The DreamPower Horsemanship Legacy
Helping Mend Lives
A singular thought occupied Martha McNiel’s mind as she drove across the Golden Gate Bridge from her Mill Valley home to her marriage and family therapy job in San Francisco eleven years ago. “I kept thinking how much better it would be to get these kids to the barn,” McNiel said. McNiel was referring to the children that somehow seemed to just fall through the cracks when a family broke up and the comfort she felt from her love of horses. She dreamt of creating a therapeutic horsemanship program that served children, teens and adults with special needs.
But it wasn’t until several months later, in the wake of 911, when tanks patrolled the Golden Gate Bridge that she realized she must make her dream a reality. McNiel said she imagined that the bridge had exploded and as she stood before God, he asked her if she had done everything she could to realize her dream. “I decided that wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have,” McNiel said.
McNiel didn’t know it just yet, but DreamPower Horsemanship, a nonprofit group that provides therapeutic horsemanship programs to hundreds of children and adults, had begun to rise from the dust of that daydream.
At the time, a therapy-riding program didn’t exist in South County. Through some research she discovered that four out of five therapy riding programs eventually go out of business so she knew that the odds were against her. But one afternoon, while out on a drive, she found a “For Rent” sign that would alter her path forever. In April of 2002, Dallas and Barbara Sutton on Foothill Road in San Martin gave her permission to start DreamPower Horsemanship on their property. Over the years, DreamPower grew and moved to two different farms before settling at WoodMyst Farms in Gilroy in September of this year.
McNiel said the name DreamPower comes from the idea of building lives filled with dreams and the power to make dreams come true. That idea has become the organization’s mission statement, providing equine-assisted therapies and services to 455 children, teens and adults with special needs in 2011. Seven therapy riding instructors, certified through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, three licensed marriage and family therapists, six marriage and family interns, and hundreds of volunteers fuel DreamPower’s mission. The group’s 11 horses and four miniature horses are hand-selected for their kind and patient demeanor and then trained.
Last year, one of the group’s horses, Tulip was awarded the 2011 Region 11 Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International Horse of the Year. McNiel also was selected as the PATH International 2011 Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy and Learning Professional of the Year.
DreamPower offers 12 different programs ranging from therapeutic horsemanship lessons and equine facilitated psychotherapy to camps for children with special needs and workshops for veterans and their partners.
“Our goal is healing,” McNiel said, explaining that everyone – an Iraqi war veteran, a drug-addicted teenager, or a person suffering from a chronic disorder - comes with different wounds.
“Our goal is to get the person functioning to their highest potential,” McNiel said.
She said she has seen firsthand how therapeutic working with horses can be – physically and emotionally.
For a client who may have difficulty walking, riding naturally mimics the motion of walking and strengthens the muscles and develops balance – ultimately helping people to walk better without ever touching the ground.
A large focus is on fostering the client’s relationship with the horse and instructor, creating an environment that is healing.
“This is the most fun thing I have ever done,” McNiel said. “It’s more work than I could have ever imagined. But it doesn’t feel like work at all. Our goal is being at DreamPower is beneficial to every client, volunteer, staff person and horse. If we’re all not benefitting then we’re doing something wrong. At the end of every session, we ought to be better off than we were before.”
DreamPower Horsemanship is located at WoodMyst Farms, 7460 Crews Road in Gilroy. For more information about DreamPower Horsemanship, to donate materials or volunteer, call (408) 686-0535. www.dreampowerhorsemanship.com.
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