People who work at Sagebrush Equine Training Center for the Handicapped witness dozens of miraculous moments every day. The combination of a special horse and a person with extra challenges has been proven to work as both physical and mental therapy.
Recognition of these miracles is often shared intimately among those in the immediate vicinity. But the outside recognition of two people there recently, whose names and stories were pulled from hundreds of blind entries, validated for everyone at Sagebrush that they really were making a difference.
"For one center to win two awards like this really is amazing," said SETCH Executive Director Cheryl Bennett.
Rider Shellie Muzzey was chosen Adult Equestrian of the Year in a national search led by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International, the umbrella organization governing riding programs for the disabled. Bill Postlewait, disabled himself, was named Volunteer of the Year by the regional office.
Muzzey, 62, and her husband, Ben, will travel to Lexington, Ky., next week to accept the awards for herself and Postlewait. Both initially balked at the acknowledgement, but Muzzey agreed to it because, she said, "I realized how important it was to everyone here."
Postlewait said he's too humbled by what he has taken from being a volunteer to publicly embrace the recognition. He still faces debilitating depression, but ever since his welfare nurse encouraged him to visit Sagebrush three years ago, he's had a reason to get up and out every day.
There are days when his body hurts, the result of too many broken bones, Bennett said.
"But if he knows someone needs something, he won't say no and he never will complain," she said. "He's a wonderful example for all of us."
Postlewait said that after a lifetime of feeling lost and at times abusing substances to cope with his depression, he's "found something better than any medication."
"I can't see myself being any other place," he said. "I found a place where I belong. They treat me very well here, and in return they get all I have to give."
Muzzey said she was an oversized baby borne by a diabetic mother. She was so large that both lives were threatened. Doctors crippled her while pulling her out to save the mother and she was expected to die. She is now the mother of two grown boys and a wife of 33 years, and her life defies her limitations even though she relies on a wheelchair and oxygen.
It was her generous spirit and courage that got her nominated, Bennett said.
Muzzey said she has complete trust in her Sagebrush support team.
"I feel their spirits connected with mine and I know I'm going to be safe," she said.
So much so that she will burst into spontaneous song while riding.
Husband Ben, a respiratory therapist, said Muzzey raised the boys mostly on her own, never asking for help, while he worked.
He said that what he loves about seeing his wife ride is the joy it brings her.
"There's a peace and a confidence after. It's something just for her."
Jennifer Liebrum: firstname.lastname@example.org