Caption: Michael Muir, left, rides with student Mario Scharmer, who suffered a catastrophic traumatic brain injury. (Rebecca King courtesy photo)
By Susan Hiland, Daily Republic
SUISUN CITY — Michael Muir has not let a diagnoses of multiple sclerosis stop him from enjoying the outdoors, even if it is from his wheelchair.
The 67-year-old’s love of horses keeps him ticking along just fine. Over the past 55 years, he has represented the United States four times in world and international championship carriage driving competitions, winning medals and champion honors in Germany, Austria, France and Great Britain.
He also founded Access Adventure in 2005, enriching the lives of people with disabilities, injured veterans, at-risk youth, senior citizens and special needs children. His program provides the opportunity for therapy through educational, outdoor activities.
The program also provides people with disabilities of all ages the opportunity to ride and learn about recreational carriage driving and therapeutic driving. Access Adventure provides youth programs and unique educational opportunities relating to preservation, ecology, wildlife habitat and rangeland management.
His work doesn’t stop there. He breeds the Stonewall Sporthorses at Rush Ranch headquarters on Grizzly Island Road, which has created a livelihood for him and an adventure far beyond what he could have ever dreamed.
“Horses have been central to the quality of life for me,” Muir said. “I’ve done a lot of fun things because of them and been able to share that, which is important.”
At 15, he was diagnosed with MS; it has waxed and waned for him but has never daunted his spirit.
He was in the Dixon 4-H when his attention was drawn to horses.
He asked his father if he could get a horse; his dad agreed. To make enough to buy his first horse, he sold his 4-H sheep.
“The first mare was pregnant,” he said. “I sold more sheep and eventually got six mares.”
Since then, Muir’s list of accomplishments would take up a solid page of paper. Needless to say he has made a life for himself with adventure and fun.
He is the great-grandson of America’s visionary conservationist John Muir, and is just one of a long line of adventurous outdoors men and women who trekked through the United States.
In 2001, Muir led an international team of carriage drivers with disabilities, driving wheelchair-accessible carriages more than 3,000 miles from California to the White House in an epic journey that took more than nine months to complete.
“Until recently, I wasn’t in a wheelchair that much,” he said. “But I’ve had some falls and at my age that isn’t a good thing.”
So for safety sake, Muir uses the wheelchair while tending to his unique horses.
From April through October, he gives wheelchair-accessible wagon rides at Rush Ranch. He uses Thornlea Carriages built by Jerry and Barbara Garner in Wabash, Indiana.
“Some people come here and then want to learn to drive a wagon,” Muir said.
It makes him happy to see people with a disabilities branching out of their comfort zones to try something new and difficult.
“When you’re in a wheelchair, you don’t hike,” he said. “Horses are my partners and compensate for my lost functions.”
He thinks that is about the best thing that a horse can do – being useful by giving people a higher quality of life.
“My life wouldn’t be possible without horses,” he said. “I’ve had an active outdoor life because of them.”
His working relationship with Solano Land Trust has allowed him a partnership that made many of his accomplishments possible, too.
“They let me keep the horses here without a fee,” he said. “It works great because the horses bring in people.”
His breeding program helps to fund Access Adventure and his all-volunteer staff of about 50 people make it all work out.
“I don’t have a lot of overhead and that is helpful,” he said.
Recently, Muir added a 6-year-old stallion, Tesla, to his mares. He will be on loan for the breeding season.
“His human owner is pregnant, so I’m going to look after the stallion and do the breeding here,” he said. “It will save her a lot of extra cost.”
Muir is excited about the prospect and looking forward to new foals.
Access Adventure is always looking for new volunteers. For more information on the program, go to www.access-adventure.org.