Using a system developed by Access Adventure, Stefanie Putnam became the first quadriplegic to represent the United States in International Paralympic Equestrian Competition.
We often meet people profoundly struggling with the shattering experiences of a crippling injury or a devastating diagnosis of disease that will alter the course of their life. We teach them to focus on what is possible to do, rather than lament what they have lost. It doesn’t have to be a tragedy because you cannot walk anymore. We will teach you how to roll with abandon.
Stefanie Putnam, a beautiful young woman who rode show jumpers with considerable success came to Access Adventure after a catastrophic accident that left her quadriplegic. She wanted to ride again. Michael gently guided her away from getting back in the saddle and encouraged her to learn to drive horses. Under his care, she began competing in Combined Driving, enjoying the challenges of this exciting life. She now trains with National Champion Leslie Berndl in California and under the direction of accomplished trainer and exhibitor Scott Monroe.
Stefanie has competed in the 2016 World Championship for Drivers with Disabilities held in Beesd, Netherlands. She finished fifth in the Grade One division, a remarkable accomplishment for a quadriplegic driver. Stefanie is now poised for medal contention in future world championship events.
In her own words: “I cannot express how much I cherish and appreciate the help that everyone, and of course Michael, gave to me. Access Adventure and Michael offered me the incredible reconnection with horses which I so desperately needed in my life. This reconnection with such an important, life-sustaining part of my former world – horses, enabled me to begin moving forward with my life after this horrendous injury.
I just needed horses in my life again, and carriage driving has given that back to me. After I was injured, I was repeatedly told that horses would never be a part of my world again. Many people out there in my situation, with catastrophic disabilities, have similar experiences – they are told that they have to do something else, that they can’t continue with the dreams they had before. The sense of loss is enormous.
Now, I am able to continue with my goals. I am able to come out of myself, to move beyond the confines of my wheel chair and my disability, and to feel that life might be full and rich and exciting despite the challenges I face. It brings life to my heart again – to focus on what is possible and not on what has been lost.
I am learning how to communicate with my new body, how to better use and strengthen my remaining functionality, and how to feel “normal” again, in a sense. When I am carriage driving, people do not even realize that I am disabled, and I can forget about it as well. I am able to feel at one with the horse, just like when I was able to ride. It is a wonderful feeling of connection, freedom, independence, and empowerment.”
From Stefanie’s mother, Marcia Putnam:” Our daughter, Stefanie Putnam, has been pursuing the therapeutic driving program at Access Adventure for the past year following an injury in late 2009 which left her a C4-5 quadriplegic at the age of 25. This program, and the wonderful, dedicated staff at Access Adventure have been without question the single most important positive factors in Stefanie’s life and outlook post-injury. Access Adventure has given Stefanie the opportunity to experience the restorative powers of being in nature and working with horses which would have been impossible in other types of therapeutic equestrian programs given her level of disability.
She is able, for a precious moment in time, to enter a world where her disability is not a factor – which allows her to feel normal, joyful, and connected again. Stefanie has commented that when she is driving the team of horses, it is the only time when she is so totally engrossed that she can forget the physical limitations and constraints that she now has to deal with on a 24 hour basis.
I cannot stress enough the impact, the importance, and the credibility of the work that Access Adventure is doing in the community through its many different programs and initiatives. I get a small insight every week into the impact of their work seeing the beaming faces of so many wonderful individuals who are participating and benefiting from this outstanding program – gaining in self-confidence, learning teamwork, and rising above adversity.
Michael Muir’s leadership and visionary skills, his expertise and passion have attracted great interest from other groups across the United States interested in developing similar driving programs. This is a remarkable organization which is truly making a difference in the lives of people with disabilities, but also in the lives of all who have the good fortune to be associated with them.”
Note: Additional photographs of Stefanie during the competition can be viewed on Access Adventure’s Facebook page.