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We can't imagine a better opener to a day at McKeever's First Ride, than the pageantry and thunder of the Rusty Spurs mounted drill team entering the arena with the American flag, and the flags of the five arms of our U.S. Military! Year after year, this sets the tone of the "can do" spirit of the day, and reminds us of the men and women who guard our freedom.
Youth and adults enjoy the chance to see the horses dance and gallop, before offering themselves to a day of calm, comforting touch and gentle command by new and former riders. The Rusty Spurs are a mounted drill team comprised of 6-10 women over the age of 45, who perform around the state, under the direction of Elizabeth Dabney, of Dabney Gentle Horsemanship. Each of these women has faced personal challenges to overcome fear and obstacles, in order to be comfortable with horses and to master complex drill team routines. They remind us to pursue our dreams, despite our age or limitations. Their perseverance and resilience serve as an inspiration to all of us, to never give up and never settle for being less than our best.
For some of us, our wounds show on the outside, while for others of us, our wounds may be hidden on the inside. Knowing that each and every one of us can tap into inner strength in order to grow, and can recruit others into our support system--helps us remember and celebrate that we are all in this life together!
Were it not for brave service men and women who answered the call of our nation, as far back as the Revolutionary War, America would not exist. As dearly as McKeever's First Ride wants to help launch a brighter, more adventurous future for our participants, we also want to honor the history and sacrifices of those in uniform who stood firm against tyranny and despots, to allow a day like McKeever's to be possible. We are proud for the Rusty Spurs mounted drill team to present the military flags of the Army, Navy, US Marines Corp, Air Force, and Coast Guard, in addition to Old Glory.
While the opening song may change from year to year, the mission of the Rusty Spurs' drill team performance, is always to foster patriotism, pride, and gratitude among our guests and participants. Synchronized to music, you'll enjoy watching the Rusty Spurs coordinate 6-10 horses in a breathtaking routine that proves just how amazing is the partnering between horses and humans.
McKeever's First Ride has been blessed with many special speakers and celebrity guests who have shared stories of "try-ump" over tragedy and adversity related to limb loss. Guests have included world champion NHRA drag racer, Reggie Showers, and first double amputee Ironman, Scott Rigsby. Barry Landry, inspiring rancher and roper from Texas, who battled back after losing his hand in an accident, inspired MFR guests in 2012. We have also had a four hooved celebrity come and inspire our participants in 2011, by the name of "Molly the Pony." Molly was left for dead after Hurricane Katrina, but she survived that storm and a dog attack that left her in need of a prosthetic leg. Her story is told in a book by Pam Kaster. Molly and our human Celebrity Guests have inspired countless children and adults to reach within, and reach to others, in order to live their best possible life. Over the years, McKeever's First Ride has incorporated music as an element of entertainment and inspiration for our guests. For most of our events, we were able to schedule Templeton Thompson, Nashville singer/songwriter to perform for those who attended MFR. Her popular song, "Get that Pony Rode" captures the essence of courage to get back in life's saddle, when we are thrown off by surprise or adversity. We look forward to having more musical performers who can help us make McKeever's First Ride a day to remember! One of the most popular features of McKeever's First Ride, is the chance to watch demonstrations of adaptive riding, roping, carriage driving, drill team routines, and ground work. Sometimes, these demonstrations are offered by long time, experts who have mastered their craft. Other times, they offer someone brand new to the sport, to show off basic skills they may have learned within the week! These demonstrations bolster the courage and enthusiasm of participants, to try new things during the MFR day or later, when they return home! Since participants travel to the Atlanta McKeever's First Ride from Texas, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Ohio, and Kentucky, and other regions, these demonstration riders, ropers, drivers, and instructors are helping spread McKeever's First Ride "Carpe Diem" spirit across the nation!
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Adaptive Riding is at the heart of McKeever's First Ride. Adaptive riding provides youth and adults the chance to ride a horse that is specially saddled to accommodate riders with limb differences, while adult side walkers insure a safe riding in an arena. An adult lead walker guides the horse which is trained to respond safely and sensitively to the needs and abilities of the rider.
Lower extremity amputees have found that the horse's gait mimics the feel of walking, thus aiding the rider by building core strength, balance, confidence, and flexibility. The freedom and view, from the back of a horse is a wonderful thing. We are thrilled to provide that experience for new riders, and for riders who mistakenly assumed this enjoyment would no longer be feasible after a limb loss.
Who says you need two hands to rope? Not our expert, Barry Landry, a ranching success from Texas who lost his hand in an accident. Barry wow'ed an entire arena with his roping abilities at McKeever's First Ride, in 2011. He also managed to rope our hearts with his inspiring message about the journey to recover after losing his hand, and to adjust to life with a prosthetic hand.
A manufactured prosthetic hand is one incredible piece of cutting edge engineering and technology! Roping activities include training in authentic cowboy roping and is greatly enjoyed by kids as young as 4, as well as by adult amputees, orthotic/prosthetic participants, and by military guests.
In addition to adaptive riding, McKeever's First Ride provides participants a chance to discover the joy of carriage riding and driving. Who knew that horse drawn carriages provide an ideal means of making physical rehabilitation more interesting? When we learned that they do, we quickly teamed up with the folks at Driving Magic, to make available therapeutic carriage driving and riding at McKeever's First Ride.
Carriages are easily accessible to guests with mobility issues, who use O&P devices, or utilize wheelchairs. Playful games conducted on the carriage can aid in flexibility, focus, and coordination.
Although there is argument over who said it, there is a profound saying that "The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man." Well, that is true--being in the company of horses, if only to touch, massage, or groom them, is wonderful for the spirit of boys and girls, and men and women. There is something calming about petting or grooming a majestic horse, whose incredible power is tamed and contained for whatever a little child, a teen, a returning soldier, or a senior citizen needs to experience.
One encounter with a gentle horse, can help a person reclaim his or her own dignity, spirit, and sense of significance. We welcome all ages and all guests to discover the magical way horses truly hear our hearts and deeply move our souls, just by touching and talking to them.
A common misperception is that horse activities have to happen in the saddle. Not true! Not only can you have a very meaningful experience petting or grooming horses from the ground, you can also participate in "ground work." Ground work is a term that applies to time set aside for a human and horse to learn to listen to each other, and collaborate on shared goals. Horses long to have a leader who is clear and respectful in his or her directions.
Ground work allows a youth or adult to become a "herd leader" to a horse by winning that horse's trust, and teaching it to follow, back up, turn, yield, respond on cue, and otherwise, obey instructions. The better the caliber of ground work, the better will be the partnership between horse and rider, once you get into the saddle. Ground work is an ideal activity for guests who do not prefer to ride, but want an exhilarating taste of horse handling and horsemanship.
Mini horses are just that--miniature horses. Differing from ponies, miniature horses are very small. This is why they are very popular with those who use wheelchairs, because they can be enjoyed at eye-level.
Mini horses at McKeever's First Ride provide entertainment, inspiration, and enrichment activities. They enable participants to engage in team building exercises, problem solving challenges, and small horse handling skills.
In 2014, McKeever's First Ride was thrilled to welcome the adaptive fencing team, Shepherd Swords. Led by Dennis Espy and accompanied by ParaOlympian, Benji Williams, participants were treated to demonstrations of this quick paced sport.
Even Reggie Showers tried his hand at parlaying. McKeever's First Ride intends on continuing to serve as a demonstration venue for additional adaptive sports!
McKeever's First Ride is excited to expand our activities, to include adaptive wheelchair sports. OPAF, the parent organization of McKeever's First Ride, has been instrumental in advancing adaptive sports, such as adaptive golf, adaptive scuba, adaptive dance, adaptive climbing, adaptive ping-pong, and adaptive fitness.
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When is the last time you relaxed at a craft table and left your worries behind, as you experimented with paints, beads, and art supplies? The expressive arts stations at McKeever's First Ride invite youth and adults separately, to explore materials like horseshoes and woodwork, in order to create something personal and memorable to take home.
We find that art allows people to relax, connect, create, and have fun in an environment where no one will judge your work! You do not have to be "artistic" in order to create something beautiful, sturdy, or whimsical. We believe "art is from the heart" and we invite you to find enjoyable ways to express yourself.
When is the last time you had a chance to pet a pig, stroke a bunny, or scratch a donkey's neck? At McKeever's First Ride, we love offering guests and participants a chance to discover the delight of animals in the Petting Zoo station.
Youth and adults who visit the Petting Zoo find amusement and enjoyment in these animals' antics.
The bond of "brothers and sisters in arms" is permanent and poignant. McKeever's First Ride is committed to offering military personnel a chance to fellowship with others who possess the courage to serve this country, and who can understand the imprint of war.
In addition to the military salute during the opening ceremonies, and the presentation of honorary military caps, we host a military networking station where you can enjoy snacks, share stories, swap wisdom, learn about resources like Veterans Heart of Georgia, and relax, knowing you are deeply understood and sincerely appreciated.
McKeever's First Ride Network provides youth and adults a chance to stay connected year around. At MFR events, McKeever's Network station provides a special spot for guests to pick up resources, swap information, tap into community support, and network with new friends.
McKeever's First Ride is very grateful to members of AMTA Massage therapists who have donated their time and services to add a valuable component to our events. We are excited to promote massage therapy to amputees and O&P patients, and hope that it will open a door to experiencing more flexibility, mobility, and less pain or discomfort.
Our Massage Therapists are keenly experienced in working with limb issues and prosthetic variables. Whether you have physical issues, or just want a deeply relaxing and restorative massage, we hope you'll make time to visit the Massage Therapy station!
We are also aware that Massage therapy has great benefits for military personnel who are adjusting to life back home, as well as for those service men and women who have already made that challenging transition. For all that your amazing body does for you, isn't it time to give it a treat?
From the beginning, McKeever's First Ride has had the goal of creating a warm, lively connection between teenagers who are differently abled. While young children with limb differences have multiple chances to attend camps and fun events, and adult amputees are enjoying a booming expansion of adaptive sports, teens can feel left out. Middle School and High School years pose many challenges, and can be even more complicated for kids with physical differences or challenges.
TEEN McKeever's is the station and the on-going Network that invites teens to connect with other teens who understand those complications. If you are a teen, please accept our TEEN McKeever tee shirt, visit us at the TEEN McKeever station, join us at TEEN McKeever Facebook group, and share your ideas and photos with us. You might be one of the first 50 teens to join the national network!
*Each event's inclusion of these activities may vary.