and plenty of trees that can be used as obstacles.  There are stunning vistas that stretch for miles over rippling grass to the distant mountain ranges with not a whisper of human habitation.  No houses, no cars, not even an electricity pylon.  This is the place for fresh air, the mind and the soul.  The horses are stunningly beautiful, kind and gentle.  I started driving the individual horses and recently have progressed to driving a pair which is amazing and challenging.”



In the coming months, we will feature profiles of each of the current mares in our stable, their 2018 foals, and notable Stonewall Sporthorses currently performing at the upper levels of competition in dressage, combined driving, jumping and other disciplines.

Two Olympic Hopeful Prospects
Stonewall Splash

Paralympic Hopeful
Stonewall Splash at Rush Ranch

Access Adventure had a large crop of foals in 2010.  One of the best was a striking black colt with white spots by the imported Friesian stallion, *Apollo and out of the racing Appaloosa mare, DD Splash for Cash.  We named the leggy youngster Stonewall Splash and sold him shortly after he was weaned.  He developed into a strapping, handsome horse, training for a career in three-day eventing.  Splash’s promising career was derailed when his owner became pregnant.  He was sold and later reacquired by Access Adventure and returned to Rush Ranch.

Now eight years old and a glistening black roan color, Splash quickly became a favorite at Rush Ranch, impressing everyone with his imposing size, gentle disposition and lovely movement under saddle. 

When we received a call from Paralympic hopeful, Shirley Johnson seeking a suitable mount for upper level dressage, we knew we had a hot prospect.  We were delighted that Shirley agreed and Splash is now in his new home at Hunter Lane Equestrian Center in Petaluma, California pointed toward an Olympic debut in Los Angeles in 2024.

Shirley and Lena_at Ridgewood ranch for NLShirley Johnson in Her Early Days of Training

Splash and Shirley for NL
Splash and Shirley at Hunter Lane Equestrian Center

Update from Shirley: “Splash is doing well with his long lining.  Our philosophy so far is to get to know that big boy! I'm learning his breath when he is nervous, which he was the other day long lining in an unfamiliar arena during suppertime. But he did well, as you have said, he is brave, so he takes new experiences pretty well. That will be invaluable when we take him to shows. I'm still waiting for the saddle fitter to come. Hopefully we can make it work. Splash did lose a shoe last week, but we were so lucky that it was while the farrier was there! So he just popped it back on in minutes! He'll get new shoes in the next week. I am working on undoing the damage of spoiling him in the past week. He is no longer getting treats from my hand since he started patting me down every time I saw him. We also were being too loose with his lead rope, Margaret reminded me with his size he really has to pay attention. He had good manners on the lead rope and I kind of let that slide. I wanted to be as compliant as possible during his adjustment period, and I'm happy to say he has adjusted nicely. He is so kind to other horses, but is not a door mat - he'll let them know with a little of the hind leg.
He is in a big stall and gets turned out in the morning. I try to walk him every day after dinner, and he is also long-lined three times a week. That's short term. I want him ridden soon, before he thinks he's a wild horse.”



Blake Hengel came to Rush Ranch in the winter of 2016 searching for a likely prospect for her Olympic Dressage aspirations.  She had her eye on the spectacular tri-colored leopard son of the Friesian Sporthorse stallion Prevailer LR and our celebrated producer Stonewall Fantasia.  Blake bought this promising colt and joined Access Adventure with her parents John and Nancy as volunteers.

Blake and Tango 1 for NL

Blake and Tango 2 for NL

Blake and Tango 3 for NL

We have enjoyed watching Stonewall Tango grow up with Blake and excel in his early training in Brentwood, California. Blake also has her eye on the 2024 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, to compete in Dressage.  Every step of Tango’s training under Blake’s careful supervision is with this lofty goal in mind.  We wish them both the best of luck with their blossoming career.




Published in the monthly Access Adventure Newsletter, online, and on Facebook. Copyright Michael Muir
In this issue we bring back tales from Michael Muir’s career with horses that began more than fifty years ago and spans the globe.


Adventures of a Horseman

“Closing Orly Airport”

Everyone knows the major airlines, carrying people to all points of the globe.  It is less well-known that there are other airlines, catering to another clientele. Companies like Air Pegasus and International Race Horse Transport fly high-earning racehorses and elite show horses all over the world.  The passenger manifest lists typical horses’ names, often with a stable prefix.  The owners’ name might have a “prefix”, too, like His Royal Highness, The Aga Khan, or Her Majesty, the Queen.  Hollywood stars, international financiers and major breeders fly their horses everywhere.  Lesser mortals, sometimes, too.

From an early age, I have traveled with my horses.  First, throughout California, then the western United States, and later coast-to-coast, and into Canada.  Europe beckoned and the South Pacific and Australia, The ambition to compete and breed my horses in foreign lands was limited only by my pocketbook. 

I became a flight attendant, lowering the cost of my own horses’ airfare by tending the horses of the rich and famous.  The other lads were usually Irish stable boys with a remarkable wealth of experience and horsemanship.  Sometimes, we had to get creative.

We could fly as many as 50 horses on a stretch DC-10.  One memorable flight in the late 1970’s began at famed Orly Airport in Paris.  The horses had completed quarantine and were ready to go.  The plane was coming in from Africa, bearing a cargo of Ankole-Watusi cattle, the largest horned breed in the world.  I believe these were the first of their kind to leave Africa. The exotic cattle came off the plane without incident, but the portable pens collapsed under their restless movement and off they went across the runway!

Ankole Cattle for NL

All flights were stopped and planes waiting to land circled helplessly over Paris.  The formidable cattle were happily grazing the green patches between runways, enjoying their first day in France.

Despite the fact that there wasn’t a cowboy or a quarterhorse in sight, the lads quickly formed a plan.  Looping a lead rope over the necks of million dollar race horses and climbing aboard bareback, the round-up was on!  The cattle were gathered quickly by the snorting, nervous race horses and order was restored at Orly International Airport.

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Every teamster knows that to get the task done you need horses that can work together smoothly, each leaning into the collar to accomplish the job. In that same spirit, Access Adventure relies on an all-volunteer team to provide our free services to people in need.

Any sensible person would say our business model is unsustainable. We don't charge for what we do. All the programs of Access Adventure are free. We have no paid employees.

Although we receive donations, and the occasional grant, our work is supported mainly by our horses, a notoriously difficult and risky business.

Yet, somehow we survive, and thrive, and grow...all these years. The secret is the contributions of a remarkable team of volunteers, some of whom have been with us from the very beginning. This is
the lifeblood of Access Adventure. We couldn't do our life changing work without them.

Mary Aiu

Mary Aiu  for NL

Access Adventure volunteers bring a variety of skills to the table.  Mary Aiu has been a volunteer with us since 2011.   She is an avid photographer with an unusual artistic flair, manipulating her images with modern technology to produce stunning works of art.  Mary loves our horses.  Her work featuring them is seen far and wide, promoting our unique breed to new audiences.

MARY'S COMMENTS: “In the years that I have been doing photography, my thought behind the lens is to capture what most people may not see.  Each person's view of the world is uniquely their own and I choose to derive most of my inspiration from nature when I set out with my camera.  I enjoy my wanderings with camera in hand, as I never know what the day’s imagery will bring...

I recently read this quote which I really identify with, ‘I want to inspire and be inspired.’  That short sentence sums up a big part of who I am.  I have always been inspired looking at art, but I also recognize that I am happiest when I’m engaged in the creative process.  I was an art instructor for 23 years and I hope that during that time I inspired others to enjoy the creative process just as I have.  Now that I am devoting my time exclusively to creating photographic imagery, I hope that my work inspires others in the same way.” Website

Minuet 1 for NL

Stonewall Sporthorses for NLThree Mares by Mary Aiu for NL

MA On the Run for NL

MA At Liberty for NL

MA Montelena at Trot for NL
Congratulations to Mary on her piece "Montelena at a Trot" winning a Juror's Award at the California State Fair Fine Art Show! Mary was very excited about this award. Top prize is Best In Show, but then they only hand out five Juror's Awards. Each juror within the various art mediums in the show gets one choice. There were approximately 180 pieces of art and hers was under the Digital Art class.


Access Adventure Safety Officer, Vince Webster, conducted a CPR training for a group of Access Adventure and Solano Land Trust volunteers and staff.  Everyone in attendance received “Hands On” training and a good number stayed on for the defibrillator training and are now CPR and choke saving certified.  This training was provided as part of the working partnership between Access Adventure and Solano Land Trust to provide for a safe working environment for all volunteers and the general public.

CPR Training 1 for NL

CPR Training 2 for NL 2

CPR Training 3 for NL 2

CPR Training 4 for NL



Sunday, October 28th: This was our final day at Fair Hill.  We were excited to meet Olympic Gold Medalist David O’Connor when he came out of the ring.  He was interested in the story of our travels.  When David was eleven, and his brother thirteen, their mother put them on horseback and the family rode 2,800 miles to Oregon.  Their trip took only three and a half months.  We shared many tales of life on the road.  What an interesting beginning to an Olympic career.  In the final moments of the Fair Hill competition, David showed his Olympic timber when he came from behind to take the victory.

David O'Connor JAA for NL
Olympic Gold Medalist David O’Connor Greets the Journey Across America

Hannas JAA for NL
Michael's Parents, Gladys and Ross Hanna and David O'Connor

Our gear and horses were loaded for the trip to Sybil Dukehart’s beautiful Shoulderbone Farm in Jarrettsville.  We would rest there and make our final preparations to travel into Washington DC.  Stella, Blanche and Scarlett were turned into a paddock as the sun set over the farm.  Nancy took out her video camera as the mares cavorted with wild abandon in the dying light.  Everyone took great satisfaction in the condition and spirit of our mares, after their extraordinary three thousand mile trek.
Mike enjoyed a perfect martini with Sybil, a long promised libation to celebrate our arrival at the farm where United States Driving for the Disabled began in 1982.  Over dinner, we reminisced about the trip and made plans for the future.  It was clear that Sybil’s vision will endure and grow, across America and around the world.

Monday, October 29th: Gerry and Joanna left Shoulderbone Farm, traveling into Washington to settle plans for our arrival there on Thursday.  Gerry has devoted countless hours, sweating blood to make this work.  It has been an emotional rollercoaster, working overtime to nail down the permits and necessary cooperation from “the authorities”.  As one detail is checked off the list, another obstacle arises.  Security issues are paramount.  Anthrax dominates the news.

Ingvar and Stig received a response from the Swedish Embassy.  They will send a delegation to greet us when we assemble our parade.  Alison and Lindsey contacted the British Embassy to elicit their support.  We worked on designing a “Journey Across America Stamp” to benefit MS and United States Driving for the Disabled.  Senator Barbara Boxer from California will be asked to promote this idea.  She was a driving force behind the very successful Breast Cancer Stamp.

It was an especially beautiful day at Shoulderbone Farm.  Sybil enjoyed a drive through the woods.  Gerry and Joanna returned in time for dinner.  This turned into a celebration to mark their amazing success in Washington.  Against all odds, they handled all the obstacles piled up against us.  The parade was on!  The Journey Across America would reach our nation’s Capitol as planned, so many months ago.

Tuesday, October 30th: This day was spent in organizing carriages and ponies for the big event.  Kate Rivers arrived from Indiantown, Florida.  Katie led the 1998 Team USA to Wolfsburg, Germany, winning individual and team bronze medals.  She brought home the gold from Stadl Paura, Austria in 2000 and reigns as the current world champion.

Dave McWethy arrived with his pair of sturdy Fjord mares.  It was a treat to meet this fellow traveler.  Dave completed the 2,000 mile solo horsedrawn journey from the east coast to the wilds of Montana.  There were plenty of tales of the road to share.  Dave hitched his pair to tour the farm.  Jose and Lindsey lured the former champion London Fog out of retirement to go for a drive.  Sybil joined in aboard the team carriage with Mike and the girls.

Wednesday, October 31st: Shoulderbone Farm is usually a place of pastoral, quiet beauty.  It began to resemble Grand Central Station.  Kate returned to go driving with us and greet the arrival of old friends and team mates.  Former executive vice president of United States Driving For Disabled, Mickie Bowen arrived with a pair of ponies for Ingvar and Stig to drive.  Tom Turner, a veteran of the 1994 Team USA in Hartpury, England brought his abundance of enthusiasm to our Washington project.  Mary Gray flew down from Maine.  She won the individual gold at Hartpury and was a member of the bronze medal team in 1998.  Carol Wilkinson, a member of Team USA 2000, came down from Connecticutt.  We were joined by Ellen Kay Reese, who brought her American Horse Shows Association. Horse of the Year all the way from Michigan to join the festivities.

We were headed for Washington, flags a flying.

As Sybil said, “the joint is rockin’!” Her stately farm house was bursting at the seams.  Sybil’s daughters labored to feed the troops.  We laid siege to the hospitality of Shoulderbone.  General Sherman’s march through Georgia had nothing on us.  Spirits were high for the day to come.

Thursday, November 1st: Our caravan began to assemble at the first light of dawn.  It took a while to get underway.  Sybil brought out the coaching horn to sound the charge on Washington.  In fits and starts we got underway with six carriages, three pairs, three singles and a highly charged international cast of characters.  We were flying Old Glory, several state flags and the banners of Germany, Sweden, Mexico and Great Britain; representing everyone who took part in the amazing adventure.  Ready or not, we were going to Washington.

Next issue: Time to Pack Up


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Photo Credits: Mary Aiu, Randie Boardman, Jon Duncan, Blake Hengel, Shirley Johnson, Rebecca King, Tom Muehleisen


Enriching the lives of people with disabilities and underserved members of our community by providing outdoor recreation, open space access, education and therapy through a working partnership with horses.


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