First the good news. When I was a lad I had no difficulty at all understanding my parents when they ordered me to "Stop horsing around!" Not that I was obedient to their injunction, mind you, but I knew what they meant.
Both of my parents were reared on ranches in Wyoming and Utah. My father was a lineman for the Lower Valley Power and Light Company in Afton, Wyoming. His electrician’s gear included Blackie, a young gelding who carried my dad to roadless areas of the utility’s grid to service power lines.
All that to say, horses were part of the landscape of my childhood. I knew what horseplay was from first hand observation.
Years later as a flat-bellied young fella I worked as a wrangler at Koos Kamp, a dude ranch where there was a lot of horseplay. The clients were all adolescents from prosperous families. Each kid was given a horse to care for and ride all summer. That horseplay had such a positive effect on troubled teenagers that the owners reorganized their operation into Sorensen’s Ranch and School, a boarding school for teens at risk — in Koosharem, Utah, of all places. Equine therapy is an integral part of the school’s interventions to help transform the lives of some seriously unhappy kids.
Yup. Equine therapy, sometimes called hippotherapy.
So, almost a half-century after working at Koos Kamp it is no surprise to me that I am in an arena in Taylor, wearing cowboy boots and slogging alongside a very patient horse. On the critter’s bare back is my autistic and deaf four-year-old grandson. With me are a trained volunteer leading the horse and an occupational therapist walking on the other side of the animal.
In spite of his disabilities my grandson is physically a very athletic and tough kid. I’ve told the hippotherapy folks not to worry if he takes a fall and eats dirt. "What if the horse steps on him?" they asked. "Check the horse for injuries," I answered.
My grandson’s five-year-old sister has her own disabling challenges so she rides too.
In just a few weeks of horseplay we noticed marked improvements in both of my grandchildren. While I was working on this column my deaf/autistic grandson charged into my study from the back yard, looked me in the eye and signed, "I saw a bird!" and charged back out again to look for more.
The outfit I take my grandchildren to is called Therapeutic Assets. They have a waiting list.
The point being riding horses has long been intuitively known to be good for human beings. Horse therapy is a recognized treatment for a wide range of disabilities and injuries including autism, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, neuromuscular disorders, ADHD, post-traumatic brain injury, and cognitive disorders.
Now for the bad news.
MSNBC’s stable of commentators are mostly irritating nincompoops. A week ago one of their peabrains, a fella named Lawrence O’Donnell who hosts "The Last Word" program, decided to take a potshot at Ann Romney, the wife of the GOP’s probable candidate for the presidential candidacy.
First off, it’s in abysmally poor taste to attack a candidate’s family, but that didn’t deter O’Donnell. And what did O’Donnell have his panties in a bunch about? Ann Romney rides horses as therapy for her multiple sclerosis.
Now, Ann Romney’s equine discipline is dressage, which is basically riding a dancing horse. Dressage requires both highly trained horses and riders. I’m just a western buckaroo but I believe dressage is the most beautiful thing a horse and rider can do together. And while all competitive horseplay costs a lot of money (just ask anyone who owns a horse), dressage can be breathtakingly expensive.
So the multi-millionaire rich liberal O’Donnell attempted a vitriolic take-down on Ann Romney for riding an expensive horse declaring, "But, come on, dressage does not appear in any of the more traditional courses of treatment."
This campaign cycle is approaching historic levels of mud-slinging, hate-speech, and downright lies. On my short list of memorable low points will be O’Donnell’s unethical and misinformed attack against Ann Romney.
The western artist and writer, Will James, wrote "There is nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse." O’Donnell ought to give it a try before he delivers up more horse pucky.